To run or not to run, that is the question.
The Nets pace (or lack there of) has been a topic of discussion amongst those following the franchise all season. The Nets play the second slowest pace in the NBA, as they are just a shade quicker than the New Orleans Hornets. There are advantages and disadvantages to playing at such a slow pace and we're taking a deep dive into both styles. After presenting the arguments for each speed, we're asking you the reader to decide which way is best for this Nets team. Let's get to it.
Reasons NOT to run.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
As stated earlier The Nets are almost the slowest playing team in the NBA, edging the Hornets for the right to be the league’s sloth. Despite this slow pace though, the Nets score 104.4 points per 100 possessions, an efficiency rating that puts them ahead of all but eight other teams. They are outscoring opponents by 1.1 points per game and their 42 wins (so far) have them in contention for a division title and an outside chance at the East’s number two overall seed. Point is, the Nets’ pace works for them and they project to finish right in the range that most basketball savvy pundits predicted they would, or should.
Knowing that the status quo isn’t always a great thing to stick to, would an innovative coach change things up and attack more in transition? Perhaps. But the fact is, two different head coaches have taken a look at this roster, weighed its strengths and weaknesses and both have decided to play at a super-slow speed. That should tell you something. As the old saying goes, if your basketball system ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
A team built for slow.
A team focusing on transition play would want their center to be a rim-running athlete with a propensity for finishing shots above the rim. Basically a gazelle in Nikes that can also catch lobs. Think Javale McGee. And, for every positive trait Brook Lopez brings to the game of basketball, these qualities are low on his list. In fact, looking up and down this Nets roster you won’t find many players that have ideal games designed for transition. Even Deron Williams, who is perhaps the Nets best open-court weapon, sometimes would prefer to abuse a favorable matchup in the half-court and has admitted to preferring a more system based, set-heavy style of play.
Contrast this Nets team with the Nets roster during the Jason Kidd era that was known for fast breaks: Kidd’s a jet, we all know that, but happily flanking him were speedsters such as Kerry Kittles and Richard Jefferson and a menacing lane-filler like Kenyon Martin. This Brooklyn version of the Nets doesn’t contain the athletes or finishers needed for a high-powered transition attack. A slow walk up the court allows a plodding Brook Lopez to get position and begin his post up routine or it allows time to develop a set where Joe Johnson can run off screens. This type of play fits the current Nets much better.
Reasons TO run.
Running = easy baskets = WINS.
Admittedly I am biased to this particular subject as playing fast and free is right in the heart of my personal basketball philosophy, but its not without reason. Playing fast leads to extra man advantages, beneficial match-ups, or a shot at the rim. And, the tempo wears out teams which in turn leads to even more easy baskets later in the game. Pushing the ball at a breakneck speed is one thing and requires a real commitment to that style of play. But what could a subtle attack up the court against a retreating defense do for you? Take a look at these two clips from the Nets recent game against the Nuggets.
In the first clip, Deron Williams catches the ball on the run and puts immediate pressure into the front-court causing the Nuggets to scramble. In the scramble, nobody bothers to guard the ball allowing Williams a clean look at three. Ignore for a moment the fact that he misses because barreling in to collect the rebound is Reggie Evans. Again, the Nuggets weren't able to get matched up in transition and Evans goes untouched to the rim to get the rebound and a layup. Two high percentage shots (an open three and a layup) all created in transition.
George Karl, coach of the freewheeling Denver Nuggets, believes that as opponents become smarter and more analytical playing 5-on-5 becomes a difficult task for the offense. So much so, that Karl’s teams try and play against a set defense as little as possible. Think about this fact as the Nets begin a playoff enterprise against some of the league’s best defenses. Teams that will be optimally prepared for all of the Nets offensive tendencies and, because of their slow pace, the Nets will play against those set defenses almost as often as possible.
Dean Oliver is a smart guy.
Oliver, the godfather of analytics in hoops, believes that maximizing possessions favors the more talented team. You can’t argue with his logic: less possessions means less Brook Lopez post ups, less Joe Johnson pin downs, less opportunities for Deron Williams to create and less Andray Blatche decisions (actually on second thought that may not be such a bad thing, but you get my drift.) And sure, playing a slower game with less possessions against a team like the Heat may benefit the Nets, but what about those pesky bottom-feeding teams the Nets play in more than half of their regular season schedule?
Take for the example the Nets vs. Pistons game played on February 6th of this year that the Nets won 93-90 and was played at a pace of 88 possessions. On paper the Nets talent far outweighs that of the Pistons, but at a pace of 88 possessions the Pistons were able to make a game of it. What if the Nets had 10 more possessions in this game? What about 15? Would the game have been as close? Those questions are impossible to answer, but logic states that more opportunities at scoring for the Nets talent would produce greater results than the Pistons inferior talent.
So there you have it. Arguments for and against the Nets pushing tempo. As the regular season transitions to the playoffs possessions become uber important. Will the Nets have more or less of them? Weigh in on comments with what you think.