ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz dropped a bomb of a Tweet this week when he noted the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns “Seven Seconds Or Less” team would rank 25th in pace if they played in this 2017-18 season.
The Phoenix Suns "7 Seconds or Less" '04-'05 team, which led the NBA in pace, would rank 25th this season.
— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) November 1, 2017
It made me run the numbers where I confirmed, not only was that true, but also made me note that of the NBA’s 30 fastest-paced teams this century, 13 come from this 2017-18 season.
Call them fast. Call them furious.
Call them Fast & Furious 13.
Whatever you deem today’s NBA, we’re definitely seeing a new era where the good, the bad and the ugly are all playing the same speed of basketball that is literally taking us back to Showtime, run-and-gun, 1980s basketball again.
In fact, 26 of this century’s fastest 100 teams come from this 2017-18 season alone when using points-per-100 possessions as the gauge.
How fast are we going, Officer?
Well, last year’s Brooklyn Nets (103.58 possessions per game) broke the NBA pace record held by 2009-10 Golden State (102.72), led by Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and the Don Nelson-coached small-ball Warriors.
If the season ended today, the Nets’ NBA record would rank only seventh among this season’s teams.
Keep in mind, teams not so long ago used to play their players 3,000-plus minutes on the regular, wearing them down before postseason play.
In the 21st century’s first 14 seasons (1999-2000 through 2012-13), 201 players played 3000-plus minutes; in the four seasons since, only six have done so.
By subbing in fresher players, the pace has naturally picked up—for the fast teams, average squads and even the slow ones.
In fact, this season’s slowest team, the Utah Jazz, still pushes the pace fast enough to rank 125th of the 565 teams that have played this century.
Who’s the slowest team in the 21st Century?
Try the 2003-04 Trail Blazers that ranks 565th in pace (88.79). That was the Damon Stoudamire-quarterbacked 41-41 team that plodded along with bruising bigs Zach Randolph, Dale Davis and Rasheed Wallace alongside wings Ruben Patterson and Derek Anderson.
30. Chicago Bulls
Head coach Fred Hoiberg was looking for any suggestion to ignite his league-worst offense (their 90.6 points per 100 possessions ranks 4.3 points below the 29th-place Kings). When you rank 28th in the League in pace (97.52 possessions per game), you definitely have a need for speed, l look there first, which is why Hoiberg inserted guard David Nwaba into the starting lineup this week. Nwaba is the NBA’s only wing that ranks top 10 in defensive rebounding (31.1 percent), which is a plus for anyone wanting to run. As the late, great Red Auerbach used to scream, “You first must grab the rebound!”
29. Atlanta Hawks
Despite going through multiple lineups due to injuries to point guard Dennis Schroder and power forward Ersan Ilyasova, the Hawks have been able to set a mad pace (102.83 possessions per game), even if they cannot win actual ball games. As it is, Atlanta’s best lineup thus far (+0.9 net rating) has been when they slow it down to a 95.24 pace and play Malcolm Delaney, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Mike Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon.
28. Brooklyn Nets
Individually, no one tops DeMarre Carroll (112.33 possessions per 48-minute game), D’Angelo Russell (112.33), Allen Crabbe (111.65) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (110.40) when it comes to setting pace, which is part of the reason—when you team them up with fellow top 10 pace-setter Trevor Booker (107.94)—they rank first all-time with a historic 108.5 possessions per game. Those transition points are certainly helping the offense flow better: Brooklyn now ranks 11th in offensive efficiency at 105.3 points per 100 possessions.
27. Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings are still trying to find their identity, with their mish-mash of veterans who have played for David Joerger before, along with NBA rookies who are learning now what the league is about. Either way, the Kings are a step behind no matter how you judge it: by pace, 97.36 possessions per game, 29th in the NBA; by offensive efficiency, 94.9 points per 100 possessions, 29th in NBA.
No matter how Dallas may try and slow things down to limit possessions (97.84 pace ranks 27th) for opponents, the Mavericks still cannot escape their defensive deficiencies, which show up in their League-worst defensive efficiency numbers (111.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). Maybe now they’ll start playing Nerlens Noel more than 19 minutes per game.
25. New York Knicks
The Knicks’ three-guard lineups are helping generate a faster brand of basketball (100.48 pace) that ranks 17th in the NBA, even with two 7-footers on the starting unit. One has to wonder if 19-year-old rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina is ever going to be efficient enough this season to play significant minutes, alongside their collection of journeyman guards.
24. Phoenix Suns
The Suns rank second in pace (107.26) thanks to the hustling efforts of rookie point guard Mike James (108.90), rookie wing Josh Jackson (108.49), second-year big Dragan Bender (108.02) and third-year wing Devin Booker (107.89), who all rank among the top 10 in individual pacesetters. How they contribute efficiently is another matter, with the team ranking only 22nd with 101.1 points per 100 possessions.
23. Philadelphia 76ers
If the Sixers are going to continue to play at the NBA’s fifth-fastest pace this season (104.24 possessions per game), they are indeed going to need rebounders Joel Embiid, who ranks fifth in defensive rebounding percentage at 32.3, and rookie Ben Simmons, ranks second in the NBA in loose balls recovered, to team up on the boards and floor and get the ball to the 6-10 point guard Simmons as soon as they hit transition.
