Week in Review: Fastbreaks and Pace

USA TODAY Sports

A look into some of the trends of the season so far.

Before I dive into this number-filled post, I'd like people to first understand the reasoning behind it.

For starters, the season is 3 months old now. At this point, there is more than enough data to be able to do a thorough analysis of the team. Although it won't be conclusive by any means, it's still enough to make some reliable statements.

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First, the pace. I think it's no surprise to anybody that the Hornets are playing at a faster pace than ever before. For the season, the team is still way below league average (at 88.6, per Basketball-Reference) but if you check out the chart, New Orleans is trending upwards and is, in fact, moving closer and closer to league average -- which is good for a young and athletic team.

The biggest reason? Increased minutes for Eric Gordon and Al Farouq Aminu. I was really curious to see which of our players have the biggest effect on pace. I looked at the team's top 9 guys for the season: namely Vasquez, Gordon, Aminu, Davis, Lopez, Anderson, Smith, Mason and Rivers. Here are those results:

Pace vs. Minutes Played (with a Correlation Row)

Correlation -0.09 0.21 0.17 0.19 -0.1 -0.01 0.1 0.01 -0.17
Minutes Played Vasquez Gordon Aminu Davis Lopez Anderson Smith Mason Rivers
0 (DNP) 0.00 89.34 88.50 88.62 0.00 0.00 87.71 89.00 88.00
1-15 0.00 0.00 87.20 85.67 91.50 88.50 90.00 92.00 91.63
16-25 89.33 88.00 90.56 92.25 89.75 89.00 90.86 89.38 90.21
26-30 86.80 90.83 91.67 90.78 89.72 91.21 88.33 88.67 88.29
31-35 91.81 92.00 89.80 89.50 91.00 88.20 0.00 93.00 89.43
36-40 90.15 0.00 89.60 91.00 88.00 90.50 0.00 91.50 88.33
41-44 88.38 0.00 91.00 88.00 88.00 90.33 0.00 0.00 88.00
45-48 82.00 0.00 88.00 0.00 0.00 88.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

Histogram of Minutes Played

Minutes Played Vasquez Gordon Aminu Davis Lopez Anderson Smith Mason Rivers
0 (DNP) 0 32 6 13 0 0 7 4 1
1-15 0 0 5 3 2 2 12 7 8
16-25 3 2 9 8 16 2 21 26 19
26-30 5 6 9 9 18 19 6 6 7
31-35 16 6 10 8 6 15 0 1 7
36-40 13 0 5 4 3 4 0 2 3
41-44 8 0 1 1 1 3 0 0 1
45-48 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 0

Now it may look overwhelming to some, so I'll just summarize what the tables say:

  • The three players that have the largest positive effect on the team's pace are Gordon, Aminu and Davis. Their correlation is among the highest in the group (0.21, 0.17 and 0.19) in terms of positive effect and the distribution. If you look at the column of DNPs, when they don't play, the team usually plays at a significantly lower pace (89.34, 88.5, 88.62) as compared to when they are playing (which have 90s in them). This should not be a surprise to anyone because they are the most athletic players on our team.
  • On the other side of the coin, Vasquez and Lopez have the largest negative effect on team pace. They're the slowest players on the team. Their correlation is high on the negative side (-0.09 and -0.1) which means as they get more minutes, the pace gets slower and slower. If you look at the histogram, Vasquez gets most of his minutes from the 31-40 range (29 times) while Lopez gets most of his from the 16-30 range (34 times). So there is something to be said about this.
  • Davis isn't playing enough minutes. As Oleh pointed out in his recap yesterday, Anthony Davis is on some sort of minutes cap. Look at his histogram. Most of it rests somewhere between 16-35 -- a very wide range.
  • On the other hand, I am seriously happy that Aminu is getting more minutes -- the guy has worked hard on keeping his weaknesses very minimal (dribbling, jump shooting) while improving his strengths (rebounding and defense).
Now that we have answered that -- I ask: Is increasing/decreasing the pace necessary for us to succeed? Again, we can look at the trend.

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I sorted all 46 Hornet games by pace in ascending order (slowest to fastest). I then calculated a 3 game moving average (the usual amount of games in a week). And then I graphed them.

Notice on the DRTG chart how the peaks and valleys get higher and higher. This means that the defense is getting worse as the pace increases. However the offense also got better -- higher peaks and valleys as well. So what do we do? The efficiency differential trend doesn't show us a thing.

The question now becomes -- which side of the court does pace have the larger effect?

I did a simple correlation test, and it turns out: the Hornets get worse more on defense (a correlation with pace of 0.1) than they get better on offense (a correlation of 0.05).

But what about that month of January?

For the month of November, New Orleans had an average pace of 93.22 (per 48) while giving up (on average) -6.4 points/100 possession. For December, it was 90.22 on pace and -6.56 on Efficiency Differential. For January?Average pace was bumped up all the way to 92.67 with a differential of 0.2.

Now you may point out that the Hornets have become better in January particularly because they increased their pace. Wrong. They got better because they became more talented (accelerated development for Davis and Aminu, Anderson and Vasquez staying consistent, Gordon replacing the bulk of Rivers' minutes). Not because of some magical pace formula (although they did increase their pace).

Conclusion

Does this mean that Hornets should stop increasing the pace?

Yes and no. What do I mean? The Hornets should be very selective in terms of when to push the pace and when not to push the pace. They should take a page out of the book on the 2007-2008 New Orleans Hornets.

That year, the Hornets were the 5th lowest team in pace, but they ranked 9th in fastbreak points. How did they do it? They got most of their transition attacks when CP3 got a rebound or was very close to the rebounder. I remember so many instances of Paul galloping in the middle, Tyson Chandler blitzing the rim, Peja occupying a corner with David West as the trailing shooter, and it was basically unstoppable. The key word is "selective" -- Vasquez/Gordon should not push the pace just to push the pace, as they sometimes do in games.

The current Hornets team is primed for that type of style -- a slow grind it out team that can excel in transition much like the 2008 Hornets. Vasquez replaces Paul in starting transition (both are really good defensive rebounders), Anderson replaces Peja as the trailing shooter, Davis replaces West and Aminu replaces Chandler.

Yes, it's unorthodox, but if you watch all the transition opportunities by the Hornets, they are not easy to defend. Note that this doesn't have to be a 1 vs. 2 or 2 vs. 3 type of a situation in order to be considered a transition opportunity. It can also be a 4 vs. 4 but with the defense not yet set.

Per Synergy Sports, the Hornets are the top transition scoring team in the league -- making almost 58% of their FG attempts and 52.5% of their 3 PT attempts while turning the ball over on just 9.6% of them. Those are staggering efficiency numbers.

So overall, I am indifferent about the pace issue --- whether they increase it or not is not my concern (they probably won't). I am more interested in how the Hornets will exploit transition opportunities on Vasquez rebounds. This is where the magic begins, and this is when the Hornets should pursue "increase of pace" attacks.

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