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NBA teams keep pushing the pace

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LOS ANGELES – Mike D’Antoni terrorized the NBA in his first full season coaching Phoenix.

He unleashed Steve Nash at point guard and took advantage of Shawn Marion’s and Amar’e Stoudemire’s athleticism as bigs. The 2004-05 Suns averaged 95.9 possessions per 48 minutes – the NBA’s fastest pace in half a decade.

With that personnel, running was an obvious choice, though credit D’Antoni for maximizing the style. As they’d come to be known, the seven-seconds-or-less Suns won 62 games and led the league in points per possessions.

But did D’Antoni suspect all teams could take advantage of playing faster?

“I was hoping they wouldn’t,” D’Antoni, who now coaches the Rockets, said with a smirk. “When we started, it was easy pickings for a while. Then, everybody kind of got on the same page. So, it’s hard now.”

League-wide pace is at its highest mark in 27 years:


And it’s not just outlier teams driving the pace up. The league’s slowest team this season – Grizzlies (94.3 pace) – would have led the NBA in pace the year prior to D’Antoni’s first full season in Phoenix. That Suns team would rank just 23rd now.

Here’s every team pace (orange dots) with the 25th-50th percentile for each season (purple bars):


Pace is hardly a perfect measure.

Good offensive-rebounding teams will have longer possessions, even if they shoot quickly initially. Teams that take a while to shoot can increase their pace with turnovers early in the shot clock.

No matter how a team plays offensively, sound defenses that force opponents to delay shooting will reduce pace. Likewise, bad defenses that give up quick shots will increase pace.

And most publicly available pace numbers – including those used here, from Basketball-Reference – are estimated. How many free throws end a possession (shooting fouls on missed shots vs. and-ones), end-of-quarter possessions where the team doesn’t get off a shot and team rebounds can throw off the estimate.

But this is a decent approximation, and the league-wide numbers are more telling. While certain teams might have their pace thrown by their defense, the league-wide mark better shows how often teams get quick shots against defenses generally trying to prevent those.

Teams have just realized how beneficial it is to go against non-set defenses. An early good shot is far better than trying to get a great shot from a set play.

Stan Van Gundy’s teams have usually had below-averages paces, and his Pistons rank just 20th this season (96.3). But even that is faster than anyone in the NBA played his first season coaching the Heat.

“I think all of us have tried to play a little faster over the years,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think I’m aware of anybody who’s trying to play slower.”

There was one exception when Van Gundy said that, though the Bucks since fired him.

“Guys are shooting with 19 or 20 seconds on the clock. I don’t understand why we’re so excited or intrigued with pace,” Former Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said while still on the job. “Are they good shots? Guys are taking bad shots. So, pace is going to be up.

“There are a lot of bad shots throughout the league at 19 or 20 seconds. So, we’re making a big deal about a stat that does not win championships.”

Kidd was right in one regard: Unlike many advanced statistics, a higher pace isn’t necessarily better. That’s sometimes confused by people who credit a team for its ranking in pace like they would for its ranking in offensive or defensive rating. Teams should play at a pace that best works for them. Its a measure of style, not quality.

D’Antoni’s Rockets rank just 11th in pace, and they lead the NBA in points per possession. Breakneck speeds worked well for Houston last year with James Harden at point guard. Now that Chris Paul is sharing the controls, a slightly slower attack is optimal.

But the general principles remain and have been embraced league-wide: Score in transition as much as possible. Attack defenses before they set. Take the first good shot rather than waiting for a great shot.

D’Antoni credited players for pace increasing. They are more athletic and shoot better than ever, allowing them to spread the floor and run. I’m not so sure how much player improvement has increased pace, as defenders are also more capable.

But offensive skill development has led to a decrease in turnovers. More players are comfortable dribbling the ball up court, and shooting has increased spacing, reducing congestion around the ball-handler. Turnover rates are way down from the 70s and 80s, when pace soared. Turnovers can end possessions quickly and create transition opportunities the other way – a double whammy for increasing pace.

That pace is rising despite fewer turnovers speaks to the significance of the trend.

Where will it end?

“Every generation has taken a step forward,” D’Antoni said. “Whether there’s a limit to that, we’ll see. But so far, we haven’t hit it.”

Stephen Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain


The Warriors will have to go the rest of the season and probably the start the playoffs without the guy their offense is built around.

Stephen Curry will be out at least three weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday night when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his knee, the team announced Saturday. It’s about as good of news as could have been hoped for, considering the injury and the timing, that said the team will “re-evaluate” Curry in three weeks, and Grade 2 MCL’s often take a month or more to fully heal.

The playoffs begin in exactly three weeks. Curry could be back around the start of those games or, more likely, will miss part of the postseason depending upon how his recovery goes. The Warriors are essentially locked in as the two seed right now, but in a jumbled West it’s unclear who they will play in the first round and what matchup challenges that presents. The Warriors should be much healthier by then, they will get Draymond Green back from his hip injury on Sunday vs. the Jazz. Kevin Durant is expected later next week. Klay Thompson will be a little after that, but before the playoffs.

Curry, however, is the fuel that turns the Warriors offense into something elite. Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.

Kyrie Irving out 3-6 weeks following surgery on his knee

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Kyrie Irving could be back right around the start of the playoffs, somewhere during the first round, or maybe not until the beginning of the second (if the Celtics are still playing).

