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Understanding the fast break
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - NBA teams are like snowflakes: they come in all different shapes and sizes.

Just look at the Denver Nuggets.

This is a team with a lot going for it. They're deep (five players are averaging double-digit points), versatile, almost impossible to beat on their home floor (Denver's 23-3 mark at home is second only to San Antonio's 22-2) and most importantly, they're the best fast break team in the league.

The only team within striking distance of Denver's impressive 19.1 fast break ppg average is the Houston Rockets (18.9 fast break points per contest). Here is the rest of the league's top five in fast break scoring:

1. Denver - 19.1 ppg

2. Houston - 18.9 ppg

3. Dallas - 17.3 ppg

4. Oklahoma City - 16.9 ppg

5. Atlanta - 16.8 ppg

Notice you won't find the Carmelo Anthony-led New York Knicks on this list. They're on the other end of the spectrum, ranking second to last in the league in fast break ppg. Here is how the rest of the bottom five shakes out:

30. Brooklyn - 8.5 ppg

29. New York - 9.0 ppg

28. Toronto - 9.1 ppg

27. Portland - 9.3 ppg

26. Orlando - 9.8 ppg

Very interesting. Four of the league's top five in fast break scoring hail from the Western Conference, while the East boasts four of the league's five worst teams in that same category.

Interesting, but probably meaningless. I don't think the amount of hustle a team shows on the fast break is something that varies geographically. It's probably just a coincidence.

Nonetheless, this data makes sense to me. Typically teams that are successful on the fast break are young and quick. They rely on athleticism and great finishing ability, while other teams would prefer to slow things down and run a set offense.

Anyone who has ever watched the Nuggets knows that this is EXACTLY how they operate. Point guard Ty Lawson (16.0 ppg, 7.0 apg) runs the offense at a relentlessly fast pace, while Kenneth Faried (12.2 ppg on 55.5 percent shooting) and JaVale McGee (9.9 ppg, 56.3 percent shooting) can run the floor as effectively as any pair of big men in basketball. And we haven't even gotten to talking about the freakishly athletic Andre Iguodala (13.2 ppg, 4.7 apg) yet.

This team was made to push the pace.

Obviously, athleticism is something that deteriorates with age. That's why you won't see teams like the Knicks (average age of 31.3, oldest in the league) and Lakers (29.0, fourth-oldest) leading the league in fast break offense.

Out of the top five teams in fast break scoring, only the Mavericks have an average age higher than 27. Denver has the fourth-youngest squad in basketball at an average age of 24.7, while Houston (second in fast break scoring) is the youngest at 23.7. Oklahoma City (fourth-best on the fast break) is sixth youngest at 24.9.

While 18.2 percent of Denver's offense comes on the fast break, the veteran Knicks have had to find other ways to score. Getting out of the way and letting Carmelo do whatever he wants is one strategy. Another is just shooting a ton of threes.

New York is averaging 29 three-point attempts per game this season, the most by any team we've seen in the last decade. In fact, three-pointers have accounted for 32.9 percent of their offense in 2012-13.

The fast-break-challenged Nets, Raptors and Trail Blazers have all followed suit. Portland (23.8 three-point tries per game) ranks fourth in long distance attempts this season with Brooklyn (21.4) and Toronto (21.3) both rounding out the top eight.

So what does it all mean for fantasy? Scoring-wise, Denver's superior fast break probably adds 2-to-4 ppg to Faried and Iguodala's nightly scoring averages, catapulting both into must-start territory. That makes Denver a great fit for their skill sets, which wouldn't be utilized nearly as well on a team like New York or Toronto.

Fast break defense is also something to consider when putting together your nightly lineup. Faried and Iguodala are must-starts across the board, but McGee is more of a borderline guy. Against the Lakers, the worst team in the league in defending the fast break (16.1 fast break points allowed per game), I'd probably start him. But against Indiana (9.6 fast break points allowed per game, fewest in the NBA) or Miami (11.5 ppg, second-fewest), I'd keep McGee on my bench.

Don't underestimate the power of the fast break. Most successful fast breaks end with a layup or a dunk, which is usually a guaranteed two points. Those two points could end up being the difference between winning or losing your fantasy matchup.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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