Fantasy basketball's hidden stat you need to care about

The ingredients are there for De'Aaron Fox to rise up the fantasy ranks once his efficiency improves. Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

From a fantasy perspective, it's been one of the most exciting trade deadlines in memory.

What determines a newly traded player's reconstituted fantasy value?

First and foremost: role. What kind of minutes is said player getting from his new employer? Beyond minutes: touches. Is he going to register a difference in his usage rate?

Is a player going from a first-option role on a middling team to a third option on a contender (Tobias Harris)? Is an underperforming player with fantasy upside getting a much-needed change of scenery (Otto Porter Jr.)? Is a player with a high usage rate going to a situation where his touches will take a hit (Harrison Barnes)?

I'd like to talk about the next fantasy consideration beyond role: system.

In terms of fantasy, a real-life NBA team's winning percentage doesn't carry a lot of weight (aside from the fact that winning teams have more predictable rotations).

All other factors being equal? I'd rather roster a 30 MPG player from a lottery team that leads the league in pace than a 30 MPG player on a contender that leads the league in defensive rating. Of all of the team-wide statistics the NBA offers, no other metric offers a better snapshot of fantasy opportunity than pace.

Pace estimates a team's possessions per 48 minutes. Possessions beget fantasy opportunity. Volume. The more possessions a team generates the more fantasy-worthy stats get produced.

You've read a lot about the uptick in scoring this campaign. That uptick has been partly fueled by a jump in league-wide pace. In 2017-18, teams average 97.3 possessions per game. The rate to date for 2018-19: 100.0. (And not just offensive stats get boosted. More possessions equals more blocks and steals.)

In earlier years of fantasy writing, we could only gauge pace in terms of general team-wide impact. But thanks to the treasure trove of stats at NBA.com, we can now track the pace of individual players. Meaning we can see which players generate higher individual rates of possession.

Let's examine some players posting exceptionally high pace and highlight why it augurs well (or in one notable case, poorly) for their fantasy prospects post-deadline.

Kevin Huerter, SG, Atlanta Hawks
Pace: 106.95 (5th in NBA)

Atlanta plays at the highest pace in the NBA at 104.2 possessions per game. Correspondingly, the Hawks dominate the individual pace rankings, with four players in the top 5. But I want to highlight Huerter as he's A) only rostered in 9.2 percent of leagues B) starting to play over 30 MPG and C) has more fantasy upside than any other Hawk down the stretch.

If you're in a 12-team league, don't leave Huerter on your wire. Actually, I'd revise that to apply to all 10-team leagues.

Over the past three games, Huerter's averages: 14.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.3 APG, 3.7 3PG, and 1.0 SPG. He's also coupling that volume with emerging efficiency. Huerter's TS% has improved dramatically over the past month. He's posted a 58.0 TS% (up from his 53.8 TS% for the season.)

Here's a historical comp for Huerter's fantasy upside ... vintage Brent Barry. A shooting guard that gives you elite 3s, plus-rebounding, and point-guard-type assists.

Lou Williams, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Pace: 106.24 (7th in NBA)

Like Mirotic, Williams benefits from the increased pace (and Usage Rate) employed by elite sixth men. Like Mirotic, Williams' shot can be more than a little streaky.

Unlike Mirotic, Williams plays for the Jerry West-managed Clippers. The same team that just pulled a deal that should A) pay off with two max slots in the long term and B) empower Williams to go fantasy bonkers in the short term.

Until now, Williams' 2018-19 season has been one long story of regression. His minutes are down. His field goal attempts are down. His 3-point production has nearly been cut in half (thanks to a drop from 6.6 3PA to 3.8 3PA).

But with Tobias Harris gone -- and with no top scoring option coming in from Philadelphia -- Williams becomes scoring option 1B, perhaps a shade behind Danilo Gallinari.

Look for a return to last year's 3-point production (2.4 3PG, 6.6 3PA) over the last couple months of the fantasy season.

Malcolm Brogdon, SG/PG, Milwaukee Bucks
Pace: 106.07 (10th in NBA)

Like Alvin Gentry, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has long been one of fantasy's top coaches. His Hawks were amongst fantasy's best. As a team, the Bucks clock in at 5th overall with a pace of 102.9. Within the Bucks, Brogdon leads the team in pace. It's the secret sauce that has helped make Brogdon one of fantasy's most underrated players.

Brogdon may not be one of the top options in Milwaukee's offense (Usage Rate: 20.5), but he makes the most out of his inflated rate of possession.

The extra pace doesn't translate into 20 points a night (a la Lou Williams), but it makes for dependable multicategorical production. Brogdon fuses his elite Pace with sky-high efficiency (61.5 TS%, 42.2 3PT%, 93.9 FT%), making him the prototypical "little bit of everything" fantasy player.