22. Los Angeles Lakers
As much credit as Lonzo Ball gets for igniting the Lakers’ fast-breaker offense—and he does deserve the lion’s share—it is old man Corey Brewer (107.98) who knows exactly what his teammates need, providing a team-leading pace (107.98) that also ranks amongst the NBA’s top 10. As a team, L.A. rates fourth in pace (104.98 possessions per game), though their efficiency ranks near the bottom of the league (97.1 points per 100 possessions). As fast as the Lakers may play, it is their defense where we see them benefit the most from the hustle (they rank sixth in defensive efficiency at 100.0 points allowed per 100 possessions).
21. Miami Heat
Goran Dragic and the Heat have gotten out and run more than season’s past, ranking 14th in pace (100.66) this season. Most of the reason for that is the injury to center Hassan Whiteside, who missed five games due to a bone bruise on his left knee. In his absence, they tried more fleet-afoot bigs in the starting lineup like Bam Adebayo, Jordan Mickey and Kelly Olynyk.
20. New Orleans Pelicans
Of the NBA’s 25 most popular lineups, the Pelicans quintet (Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins) ranks first in pace at 103.06 possessions per game in 96 minutes total, while producing a nice +4.9 net rating per 100 possessions. It certainly does not hurt that New Orleans also ranks seventh in offensive efficiency (103.33).
19. Indiana Pacers
There are so many dimensions to the Pacers pushing the NBA’s 10th-fastest pace (102.81), whether it is Domantas Sabonis leading the transitions by ranking seventh in defensive rebounding percentage (32.0) to Thaddeus Young’s league-leading 38 deflections on D to Victor Oladipo’s 6.3 transition attacks per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA. All in all, those easy buckets are contributing to Indiana’s third-best offensive efficiency numbers (102.81 points per 100 possessions).
18. Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond’s 34.3 defensive rebound rate, which ranks second in the NBA, has been a boost to the Piston’s push for pace, though it still only ranks 22nd in today’s fast-and-furious league (99.33 possessions per game). Rumor has Detroit making a trade for Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe, which should only improve Detroit’s transition game due to Bledsoe’s pressure defense.
17. Orlando Magic
Of the NBA’s 25 most popular lineups, the Magic quintet of D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic ranks second in pace at 104.35 possessions per game in 66 minutes total. That segment helps contribute to the team’s 105.53 third-ranked pace, which in turn, contributes to Orlando’s 109.9 second-ranked offense. Expect the Orlando O to continue functioning well when Elfrid Payton returns from injury; his 5.0 transitions per game rate seventh in the NBA, as is.
16. Charlotte Hornets
Everybody knew Dwight Howard would make the Hornets a better defensive team, but who knew he would contribute to making them a faster squad too. After all, Howard’s 31.6 defensive rebound rate ranks eighth in the NBA and helps get the Hornets off in transition, best evidenced by the League’s fastest five-man unit, led by Howard, Marvin Williams, rookie Dwayne Bacon, Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker. Of the NBA’s 25 most popular lineups, this Hornets quintet ranks first in pace at 104.45 possessions per game in 60 minutes total, while also tallying a +4.1 net rating.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
Though head coach David Fizdale promises a faster-paced offense each year, he neglects to consider that every other team is also picking up the tempo, which means a 97.87 pace only gets you a 26th ranking in today’s NBA, though it would have been top 5 in almost any other season in the 2000s. Oh, well. At least the Grizzlies still D it up, ranking fourth in defensive efficiency at 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions.
14. Utah Jazz
As mentioned in the intro, the Jazz’s League-worst pace (96.87) is still above-average in any other season this century. Nevertheless, the Rudy Gobert-led defense uses that tempo to their advantage on D, ranking third in the NBA in that category (96.3 points allowed per 100 possessions), with Ricky Rubio’s table-setting ways being fully appreciated by a team of true international players (seven players are from foreign lands).
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
One has to wonder why defensive architect Tom Thibodeau has put his best defensive player, Gorgui Dieng, so deep on the bench, albeit replaced by a good, veteran defender in Taj Gibson, who is well familiar with Tib’s ways on D in Chicago (“Ice! Ice!”). While Minnesota and new point guard Jeff Teague may be keeping pace with the rest of the running-gunning league offensively (100.84 possessions per game as a team, ranking 13th), the defense has suffered again, with Minny ranking 28th with 111.0 points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Trail Blazers are scrappy this season, evidenced by Damian Lillard’s 18 loose balls recovered and better proven by the team’s fifth-rated defense (99.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). Outside of that, Portland’s two-headed quarterback tandem of Lillard and C.J. McCollum has been moderating the attack at a 100.01 pace, which ranks 21st.
11. Toronto Raptors
It’s good to see Toronto’s point guard Kyle Lowry lead the NBA in charges drawn (six, one better than Miami’s Kelly Olynyk), since he is the initiator of so many pace-pushing possessions on offense (102.46, which ranks 12th). It just goes to show Lowry’s all-around play in the transition game makes him one of the East’s better point guards at both starting and stopping runaway breaks.
