A couple days ago, I decided I was going to get to the bottom of why I disagree with the statement that the Spurs play at a slow pace. I started manipulating the numbers and something strange happened.
The Spurs currently rank as the 4th lowest team in PACE at nba.com. While I won’t get into why I don’t like how pace is used (I had a conversation with JR Wilco about it and he said he was going to steal it. So I’ll wait until he writes something and then I’ll excoriate him!), I wanted to see if I could look at a variety of statistics that might indicate how fast a team plays.
Again, fast is a bit misleading. I wanted to know how quickly…ahhhh dammit. Pace, fast, quick. They are all misleading. Why? Because I don’t want to reward a team for shooting a bad shot early in the shot clock. A team who routinely takes a contested pull-up jumper with 22 seconds on the shot clock isn’t playing fast. They are playing stupid.
I wanted to know who is playing fast AND smart. In addition, anyone who watches the Spurs knows that the ball movement and body movement by the team wears the opponent down. We exhaust the opponent.
So……I started browsing NBA.com’s team stats for metrics that might help me. PACE was one. Passes per possession was another (I was trying to weed out the teams that come down the court and have one guy dribble until he shoots). I don’t want ugly run and chuck basketball. I want beautiful basketball. The last stat I found was average speed.
Now that I had my three metrics, I decided to multiply them together. I took the raw numbers and multiplied them. The result doesn’t have any importance or meaning. It is like if I told you to multiply 7 mph * 1.5 tequila shots * 400 nuts. You get 4200 something or another. If I asked you to tell me 4200 what, you wouldn’t have an answer. There is no units associated with the 4200. The product of three random numbers is something we do in risk analysis. On their own, the numbers don’t mean anything. But, compared to others numbers generated in the same way, they allow you to rank risks.
For instance, I might have three risk factors — chance of happening, cost if it happens, difficulty to determine cause — for evaluating risks to my company. If I create a 1-10 scale for each, and then multiply them, I rank the risks to my company and address the highest risks. The numbers you get — 5 * 8 * 4 = 160 — don’t mean anything, you are just looking to prioritize and also look for natural gaps. If my results are 500, 400, 20, 10, 5, 5, 5, 5, then I have two major risks that I should be focused on.
With that in mind, I multiplied PACE, average speed, and passes per possession. Not surprisingly, because I am a Spurs’ fan cherry-picking numbers, the Spurs came out at the top. The Warriors, the main team I was trying to compare to the Spurs, came out fifth. I realized that the category in which the Warriors were very strong, PACE, was having the least impact on the numbers. Therefore, I decided to use something a bit more neutral. I ranked all teams by each of the statistics. Fastest to slowest for PACE. Fastest to slowest for average speed. Most passes to least passes. I ranked them 1 to 30 for each statistic. I then multiplied each teams rank in the three stats. The Warriors now came out first and the Spurs came out 13th. Why? Because the Spurs are so very low in PACE that it was an anchor for them. I now had a ranking that was putting too much weight on PACE.
I had one ranking that de-emphasized PACE and one that over-emphasized PACE. I thought, a-ha, I will just average my two rankings. If I do that, I am getting a little further from an emphasis on one particular statistic.
That’s where things got interesting. I knew that the Warriors would be higher than the Spurs. I just wanted to know by how much. I created a new column and averaged the two. But, something very unexpected happened when I re-sorted. The Warriors weren’t number one. The Spurs weren’t number one.
THE PHILADELPHIA 76ERS WERE AT NUMBER ONE. The Phila-fucking-delphia Sixers. The worst team in the history of the league was my fastest and smartest team that played beautiful basketball. If you have seen the Sixers play, you know it isn’t beautiful.
I started laughing. I laughed my ass off. In all my focus on pace, speed, and beautiful basketball, I forgot one thing. Success. I wasn’t using anything that measured the ball actually going into the basket. My analysis would have put a bunch of chickens running around without heads playing hot potato with an egg as the most beautiful NBA team.
I’m such a dumb ass.