Broadcasters and analysts love to talk about pace. It’s one of those buzz words in basketball that is simple to understand, but takes longer to master…much like anything else worth getting good at. Point guards who push the pace do so for a few reasons. The most obvious, shots that come in the first 7 seconds of the shot clock tend to have a higher probability of success. Patience, was no longer a virtue. It was so revolutionary that a book was written about it. Heck, plenty of people have spent lots of time dissecting the offense and we’ve finally gotten to the point where the NBA coaches have accepted it and embraced it.
And since we here at Upside Reviews love to take a deeper look at all things basketball, we decided to highlight a few examples of pace that are successful. Then we ask why…why is that particular example successful. And pace pushing point guards aren’t only found in the NBA. And the philosophy behind why it works transcends into other sports as well. We’ll cover as much as we can.
First, let’s look at the Florida Gators. Mike White likes his teams to play at a fast pace, according to KenPom.com, the Gators play at the 61st fastest pace and have the 19th fastest average time of possession. Chris Chiozza, their senior point guard has really embraced his role so far this season and drives their offense. After watching him play a couple times, it’s easy to see why he’s in the top 100 in ARate and a lot of it has to do with the pressure he puts on the defense early in the clock.
In the first screen shot, we see Chiozza with the ball already across half court with 28 seconds on the shot clock…that’s fast, in case you were wondering. Every Duke defender in the front court is focused on stopping the ball. Trent has an idea where he’s supposed to match up, but Allen, Bagley and DeLaurier are all within 10 feet of Chiozza and the ball.
One dribble later, with 27 left on the shot clock, Chiozza has hit one of his trailing shooters (who doesn’t love walking forward into an open shot??!!) and is able to set a screen because he crashed the defense into the paint. Luckily, for Duke, Bagley and Trent had some discipline and stayed in proper positioning. This particular play didn’t lead to a wide open 3PT shot for Koulechov, but he was able to attack a panicked close out and draw a foul after a blow by…which may be a better outcome when accounting for expected point per shot and adding a foul to a college team.
Here we are again, Chiozza with the ball almost at the 3PT line with 27 seconds on the shot clock. Notice how all 5 Duke defenders have eyes on Chiozza and the ball.
1 second later, Chiozza is into the paint and has successfully collapsed the entire defense. All 5 players are facing Chiozza and he know has the advantage.
And fast forward 1 more second and Florida has another great look. Allen walks into a wide open 3PT shot. As a bonus, Chiozza can start his retreat to maintain floor balance if the worst case scenario happens. For those wondering what the worst case may be, a long rebound that Duke gets while moving towards their goal…
Chiozza does a wonderful job of getting the ball up the court quickly. The Gators look to run at every chance possible, and they get great looks. Strongly correlated to the pace, the Gators eFG%, TO Rate and FT Rate are all in the top 100…and those categories lead to wins.
Now, we’re going to change gears (and sports) to highlight “the why” pace is important. We promise we’ll bring it full circle.
We aren’t hockey experts, but we’ve seen enough games to know that Wayne Gretzky is pretty good. Generally speaking, if your nickname is “The Great One” you have probably ascended to a high level in your profession. We don’t know anything about pace in hockey and if that is even a thing…doesn’t matter. Let’s take a look at some images of Gretzky throughout his playing career.
The common theme in all of these pictures is where Gretzky is on the ice. But going one step further, to understand why he’s there, it’s important to look at the other players and where they are. More specifically, look at the goalie. According to the internet, NHL rinks are 200 ft in length and 85 ft wide. We know it’s not a square, and that behind the goal there are curves that take away playing space. It’s about 11 ft from the red line to the boards (space behind the goal) meaning that Gretzky liked to operate in an area that’s about 10% of the entire playing surface. Why would one of the greatest offensive players to ever play a game choose to bring the puck into an area where; 1) he can’t score directly, 2) is the smallest area for options to play the puck considering the use of the 3rd dimension (think air space) is limited?
For the answer, scroll back up to look at the goalies again. Which way are they facing? Do any of them look comfortable, or confident in their situation? Even the defensemen aren’t sure what to do! So, Gretzky has put his opponents into a place where they aren’t so comfortable, but he is. He’s zigged when most zagged. Think about a goalie in front of a net.
Look at these guys…there’s barely any space they can’t cover. Especially when there are multiple players taking away shooting windows, but we digress. The point is, Gretzky figured out a way give himself an advantage within the rules. All of the goalies in the first set of pictures are facing the WRONG WAY!!!! He can’t score from where he is, but they have to know where the puck is, so they have to manipulate/contort their bodies into weak positions and HAVE TO TURN THEIR HEADS so they can’t see the puck and the players that are in position to score at the same time. It’s simple and genius. That’s a combination that we like around here.
Bringing it all back to hoops and pace. The whole point of offense is to create easy shots for the team. Pace, when used appropriately, puts some much pressure on the defense that they are forced into unnatural positions. The defensive principles taught in the early stages of basketball are; Ball-You-Man, Ball-You-Basket, etc…and when the offense does something to disrupt those basic rules, it’s easy to bring about panic. That’s why pace is important. It gets the defense into situations that they are not comfortable defending.
Nearly every drill in practice starts with the defense facing the hoop they are attacking and their backs are to the hoop they are defending. That’s normal. That’s comfortable and logical. When the defense is in positions that they are not familiar with, it’s an advantage to the offense.
So, pace leads to the defense being in poor defensive positions. Poor defensive positions leads to easy shots. Easy shots lead more points. More points helps your team win games. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not fully embraced by every one yet.