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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:

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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):

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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.”

Steve Kerr: ‘Very unlikely’ Warriors will play another regular-season game

Warriors coach Steve Kerr
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NBA owners and players are reportedly united on finishing the season or, as Adrian Wojnarowski put it, “finding a way to be able to crown a champion this season.”

Where does that leave the Warriors, the only team eliminated from the playoff race before coronavirus forced a league-wide stoppage?

Golden State coach Steve Kerr on “The Full 48,” via Ali Thanawalla of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Look, for us, our season is basically over,” Kerr said. “If the league was somehow to start up again, it’s very unlikely we would be playing regular-season games given that they’d be in such a time crunch. Who knows?

“But I’m feeling for all the teams in the fight, in the thick of it for a championship, that are in the playoff race, teams that have put so much into this, and this was obviously a year for us where we were trying to get healthy, trying to develop some young guys. So I’m not concerned about our guys, our team. I feel sorry for the teams that are kind of in limbo right now.”

There’s chatter about resuming play with a play-in tournament and postseason in Las Vegas. The league could be sharing plans internally. Kerr could be proven right. It’s certainly possible Kerr was even already told the Warriors are finished with the regular season.

But I don’t share his prediction.

There’s a lot of money to be made by holding more regular-season games, especially for high-revenue teams like Golden State.

This was a gap year for the Warriors. They’re clearly ready to move on.

But Stephen Curry is healthy again. By the time the hiatus ends, Klay Thompson might be cleared. With other stars on the court, Draymond Green could be more engaged. Though there would be limits on Golden State’s competitiveness, that team would be a draw that could help stuff the league’s coffers.

As Kerr said, there are unprecedented timing issues. Yet, every game is a revenue opportunity. That matters, too.

Florida State forward Patrick Williams declares for NBA draft

Florida State forward Patrick Williams
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Devin Vassell declared for the NBA draft from Florida State.

Now, Patrick Williams is following.

Evan Daniels of 247Sports:

Florida State freshman Patrick Williams is declaring for the NBA Draft and plans to forgo his remaining eligibility, he tells 247Sports.

“I decided to do it because I think my game isn’t NBA ready, but I have the potential to be NBA ready,” Williams explained. “I think with development and support and everything else on that level, I can eventually can be a really good NBA player.”

That’s an interesting self-assessment – one more players should take. Williams has the tools to project as a mid-first-round pick. As he said, he needs to develop. But he can do that while earning an NBA salary rather than being stuck in the NCAA’s cartel system. There’s no good case that college teams develop young players better than NBA teams, anyway.

It’s unclear whether Williams (6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan) will settle in as more for a small forward or power forward. Probably power forward. But if his ball skills develop, he has potential as a small forward, a position in higher demand around the league.

As the NBA has embraced smaller lineups, rim protection – once more of a shared frontcourt responsibility – has increasingly fallen onto centers. Williams would help from either forward spot. He’s an energetic and athletic defender with good timing for blocking shots.

He needs work as a shooter. Williams has shown some ability running pick-and-rolls and creating mid-rangers for himself off the dribble. But he’s not consistent enough, and he’s far too poor of a distributor to have the ball much. His best offense comes when opportunistically taking advantage of his athleticism with cuts and alley-oop finishes.

Still, Williams shows enough flashes of more offensively to be intrigued. His defense is already more developed.

That combination is why he can feel confident about getting drafted high enough to enjoy the spoils of NBA life.

Rumor: Nets will try to trade young talent for third star

Nets Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince
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The Nets have it all on paper.

Stars (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving). Quality younger players (Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen). Draft picks (net even on future first-rounders).

But Brooklyn’s road from upstart contender has been rocky.

Irving tested the Nets with his moodiness before the season. He also called it “glaring” Brooklyn needed roster upgrades. The Nets fired Kenny Atkinson, who had proven adept at player development but evidently never connected enough with Durant and Irving.

How will Brooklyn take the next step?

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

I believe they’ve telegraphed that they intend to try to use some of their young talent to acquire a third star along Kyrie and Durant. Now, we can get enter a healthy debate here about whether Caris LeVert is that third star, and they may make the decision that he is. But my feel and reading the tea leaves, paying attention to what Sean Marks has said and also being aware of some conversations that they had at the trade deadline, which was some sticking the toe in the water on some things, I think that they are going to swing for the fences whenever the offseason comes.

I also believe the Nets will try to trade for a third star. It’s the natural direction of a team that just signed two stars, and Irving appears antsy.

But I’d also caution: Every team wants another star. Brooklyn engaging teams about their stars before the trade deadline isn’t necessarily telling. It could be easy to overstate the significance of those conversations. It depends on their tenor.

That said, the Nets have expendable assets to make better offers than many other teams.

Dinwiddie hasn’t clicked on the court with Irving in two-point guard lineups. Best with the ball, LeVert is somewhat redundant with Durant and Irving. Allen has been repeatedly slighted in Brooklyn, most recently losing his starting job to DeAndre Jordan (Durant’s and Irving’s friend).

Yet, Dinwiddie, LeVert and Allen are all talented with potential to perform even better elsewhere. That ought to intrigue other teams.

Star trades usually require a disgruntled star. Teams rarely move a star without an internal push, including an approaching free agency. There’s no obvious target right now.

But expect the Nets to be on the prowl.

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July/August 2021. Will they include NBA players?

USA Basketball Olympics
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The Tokyo Olympics were postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving questions about NBA players participating.

OlympicTalk:

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been rescheduled for nearly one year later with the Olympics set for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.

That’s typically during the NBA offseason, but the NBA is also paused due to the coronavirus. Who knows how the league’s calendar will look when play resumes?

Still, these seem like good dates for getting NBA players into the Olympics. Even if the NBA playoffs are ongoing, eliminated players could participate in the Olympics.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich still plans to coach Team USA. But, one way or another, USA Basketball should rethink its roster strategy.