Daily Fantasy Basketball 101: Manipulating Pace and Usage

By Paul Wilson in Tips & Tricks / Strategies
| March 2, 2016 12:00 am PDT
Stephen Curry

Whether you’re just starting out in daily fantasy basketball or not, the common themes of game pace and player usage aren’t going away. You’re going to want to know why both are important to DFS and how you can manipulate them. With daily fantasy basketball halfway through its regular season and no other DFS genre dominating your time (sit back down, golf!), it’s a good time to focus on how to use both of these aspects of DFS research and strategy:

Pace

Pace tends to be pretty big in daily fantasy basketball, as it expresses how fast a team runs the floor, which naturally suggests there will be more or less shots. Depending on a team’s pace, you can often accurately project how much a player will shoot, how big of an impact percentages and rebounding rates can have and how much the opposition’s value can be pushed around.

Pace, defined in DFS, is how many possessions a team usually gets over the span of an entire game. This details the “tempo” of any given game for a team, and the more data you have to work with, the more accurate your assessment of pace can be. Outside of the actual numbers (Warriors and Kings are tied for highest pace at the moment), you can also rely on Vegas lines, which can quickly tell you that the oddsmakers project a game to be fast and/or high-scoring.

Naturally, the faster the game, the more shots and rebounds you’ll see and (hopefully) the more points. The more often you see shots put up, the more opportunities all of the players in that game get to register points scored, rebounds, blocks and assists. Faster paces can also create confusion in the game, which leads to easier defense (steals).

More pace = more stats. It’s not foolproof, but if the game can stay close and also be high-scoring, generally it’s going to be true. That doesn’t mean that every player you use from a fast-paced, high-scoring game will work out and it certainly doesn’t guarantee stacking that game will lead to success, but it does increase your odds of success.

The trick is when to pay attention to pace and when to ignore it. One big thing is when paces clash. For example, when the Kings run into a very slow, defensive-minded team like the Utah Jazz (last in the league in pace), do you bank on Utah slowing things down and defending well and controlling the tempo, or do you bank on one of the fastest-paced teams enforcing their will? That logic could have you shying away from a fast-paced team when they’re on the road, have a tough matchup or have certain star players sidelined with injury.

Mastering pace itself can be difficult and it won’t always work out, but it’s a great indicator of how a game will play out and whether or not a specific matchup is worth attacking in daily fantasy basketball.

Usage

The rough idea of a usage rate applies to NBA players as individuals and at first glance basically means these guys touch the ball a lot and have more opportunities to get daily fantasy points than most of their teammates. Of course, it’s important to understand what usage really is referring to and the difference between good and bad usage.

For one, usage can be used in three ways: a made shot, a missed shot that ends with a rebound or a turnover. One is ideal, one is okay and the other is best left alone. The first would apply to the elite of the elite. Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and even a Damian Lillard all touch the ball a ton, they can create for themselves and they shoot a lot. Even when they’re not shooting, they’re probably on the move, creating for themselves or others.

Having the ball in your hands can also go the other way. Kobe Bryant usually has a very high usage rate, but for the better half of the past couple of seasons, he’s been an atrocious shooter. If we’re just looking at his usage by volume of shots, then sure, he’s an attractive DFS option if the price is right. But if we throw in efficiency, shot selection and opponent, The Black Mamba’s usage gets less and less appealing.

The other aspect would be turnovers. Tony Wroten is a good example, as just a couple of years ago he had a monster role as the main point guard for the lowly 76ers. They were atrocious and Michael Carter-Williams (another usage fiend) was ailing with a bum knee, which led to Wroten (an inefficient shooting guard with a broken jumper) playing a ton of point guard. What happens to guys who can’t shoot and aren’t built to run the point in the NBA? They take bad shots and turn the ball over. Wroten sported an awesome usage to start the 2014-15 NBA season, but he made barely 40% of his total shots (just 26% from deep) despite jacking up nearly 15 attempts a game. Things were just as ugly in the turnover department (3.8 turnovers per game!).

Now, depending on the night, rolling with Curry or another elite can backfire, while Kobe can drop 40 and Wroten’s explosiveness and versatility could have netted a strong 16-8-6 line. But the odds usually even out, making some guys that appear to be benefiting from high usage out to be less than stellar options.

It’s important to understand that usage doesn’t necessarily mean DFS success, but it’s still a good way to at least measure a player’s involvement. It can separate bench players quite easily, as some players like Jeremy Lin or Marreese Speights are more involved than others when in with the second unit, and it can show you how offenses tend to be run. It’s also a good way of looking at cheap value plays that quickly rise up the ranks due to injury. Player talent and position are key here, as a backup Celtics point guard taking over for an injured starter is likely to fare pretty well, but a backup Raptors power forward (slow place, weak talent) isn’t.

Ultimately you do want to pick guys with good usage. You just will also want to make sure you’re not selecting them strictly because of their usage and that they’re not an atrocious player, either fundamentally or by the numbers, overall.

Getting usage and pace right isn’t an exact science and neither is by itself or together the answer every time out. But they can be used together and if you project it right, can be a big reason why you win in daily fantasy basketball.

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