The Phoenix Suns dazzled the league in 2005 by reviving fast break basketball better than any team in recent memory. But people will probably look at you funny when you say that they played about as fast as the 1991 Chicago Bulls, the 1994 Orlando Magic, the 1989 Bad Boys Pistons, etc. But it's true. This is pretty much an indictment of how much the league has slowed down.
Say what? How do you prove that?
Easy friends. http://www.Basketball-reference.com and stat guru Dean Oliver's Basketball on Paper have a series of complex stats that do this for you...
Pace factor (available since the 1973-74 season); the formula is 48 * ((Tm Poss + Opp Poss) / (2*(Tm MP / 5))). Pace factor is an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team and its opponents.
Basically, Pace Factor is the end-all stat. Coupled with another stat, offensive efficency, you can see easily why scoring is down in the NBA.
Efficiency; the number of points scored or allowed per 100 possessions. Please see offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency.
Offensive efficiency (available since the 1973-74 season); the formula is 100*(Tm PTS / Tm Poss). Offensive efficiency is an estimate of the number of points scored per 100 possessions.
Defensive efficiency (available since the 1973-74 season); the formula is 100*(Opp PTS / Opp Poss). Defensive efficiency is an estimate of the number of points allowed per 100 possessions.
Are these stats accurate? Hell yeah they are. The 2005 Phoenix Suns had a Pace Factor of 98.6, which means on average they had close to 99 possessions in a game. Their offensive efficiency was the 5th best in history, 111.8 points per 100 possessions. 98.6 possessions and 111.8 points per, brings them right to their season average of something like 110 points per game.
So some interesting observations... when did the game grind to a halt?
League Pace by year...
1974 (first year this stat is available) ... 110.7. 111 possessions per game on average for every team in the league.
1984 ... 104.2
1994 ... 97.9
2004 ... 92.7
Generally, the 1970s were the biggest fastbreak era with ridiculously high scores every other game. The pace factor for the era hovered around 109 possessions per game.
The 1980s still had a live fastbreak, but it was somewhat slower, hovering around 103 possessions per game.
The early 1990s still produced scores in the 100s, but 1991 was the last year the league pace factor would be over 100 possessions per game.
Then the fastbreak died somewhere in the mid-90s. The lockout shortened 1999 was the all-time low, with teams having only 91.6 possessions per game to score points.
The reason for this? I suppose better transition defenses. 80s and 70s teams would more often than not be caught on their heels backpedaling, instead of sprinting back like today's teams do. Also, teams today generally send more guys back on D to nullify the fastbreak. Against the Suns in the playoffs, the Spurs would send 3 or 4 players to stop the break rather than the standard 2. And Rick Carlisle's Pistons sometimes would concede the offensive rebound entirely just to get back on D, after all it is much harder to score on a set defense!
Another reason could possibly be the NBA Coaching Carousel. Coaches have really tightened their grip on the reins. They figure that if they have an inferior team, slowing the tempo of the game will help them compete with more talented teams. (Note to coaches: THIS DOESN'T WORK TOO WELL. If you suck, you suck.) Hey, but it does work in some cases. The last 3 NBA champions, have been teams that slow the pace down. The 2005 Spurs, 2004 Pistons, 2003 Spurs all slow the game down to about 90 possessions per game. But they have talent and teamwork as well.
Some interesting observations:
The best defense of all time? Nope, not the Bad Boy Pistons, or the 99 Spurs with those two Hall of Fame 7-footers. Any of the Bulls championship teams? Nah. Riley's nasty Knicks? Nope.
The 2004 San Antonio Spurs, who limited opponents to 91.6 points per 100 possessions. Funny how the best defense in league history didn't win a championship. Although I recognize these numbers might be skewed because of the Pistons' mid-season acquisition of Sheed, and considering these Spurs just barely edge out the champion Pistons, who had 92.5 (and probably lower in the 2nd half of the season). But by the numbers, they are the best.
There are also some wacky outliers. Though the 70s were by far the fastest era, the fastest fastbreak team of all time was the 20-62 1991 Denver Nuggets. Coach Paul Westhead's philosophy was to run up the court and shoot it, and it showed. 117 possessions per game. This game also earns the noteriety of having perhaps the worst defense in NBA History (surprise!), 111 points per 100 possessions... but the opponent got plenty more possessions than that. Because opposing teams scored an astounding record 130 points per game against them!
http://basketball-reference.com/team...991_games.html <-- Check out these scores if you don't believe that.
So, what conclusions can we draw from this?
The old cliche, defense wins championships. Actually, that's only half true. Balance wins championships. The 2004 Pistons won the championship because their offense was middle-of-the-pack, their defense was top-notch, and San Antonio was defeated by the luckiest damn shot I've ever seen. The 2005 Spurs won the championship because although they had an identical level of defense as the opponent Pistons, they were a better balanced team. Instead of being middle of the pack offensively, the Spurs were near the top.
It is hard as hell to build a team defense like the Pistons or Spurs. Ben Wallace, Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen, Sheed Wallace... that's defensive talent that is very hard to find and not available to everybody. It is best to build a balanced team! (Of course, the Pacers would do just fine continuing to build upon their strong team defense because they have good defensive talent for the most part.)
The bottom line is you have to execute on both ends of the floor. But an uptempo game isn't necessarily outdated, you can win with any style provided you aren't too one-sided.