The Bucks are playing at the fastest pace of any team in franchise history. They rank fourth in the NBA in pace. Last season, the team played at one of their slowest paces ever.
Two caveats. First, we are three games into the regular season. Three. Three out of 82. (And one of those games was against the 76ers.) These things change… fast, so to speak. For example, Jerryd Bayless is shooting three-pointers better than twice as accurately as Stephen Curry right now. Hopefully these things continue, but the sample sizes are preposterously small right now.
Second, this Bucks team is the fastest in franchise history relative to the league average. Teams played at a much faster pace back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. That said, the Bucks are playing faster than ever relative to the rest of the league.
So, how are they doing it, and does it matter?
(Note: Pace Factor is defined as an estimate of possessions per 48 minutes.Thanks to basketball-reference for the stat magic.)
Jason Kidd won a championship as a 37 year-old point guard on the relatively slow-paced Mavericks back in 2011. But in his 20s, he played 10 straight seasons in Dallas and Phoenix on teams in the faster-paced half of the league.
And make no mistake, the head coach is strongly encouraging these youngest Bucks to push the ball whenever possible.
Kidd did not experience the heights of team success in his fast-paced early days compared to the second half of his career with the Nets, Mavericks, and Knicks when played on relatively slower teams. In his first season as head coach last season, the Nets were one of the slowest teams in the NBA. They were also one of the league’s oldest teams, and a savvy half-court group led by Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Joe Johnson.
Now he is playing to the strengths of his personnel again. And that means playing fast.
If you watch the clip above, a few things stand out.
- The ball went through the basket with 20 on the shot clock. That means that the Bucks pulled off a Brandon Knight-to-Jabari Parker dunk in less than five seconds. (Also, Parker led the team running 2.25 miles in the game against Philly, and ranks a close second on the team in minutes so far this year, for those wondering about work rate).
- They only needed two dribbles to traverse nearly the full length of the court for a dunk. Parker secured the rebound, everyone on the team immediately sprinted forward, the rookie took two dribbles, then paired with Knight for the alley-oop.
- Parker won a 50/50 rebound opportunity by tipping the ball to himself over 6’10” center Henry Sims.
Rebounding and Running
That last part was the key to make it all possible. Getting the stop and the rebound.
You can play fast without getting the stop and the rebound, but it is extremely difficult.
Take the Bucks last season for example. Before the year, they vowed to push the ball. Larry Drew told me that “by pushing the basketball, by playing up-tempo, we have more time to get into a half-court set, to explore more options with more time on the shot clock.”
That is all true. Unfortunately, the team was ill-positioned to make that happen, because they couldn’t get stops on defense or control the boards.
In the end, they ranked 29th in defensive rebound rate, 30th in defensive efficiency, and 24th in pace. These things were all very closely related. It all starts with the defensive rebound. Think about it this way. If you allow the other team to gain an offensive rebound, they get another chance to score. And when you allow the other team to score, you have to inbound the ball under the basket, which allows the other team to re-set their defense… which makes it much more difficult to push the ball.
So far, the Bucks rank in the top half of the league in defensive rebound rate (12th) and defensive efficiency (6th). John Henson (66.7 %) and Larry Sanders (63.0 %) both rank among the league leaders in contested rebound percentage. Brandon Knight ranks as one of the top defensive rebounders among guards.
This is what is enabling them to push the ball, and push the ball successfully.
Now they rank fifth in the NBA in fastbreak points per game. Fastbreak points are some of the most efficient types of points you can score, because they are often layups and dunks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are still very much works-in-progress on offense, but they already thrive in the open court. Good news: The team is shooting a huge percentage of their shots near the rim so far, fifth most in the NBA.
Before the win over the 76ers in the home opener, Kidd said “one of things we’ve talked about as a group is that we need to rebound the ball better, and hopefully we can do that tonight.”
Then the Bucks went out and won the rebounding battle, the fastbreak points tally, and the basketball game.