It is no surprise the stats show how instrumental both Kevin Love and LeBron James are to Cleveland’s 15th-rated pace-setting offense (100.58 possessions per game). Love’s 32.0 defensive rebound percentage ranks DRB sixth in the NBA, while LeBron rates first in transition attacks at 6.6 per game. That is not enough to cover up Cleveland’s stinky defense, which ranks 29th in the league (111.3 poitns allowed per 100 possessions), but at least the Cavs are maximizing other team’s missed shots.
The Bucks as a team rank 23rd in the NBA in setting the pace (99.22 possessions per game), but nobody gets an offense going like Giannis Antetokounmpo, who not only ranks fifth in the NBA in 5.6 transition attacks per game, but also rates in the 85th percentile in transition efficiency too.
8. Washington Wizards
Of the NBA’s 25 most popular lineups, the Wizards quintet of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat ranks first in pace at 103.87 possessions per game in 126 minutes total, while also posting a spectacular +23.6 net rating per 100 possessions. As a team, the Wizards rank eighth in pace (103.26) and fifth in offensive efficiency (107.3), thanks in part to point guard John Wall’s 6.4 transitions per game, which ranks second among players.
7. Denver Nuggets
As much as Nikola Jokic helps his team consistently play at top 5 offensive efficiency, he also contributes to their pace as much as a center can, rebounding at 32.6 rate on the defensive glass, which rates fourth in the NBA. Keep in mind that some of these breaks are led by Jokic himself, and one has to wonder where Denver would be if they did not have Jokic sparking their transition game as oft as he does (Nuggets rank 20th in pace at 100.10).
6. San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio, by today’s standards, is slow (98.21 rates 25th), but keep in mind that their defensive ace, Kawhi Leonard, is hurt, which consequently takes away much of the Spurs’ transition defense. Thankfully, much to the Spurs delight, they are discovering the hidden talents of 21-year-old point guard Dejounte Murray, who is starting to exhibit some Kawhi-like skills on the defensive end, causing problems for his point-guard counterparts. Murray’s wingspan is making him quite the catalyst on D, while also helping him become the third-best rebounding point guard (14.3 rebound rate), while also leading all NBA majority-minute players in constant average speed (4.97 average miles per hour).
Lob City may not be the only run-and-gun-and-dunk show in Los Angeles anymore, but the Clippers sans Chris Paul still keep apace with the rest of the NBA (100.16 ranks 18th), while producing the League’s fourth most efficient offense (108.7 points per 100 possessions), thanks to Griffin’s all-around game. His co-pilot on the finishing end of many of those breaks is still center DeAndre Jordan, who is also the trigger to Griffin’s finishes more oft than not (Jordan ranks third in the NBA in defensive rebound rate at 33.8 percent).
4. Boston Celtics
While everyone else focuses on pace, Coach Brad Stevens has his troops concentrating on playing elite D, which they are doing quite well, thank you, ranking first in defensive effiency at 95.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. Granted, the pace is not as fast as everyone else (98.33 ranks 24th), but the young C’s have certainly bought in, best evidenced by Kyrie Irving’s 34 deflections, which result in many of Jaylen Brown’s 4.4 transitions per game, which rank among the top 10 players. As a unit, nobody tops the Celtics quintet of Irving, Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes, who lead the NBA’s 25 most popular five-man combos with 82.6 defensive efficiency in 55 minutes total this season.
Clint Capela is becoming a dream of a center in this new high-flying fast break society. Not only can he outsprint most bigs on the break, he also has become the NBA’s top trigger, leading the league in defensive rebound rate at 37.0 percent. Granted, the Rockets’ average pace (100.55 rates 16th) might not spotlight his contributions fully, but his all-around play as an elite small-ball 5 is what keeps Houston up there perennially as a top 5 offense.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook’s defense-to-offense breaks speak volumes because not only does he rank third in the League in transition attacks (6.3 per game), but he also sets the tone for what is now the NBA’s No. 2 defense (95.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). The pace is still fast, but nothing special by today’s standards (100.10 rates 19th). Yet, the quintet of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams are good enough complementary pieces to gel perfectly around Russ on both O and D. Who knows? Perhaps last year’s triple-double king is now showing the League that this year’s mission is for the NBA’s MVP to become the NBA’s new Defensive Player of the Year.
1. Golden State Warriors
While the Warriors try to figure out their problems on defense, they are taking their offensive show to higher heights in 2017-18. The pace is still fast (103.67 rates sixth) and the efficiency is now off the charts (118.7 points per 100 possessions is now more than 5 points better than their historic 2016-17 numbers). As always, much of their easy-bucket O comes on transition where three Dubs are top 10 killers. Klay Thompson’s 5.6 transitions per game ranks sixth among NBA players, while his efficiency in transition is in the 94th percentile; Kevin Durant’s 4.9 transitions per game ranks eighth, while his efficiency in transition is in the 89th percentile; Stephen Curry’s 4.5 transitions per game ranks ninth.