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Warriors trying to buck trend when it comes to pace of play

Looking to be second team to rank in top 5 in pace and win title

POSTED: Mar 6, 2015 12:57 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Steve Kerr's Warriors lead the league in pace, averaging more than 100 possessions per 48 minutes.

The theme of this year's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was "Push the Tempo." That was also the title of the basketball analytics panel, which featured Mike D'Antoni, a coach whose Suns teams led the league in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) in each of his four seasons in Phoenix.

Coaches often say that they want to play at a faster pace when they take over a team or when they open training camp. But fast pace doesn't have a great history in the NBA.

Since 1977-78 (when turnovers were first counted), only one team has ranked in the top five in pace in the regular season and won a championship. That was 33 years ago, when the 1981-82 Lakers ranked fifth in pace (among only 23 teams) and beat the Sixers in The Finals.

The highest ranking team in pace to even reach The Finals was the 1995-96 Sonics, who ranked third in pace and lost to the 72-10 Bulls. In total, only six teams in 37 years have ranked in the top five in pace and made The Finals.

The Golden State Warriors are trying to buck that trend. The Dubs lead the league in pace, averaging more than 100 possessions per 48 minutes. They also rank second in offensive efficiency, first in defensive efficiency, and first in NetRtg by the widest margin (5.0 points per 100 posssions) we've seen in the 38 years since the league started counting turnovers.

The previous high for NetRtg differential between No. 1 and No. 2 in the league was held by those '95-96 Bulls, who were 4.6 points per 100 possessions better than the Sonics.

Historically, fast pace does not correlate with good defense. This season has been different, mostly because of the Warriors.

If the Warriors maintain their ranks in pace and defensive efficiency, they would be the first team to lead the league in both since the 1977-78 Suns (who didn't make it out of the first round).

But the Warriors' rank in pace is all about their offense, not their defense. According to SportVU, Golden State averages just 10.4 seconds per offensive possession, the lowest mark in the league. But they average 12.3 seconds per defensive possession, the eighth highest mark on that end of the floor. So, while they rank first in offensive pace, they rank 23rd in defensive pace.

All stats are through Wednesday, March 4.

D'Antoni, along with point guard Steve Nash, changed the way the game is played. And while the Suns didn't win any championships, the pace-and-space style that they brought to the league helped the Heat and Spurs win the last three.

At Sloan, D'Antoni stressed the importance of pushing the ball up the floor, because every defensive system works best when it has time to set up.

"You try to find a good shot before [the defense] kicks in," he said.

The numbers back him up. As possessions go on, efficiency goes down.

Efficiency according to the shot clock
Shot clock Poss. OffRtg FG% 3P% eFG% TORate FTA/FGA
19-24 26,188 107.1 55.2% 36.8% 60.2% 19.1 0.489
13-18 57,501 93.1 44.8% 36.6% 49.9% 15.8 0.279
7-12 55,736 92.3 43.3% 35.8% 47.9% 13.1 0.256
0-6 22,890 84.5 37.9% 31.9% 42.5% 10.4 0.230
via SportVU
Poss. = Total possessions
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TORate = Turnovers per 100 possessions
Through Wednesday, March 4

We're only looking at initial possessions here. Numbers after an offensive rebound are not included.

It all seems logical, but some teams don't do much to get those shots early in the clock. While the Warriors have taken 19.7 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock and the Suns lead the league at 21.4 percent, the Hornets have a rate (9.0 percent) less than half that. And Charlotte is one of the team's whose offense suffers most when it doesn't get a shot early.

Biggest difference in efficiency, first 6 vs. last 18 seconds of the shot clock
Team F6 PTS F6 Poss. F6 OffRtg L18 PTS L18 Poss. L18 OffRtg Diff.
Minnesota 971 889 109.2 3,936 4,585 85.8 -23.4
Oklahoma City 1,200 1,066 112.6 4,202 4,640 90.6 -22.0
Charlotte 630 575 109.6 4,213 4,777 88.2 -21.4
L.A. Lakers 748 686 109.0 3,680 4,181 88.0 -21.0
Utah 816 744 109.7 3,997 4,495 88.9 -20.8
via SportVU

The Warriors' offense doesn't suffer as much, but ranks third in the league (behind Houston and Washington) in "look ahead" passes, a stat that SportVU tracks and that Warriors coach Steve Kerr values. It's one reason why Stephen Curry has shot less off the dribble this season.

Look ahead pass = A pass that came from behind the midcourt line and traveled at least 20 feet in a north-south direction.

"We want to throw the ball ahead to the wing if someone's open," Kerr said in a Q & A at All-Star weekend, "which means Steph is frequently passing it ahead to the wing instead of dribbling it up."

On possessions after a shot (made or missed, field goal attempt or free throw attempt), the Warriors get the ball from the defensive end of the floor to inside the 3-point line on their end in an average of 8.4 seconds, according to SportVU. That's the lowest mark in the league and two seconds faster than the 30th ranked Toronto Raptors (10.4 seconds).

On defense, the Warriors do a pretty good job of suppressing transition. Their opponents average 9.4 seconds to get inside the arc, the 10th highest opponent mark in the league.

As you'd expect, there's a big difference between that time after a made shot and after a missed shot. Warriors opponents get inside the arc in an average of 7.3 seconds off a Golden State miss and in an average of 11.2 seconds off a Golden State make.

But since the Warriors have the best make/miss ratio in the league, that average opponent time to the get inside the 3-point line is a lot higher than it would be if their offense wasn't so good. There's a lot more to the Warriors' defensive success than just getting back off made shots, but it's a great start.

Again, it's pretty simple. Pushing the ball on offense leads to better shots, which lead to a better chance of getting back on defense and getting a stop.

You can defend with pace. And the Warriors may make history by doing so.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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