What is the pace statistic, and does it really have any value?
I will begin with a breakdown of the advanced statistics we will look into during this series, as well as an explanation of what the statistics mean:
With a pace increase, you might expect an increase in turnover rate (teams playing faster at the expense of being sloppy), an increase in steal rate (more steals means a higher number of possessions for a team) and an increase in field goal attempt rates. To test whether or not these trends are actually true, I have taken the box scores and advanced statistics for all NBA teams over the course of the 2013-2014 season (courtesy of basketball-reference.com), and noted their team averages. Using these statistics, I performed a correlation test between the applied statistics. These were the results when comparing the advanced statistics to the pace averages for each team:
When we look at these correlations, we see a few things pretty quickly:
- There are significant positive correlations with pace for 3-point attempt rate and turnover percentage; which can be attributed to the reasons discussed above. A greater number of possessions is sure to affect the number of shots taken, as well as poor decisions being made. For instance, when a player sees an open shot early on and his team is trying to push the pace of the game higher, the player may choose to shoot an open 3-pointer instead of waiting for a teammate to come open on the floor. Similarly, when pace is increased there is often less time to react to the situation on the floor, which can lead to players making reads too quickly, leading to turnovers.
- There is a somewhat significant negative correlation between pace and the opponent’s defensive rebound percentage. This is likely a result of defenses not being able to properly set and box out for rebounds (as a result, there is a slight positive correlation between pace and offensive rebound rate).
- Few statistics overall have a strong correlation whatsoever.
Given these correlations, it seems as though pace does not drastically affect any of the advanced statistics that are used in the realm of the NBA. What does this mean for pace as a useful statistic? The true indicator of statistical usefulness is it's ability to analyze the effect it has on a team’s winning percentage. We can look at this by performing a regression analysis on the win percentage as a result of the team’s average pace:
Regardless of the pace of a team, there does not seem to be any correlation whatsoever between how fast that team plays and how well they perform on the court.
In analyzing how certain teams are run, the focal point should not merely be pace of play, but the strengths of players on the court and how they can most effectively perform. The “Showtime Lakers” may have been fun to watch, but their legendary status was not earned solely because they were playing at a frantic pace. The 76ers maintained the fastest pace this season and stunk, yet the Clippers were the sixth fastest team and had nearly a 70 percent winning percentage.
Next time you’re watching a game and you hear an announcer exclaim “X team is much better when they’re pushing the ball,” while it might be true on occasion, the truth is that pace is not what's actually dictating how well the team will play (even though it’s much more fun seeing teams fast-breaking and posterizing one another).