clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

History frowns upon faster paced teams but the Pelicans may be exempt

New, comments

Players and fans alike are ready to see the Pelicans use their legs to make a deep playoff push, but that's rarely been a path of success.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A common theme exists everywhere you glance since Alvin Gentry arrived in New Orleans: the Pelicans playing at an increased pace will be a good thing. Yesterday, Anthony Davis joined the bandwagon as he publicly endorsed the Gentry hiring, and stated he is looking forward to the new style.

Now Davis is eager to see how Gentry's coaching philosophy will mesh with the Pelicans' talent. Davis was a high-schooler when Gentry coached the Phoenix Suns to the 2010 Western Conference finals with a fast-paced, high-scoring offense featuring guard Steve Nash and power forward Amar'e Stoudemire. The Pelicans power forward remembers that squad fondly and also has been impressed by the influence Gentry, as a top offensive assistant, has had more recently on recent Western Conference contenders such as the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion Golden State Warriors.

"I definitely love his playing style," Davis said. "My teammates, they have a lot of confidence in Coach Gentry. I think that's why everybody's coming back.

However, did you know that before last season, very few of the quicker paced teams have gone on deep playoff runs? Prior to the Golden State Warriors knocking out the Houston Rockets -- the most uptempo team beating the league's second quickest team -- only 4 other teams who finished in the top 5 in pace have made it to the either of the Conference Finals in the previous 10 years.

***In the table below, the numbers in parentheses are each respective teams' pace according to NBA Stats.

Champion Runner Up Western Conference Final Runner Up Eastern Conference Final Runner Up
2015 Warriors (1) Cavaliers (25) Rockets (2) Hawks (15)
2014 Spurs (12) Heat (27) Thunder (9) Pacers (20)
2013 Heat (23) Spurs (6) Grizzlies (29) Pacers (25)
2012 Heat (15) Thunder (6) Spurs (8) Celtics (22)
2011 Mavericks (19) Heat (21) Thunder (13) Bulls (22)
2010 Lakers (14) Celtics (23) Suns (4) Magic (18)
2009 Lakers (6) Magic (12) Nuggets (5) Cavaliers (25)
2008 Celtics (19) Lakers (6) Spurs (28) Pistons (30)
2007 Spurs (27) Cavaliers (19) Jazz (15) Pistons (30)
2006 Heat (12) Mavericks (27) Suns (1) Pistons (29)
2005 Spurs (23) Pistons (29) Suns (1) Heat (16)

The most uptempo team to win the NBA championship between 2005 and 2014 was the 2009 Los Angeles Lakers who finished 6th in pace. The next quickest were the 2006 Heat and the 2014 Spurs who both finished 12th. The average pace ranking among this group of champions was 17th. The average pace ranking for the Final Runner-Ups was 17.6.

Interestingly, there has been a huge disparity between the losers of the Conference Finals. In the Western Conference, the teams that came up one series shy of the Finals had an average ranking of 11.5 in pace. Conversely, their Eastern Conference counterparts lagged well behind at 23.7.

This data supports and actually shows preference for a Monty Williams-led system, but this shouldn't come as a surprise. In the playoffs, every possession is magnified in importance; turnovers are more costly than ever. It's believed a slower pace is inevitable so why not spend the regular season concentrating on executing at any point of the shot clock. Besides, better execution also increases the chances of getting set on defense. The last thing teams want to do is give opponents more possessions, especially of the easy variety.

Regardless, this simple belief was eviscerated during the 2015 season when the Warriors ran circles around their competition, from their first game in October against the Kings all the way until the final game of the season in June against the Cavaliers. GSW's ability to push the pace did not hinder their defensive rating, normally a problem for uptempo teams in the past.

The reason? Twofold.

First, their quick offense was the second most efficient offense in the league, narrowly finishing behind the Clippers. By converting on so many of their early shot-clock looks, they limited the amount of transition opportunities for opponents and were able to get back on defense in a timely manner.

Second, the Warriors versatility helped protect the rim. Their ability to switch assignments as much as needed without leading to too many mismatches was key. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala can cover just about anybody in the league and much of the rest of the roster are anything but slouches.

Therefore, it's not unexpected many advocate the Golden State model: efficient offense + efficient defense + fast pace. It makes for great television and captivates live audiences like no other. Everyone claims it's the way of the future, yet as we've just seen, history says otherwise. There must be a reason why so many know of the phrase, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Before anyone decries a run-and-gun style, however, realize the Pelicans have hired a coach that is best suited to traverse this difficult route. Alvin Gentry was a member of 3 of the 4 quickest paced teams from the above chart. If one includes the 2015 season, that becomes 4 of 6 teams. Even better is that he found success in a number of run-and-gun systems: Mike D'Antoni's 7 Seconds or Less, his own veteran squad of 2010 and last season's GSW unstoppable force on both sides of the ball.

With recent news that Pelicans are losing weight in preparation for the 2016 season, the potential is there for one of the youngest teams on paper to make waves -- they're taking their mission seriously. They have proven the ability to do a lot of things well on the court such as handling the basketball and getting to and shooting from all parts of the floor. Although injury gave it's best shot, the chemistry continues to grow and continuity was welcomed by the superstar.

When factoring last season's 18-11 post All-Star break record was spearheaded by the versatility of recent additions of Quincy Pondexter, Dante Cunningham and Norris Cole, New Orleans should start to look intimidating. Faster teams need depth, and for the first time in years, the Pelicans will have it from Day 1.

To top everything off, Dell Demps has assembled a coaching staff that is maximized to handle uptempo play. Gentry knows offense, but his understanding of the importance of working together as a unit may trump all. Despite his age, Erman has already been revered for his knowledge of defensive concepts. The rest of the coaching staff all possess invaluable positives but none are perhaps more important to New Orleans youthful squad than player development. Most of the roster are not yet in the midst of their prime so school should still be in session.

Hey, suddenly those historically long odds against uptempo teams don't appear so disheartening, do they?