The Hornets' Pace Will Be Fine, Promises or No Promises

Monty Williams' introductory press conference on Tuesday was impressive by many accounts. He's talked a little bit about numerous subjects in various interviews/Q+A's at this point. And he's addressed one of the recurring themes of the coaching search: pushing the tempo.

Yahoo! Sports:

Williams said he wants the Hornets play an up-tempo style, but not at the risk of increased turnovers. The new coach also said that if the Hornets don’t improve defensively on the perimeter as well as the inside, it won’t matter what style of offense they play.

Yesterday, Hornets247 quickly took the hatchet to that idea, stating quite bluntly, "Williams Is Not Promising Up-Tempo Offense." I think the points made are fair- Williams hasn't exactly gone all out in stating his preference for pace and neither Portland or San Antonio has run much in the past.

While this may all be true, it's important to note that New Orleans is not a slow team any more. They simply aren't the same team they were for much of the last decade. As we try to speculate about how Monty Williams will mold the team, let's keep in mind that the big changes already happened in 2009-2010. The groundwork was being laid for Williams while he was still a coach in Portland.  In a way, the heavy lifting has already been done. Behold:

 

NOLA 2009

NOLA 2010

Pace

87.8 (28th)

92.6 (15th)

Fastbreak PPG

10.0 (22nd)

15.1 (10th)

New Orleans underwent a huge, huge stylistic change last year. The team's sometimes overwhelming mediocrity made this easy to miss (or at least the extent of the change easy to miss). But any team that extensively features players like Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton will naturally get up and down the floor quickly.

The Hornets were also among the league's most efficient fast break teams, in addition to sheer volume. To quote myself:

 

[T]he Hornets absolutely dominated on the break. To me, this indicates that there's room to increase the fast break rate. As with any efficiency vs. usage debate, it's worth stretching usage to the limit where efficiency begins to break down. Neither the Hornets' pace nor fast break rate reached that upper cap last year; Synergy Sports' data helps us prove that. 

Fastbreak_medium

... The above plot tracks the fast break rates (fast breaks per 100 possessions, per Synergy) and fast break efficiency (points/fast break, also from Synergy) for the top 12 teams in pace from 2009-2010. ... [T]he Hornets were extremely awesome at running the fast break. They ranked second in the league... [and] [s]econd, the Hornets didn't run nearly as often as their efficiency dictates they should have. Again, the efficiency/usage argument should be considered, but again, the Hornets' efficiency was way too high for them not to run more in 2010-2011. 

All in all? With CP, Buckets, and Dimes, the Hornets should look to play faster next year, even if the added pace is almost entirely fueled by additional fast breaks. 

 

The larger point is that New Orleans was very successful at running the break last year. They ran often enough for all that running to have a significant effect on their overall pace. 

Thus, I really do disagree with Joe Gerrity's assessment- "I for one would be pretty surprised to see the team inside the top 20 in pace next year" in the comments at H247. Not to pick on him or anything- I just feel that his comment is representative of a fair number of folks that are doubtful of Williams' "promise" (or rather, ESPN's reporting of it).

There's no doubt in my mind that the Hornets and Monty Williams will institute their/his fair share of half court sets through the year. A focus on efficiency can sometimes mean an aversion to chaos. That's fine. With Williams' pedigree, learning the half-court from Gregg Popovich and Nate McMillan, it would be stupid not to lean towards efficiency in the half court game. But with the Hornets' tremendous success in transition last year and the organization's apparent insistence on seeing that success carried forth by the next coach, I simply can't envision a regression. The team found a way to push the pace while running a ton of half-court, and I can't think of a single reason they couldn't do it again. 

I'm not saying ESPN is right, and that New Orleans will become faster or crack the top 10 in pace. Rather, it's that the Hornets can run, are good at running, and most importantly, did run in 2009-2010. Compared to the vast majority of offenses Chris Paul has been a part of, the current Hornets are downright fast. Unless Williams is a modern day Mike Fratello, that's not changing. The whole will they-won't they run debate is kinda, sorta, just a little bit moot. 

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