A new, more accurate way to measure pace is emerging. As Henry Abbott has long pointed out, the current way to measure pace can be very misleading. It only takes into account offensive pace, discounting the other side of the ball, the defensive pace factor.
As with anything, there’s two sides to the story. Now, thanks to SB Nation’s Rohan Cruyff we can. This needs to become a regular statistical line.
What it means
A number of interesting things emerge when we analyze the NBA from this new perspective. Firstly, is it coincidence that division leaders and conference finals favorites the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Boston Celtics all control the pace of the game from a defensive standpoint?
I think not.
Since the NBA is, as any sport tends to be, a copycat league when a successful way to win is uncovered here’s some of the markers to watch for if other teams indeed take on similar attributes to those of the aforementioned leaders.
Contrary to what we might initially assume, as defense gets better the league’s overall pace will increase. Normally, we’d assume that a higher pace would lead to more points on the scoreboard. Not in this case.
I know, it goes against your natural instincts, but the teams mentioned that are controlling the defensive pace of the game are forcing early, poor offensive possessions such as difficult shots and turnovers. These result in more possessions in a given game, thereby raising the overall pace by it’s current measurement.
Of course, not everyone will subscribe to the theory, thank goodness. We still need your Mike D’Antoni-types; it adds flavor, a literal change of pace. And many that do try to do so will have varying degrees of success in doing so. But the overall trend is already well underway, only the numbers didn’t jive until now.
This new data, as a matter of fact, helps explain the current trend in the NBA where pace has leveled off even as points and field goal percentages have fallen, while defensive rating, as accurately measured by Basketball Reference.com, has increased league-wide.
If we revisit the chart I posted yesterday we can see that this new adjustment to today’s brand of basketball, unknowingly or decisively, is well underway, starting last season and only becoming more amplified this season.
Since rules changes that were made to defenses, intended to increase the viability of the NBA’s product by making it more appealing to casual fan by upping the pace the game, began making a real impact in the 2004-05 season the league has been normalizing and adjusting ever since.
The ’04-05 season will be looked back at as a historical marker in the NBA, where everything changed –for the better, mind you– and as such it’s our basis for determining what all this data means, when pieced together.
There was a missing piece to the grand puzzle, a piece found by Mr. Cruyff. His new, more accurate way of looking at pace explains the current trend that first revealed itself last season, when pace, field goal percentage, and points reached all-time high in the current era, even while defenses were better league-wide than the previous year and pace surpassed FG%.
For the first time in the current era, the “No Hands Era”, pace has surpassed both field goal percentage and the line between offensive defensive rating.
I didn’t understand why until Mr. Cruyff’s findings on defensive pace factor. Now, all the pieces have fallen into place, explaining why pace could surpass better defense in the NBA for the first time in the current era, a shot clock defense era.
It’s the defensive pace of the game itself that has changed, dictating games and outcomes. And along with it, favorites, winners, and division leaders.
We’re seeing the normalization of the game’s rules changes and faster pace, and the result is better defenses, defenses that dictate outcomes earlier in the shot clock. The leaders in this new era are clearly defined. Those that don’t evolve with the game and it’s new pace will be left behind.
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