Irving had his knee surgery Saturday and the timeline for his return is 3-6 weeks, the Celtics announced Saturday. This is the official press release.

Celtics guard Kyrie Irving today underwent a minimally-invasive procedure to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed as part of the surgical repair of a fractured patella sustained during the 2015 NBA Finals. While removal of the wire should relieve irritation it was causing in Irving’s patellar tendon, the fractured patella has fully healed and Irving’s knee has been found to be completely structurally sound. Irving is expected to return to basketball activities in 3-6 weeks.

When Irving has been off the court this season, the Celtics have been 7.7 points worse per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating of 101, which is right at the bottom of the league. In the last five games, when Irving has been sidelined, the Celtics have gone 3-2 with an offensive rating of 100.4.

The Celtics are all but formally locked in as the two seed in the East.

With no Gordon Hayward or Daniel Theis for these playoffs, no Marcus Smart to start, and now questions about Irving’s availability, the question is how hard should Boston push to get Irving back for this postseason? Irving will push, it’s his nature, but the Celtics need to think bigger picture. Boston is poised to be a force in the East and maybe the team to beat next season, that should not be risked to make a splash this season. How motivated are the Celtics to push Irving for this season’s playoffs with a roster already decimated by injuries?

Doctor working with Kristaps Porzingis: “He’ll be better than ever”

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A disclaimer up front: I’m instantly suspicious of very optimistic people with grandiose claims. It feels like they are selling something, usually a form of snake oil.

Enter Dr. Carlon Colker, who is working with Knicks big man and franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis on his recovery from a torn ACL last season. Porzingis is targeted for a return in the middle of next season (like when the calendar flips to 2019).

Colker has a much more aggressive and optimistic outlook for Porzingis, as he told the New York Post.

“Despite the talk, ‘The sky is falling, he’ll never be the same,’ that’s a bunch of horse s–t,’’ Colker told The Post. “He’ll be better than ever. He’s going to blow people away. If you’re around people who know what they’re doing, it’s not the end of the world. It’s the end of the world if you have the wrong people around you.”

With a doctorate specializing in sports performance, Colker’s job is strengthening Porzingis’ frame — everything but his damaged left knee….

“We have to deal with the ACL aspect in addition to the bigger picture. Rehabbing an ACL is straightforward. The important thing is be mindful of we’re rehabbing an ACL, but start establishing a power base, getting our balance, our flexibility back, working in conjunction with what the guys are doing on the ACL front. We’re bulking him up and giving him more muscle mass and strength, working on his upper body, doing a lot of hamstring work.”

Colker is part of an aggressive faction regarding ACL timetables. While the Knicks likely won’t let Porzingis play until around Christmas (the 10-month mark) at the earliest, Colker says he’ll have him ready for opening night.

Did anyone actually say the sky was falling?

Much of this makes a lot of sense — strengthening Porzingis’ base matters (it’s what has helped turn Rudy Gobert into a defensive force, the Jazz staff focused on his base, core, and hips). Functional training that strengthens muscles around the ACL matters. And with time, Porzingis can be back to what he was before and better.

The faster timeline… I’m not sold.

There’s a lot of data here. We’ve seen the recovery curve for a lot of NBA players with torn ACLs — and all of them are working with elite trainers, both with teams and personal ones. It takes 10 months or so to get back on the court, and usually another few months (at least) before the player really trusts the leg and starts to play with the same intensity and abandon.

For the Knicks, hopefully when Porzingis does get back on the court next season — whatever the date — he is close to his old self. The league is better with him in it.

Also, hopefully, there will be a coaching system in place in Madison Square Garden to maximize KP’s talents when he does return.

Former Kings players DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes reach out to pay for funeral of Stephon Clark

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Whatever Kings fans thought of DeMarcus Cousins on the court — it was a divisive topic with changing opinions over time — he was fully committed to the city of Sacramento. He was all in.

Still is, despite playing for New Orleans. Cousins and another former King, Matt Barnes (a Sacramento native), have reached out to the family of Stephon Clark — the unarmed young black man shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard a week ago — and offered to pay for the funeral, reports Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.

It is a generous gesture. The family had set up a gofundme page and has raised enough to pay for the funeral expenses through it as well.

Clark’s shooting has sparked protests throughout Sacramento, including blocking entrance to a Kings game on Thursday night. According to reports and the Sacramento PD’s own account, the shooting occurred when police were looking for a car burglary suspect and officers had tracked the suspect through yards, then confronted Clark in the backyard of his grandmother’s house, where he lived. Police allegedly thought he was armed and shot him 20 times, but he was holding only a cellphone.

The shooting has sparked reactions around the nation and from NBA players, including Barnes.

Steve Kerr and David West of the Golden State Warriors had these comments, via Logan Murdock of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I was very proud of how the Kings handled it, the way the NBA handled it,” Kerr said Friday. “I thought they did everything they could…

“The main sentiment, though, is horror and sadness for the family involved and there’s not much else to say,” Kerr said.

“You want to go through this song and dance again?” West asked. “I’m done. I stopped. I don’t have the optimism anymore.”

“We’ve been dealing with these issues for hundreds of years and so they continue.” West continued. “We won’t look at real solutions so these things continue to happen.”