Handicapping NBA Pace
IT’S IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT OF PACE WHEN HANDICAPPING BIG NBA GAMES
We’re in the midst of a very interesting era in professional basketball right now. Nothing less than “how the game SHOULD be played” is being argued on a nightly basis across the league. We’re definitely seeing a trend away from one style toward another. If you’re trying to pick winners every night through the regular season and playoffs, you need to be on the frontline of this battle!
The two styles in question are:
*Play FAST to get off good looks and maximize your advantages over other teams
*Play SLOW to create good looks and keep your opponents from getting any rhythm
Golden State just won a championship with FAST, and that style is starting to be picked up in other places across the league (notably Boston…which is emphasizing youth and analytics already with good success). Teams featuring LeBron James (Miami and Cleveland) and the San Antonio dynasty were more about patience and doing what it takes to get points on the board efficiently (boosted by free throw counts).
Let’s take a look at how this year’s likely playoff teams rank in pace at the moment…
Western Conference Pace Rankings (on April 4)
Golden State #2
Oklahoma City #8
LA Clippers #14
San Antonio #24
We listed nine teams because the last spot is still up for grabs. You can see that the almost the whole gamut of the 30-team league is on that chart! Golden State plays very fast, while Houston and OKC are also top 10. Utah is the slowest team in the league, with San Antonio down in the slow range.
Obviously there’s already a working assumption that Golden State and San Antonio will play in the Western Conference finals given their dominance during the regular season. But, to get there…both teams will be trying to keep action in their comfort zone. If head-to-head does happen, whoever forces its will on the pace equation will likely advance to the Finals.
Over in the East…
Eastern Conference Pace Rankings (on April 4)
The two most prominent powers in the East this season are Cleveland and Toronto. They’re down with Utah as the three slowest teams in the NBA. LeBron James REALLY likes slow basketball because he can get a shot or draw a foul almost at will in playoff-style games. Also, it keeps him from wearing down (always an issue because of the load he carries for his teams). Did you realize Toronto was that slow? Pay more attention!
Interesting that Indiana has increased its tempo so much from recent seasons…and that Boston is very much trying to become the “Golden State of the East.” Wouldn’t you know that it was the Celtics who ended Golden State’s long home court winning streak recently. Golden State plays in Boston’s comfort zone…but had grown very tired in recent outings.
There isn’t time or space to outline all the possible “pace tug-of-war” battles that are coming up in the postseason. But, just…at a glance…you can see that it’s going to matter if Golden State does run into San Antonio in the Western Finals, and then the Cleveland/Toronto survivor from the East in the NBA Finals. Though, any of the potential title threats might be taken out of their comfort zones by smart opponents.
The point today in the NOTEBOOK is to make this important angle front and center in your analytical process in the coming weeks. The NOTEBOOK will take a bit of a hiatus in terms of day-to-day stat analysis. We won’t be here to remind you! You’re about to handicap a lot of high level chess matches. Get in the right mindset!
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