Brogdon is also the kind of player that constantly seems to trend up. His scoring, 3-point production and rebounding rate (another underrated facet of his fantasy game) are always inching upward. But because his progression is anchored by across-the-board volume and elite efficiency, Brogdon doesn't get the amount of love he deserves in fantasy circles.

Take a look at the Player Rater -- he's on the verge of cracking the top 50.

De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings
Pace: 105.90 (14th in NBA)

Fox has the pace and usage rate (26.5) that makes for top-20 Player Rater upside. His potential is that high. What's missing? Consistency in field goal efficiency.

If Fox had just a little of Brogdon's efficiency night-in, night-out? He'd be in the top 20 right now. (And don't forget, Fox just turned 21 about a month ago).

Fox has been a model of youthful inconsistency. After posting the best month of his career in December (19.4 PPG, 7.9 APG, 2.3 SPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.7 BLK, 1.2 3PG), Fox cratered in January (15.4 PPG, 5.9 APG, 1.7 SPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.4 BLK, 0.8 3PG). His 3-point percentage skidded from 40.0 percent to 28.2 percent.

I like what the Harrison Barnes trade does for Fox's rest of season fantasy prospects. It adds proven outside scoring punch (Barnes is averaging 6.3 3PA), which should help space the floor and give Fox more room to create. Until Fox irons out his outside shot, he'll need to mine consistency in other volume areas like assists and rebounds, and the addition of Barnes will open up opportunities in both categories (especially since Barnes does little else outside of score).

The Kings' elite pace (3rd overall) and depth are going to make them a solid source of fantasy production in the second half. Pay extra attention to their bigs, as Marvin Bagley III and Willie Cauley-Stein are both starting to build consistency.

LeBron James, SF/PF, Los Angeles Lakers
Pace: 104.58 (34th in NBA)

Here's my twist ending: an elite player being kneecapped by an expanded pace.

For a LeBron-led team, the Lakers are shockingly mediocre when it comes to offensive efficiency (their 107.5 rating is 21st in the league). Even before LeBron went down on Christmas, I'd written about how LeBron's dip in efficiency was pulling him out of fantasy' s top 10 (his PER is the lowest it's been in 12 seasons).

The Lakers try to make up for their lower-third efficiency with increased pace. The Lakers are fourth in pace at 103.2 possessions per 48 minutes.

Less savvy fantasy managers (and Laker Exceptionalists) might take comfort in LeBron's 26.9 PPG average. But the still-gaudy PPG is masking a regression across the board in every other volume and efficiency-based category.

I've wondered if one of the key statistical factors in LeBron's slip has been the change in pace.

LeBron is playing at the fastest Pace of his career, and I think it might be hurting his production.

The 2017-18 Cavaliers clocked in at 98.0 possessions per game. In 2016-17: 96.2 possessions per game. LeBron's Miami Heat teams were always in the lower third of the NBA in pace. Now, in his age 34 season, LeBron is playing over 10 possessions per game more than he was just a few seasons ago.

I wonder if the increased pace is altering how LeBron closes out games.

Take a look at LeBron's fourth quarter stats this season.

He's shooting 46.9 percent from the field in the fourth quarter (down from 51.6 percent overall). He's averaging 8.8 minutes played for the season, but just 7.8 minutes played over his last 20 games. He only averages 1.1 assists in the fourth quarter (versus 7.3 APG). Only 0.18 steals (versus 1.3 SPG). Only 0.18 blocks. His plus/minus in the fourth quarter: -37.

This isn't to say LeBron isn't clutch (I can't stand that old argument). It's just that there's a lot of statistical evidence that is pointing towards LeBron running out of gas late in games.

Here's proof he's still clutch. LeBron's free throw percentage goes up in the fourth (68.2 percent to 73.1 percent). LeBron's 3-point production goes up in the fourth. LeBron averages 1.4 3s in the fourth, against 3.9 attempts (for a 37.5 3PT%). For the season LeBron is averaging 2.0 3PG against 5.6 attempts (for an aggregate 35.1 3PT%, which means 70 percent of his 3-point production is coming in the fourth quarter.

The rebounds remain solid (2.1 in the fourth). But the shocking drop in assists and increase in 3-pointers point towards someone whose role dramatically alters late in games. That change in role could be due to many factors. Most likely, it's a combination of a late-career surge in pace, coupled with a lack of surrounding experienced talent.

Overall? LeBron's Lakers need less pace and more efficiency. If you're building this team around LeBron, it may be time to consider a change in system.