Has NBA been wrong about pace. Is Money-ball offense slow pace with lots of 3 balls?

Ever since Michael Lewis highlighted Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s their has been a money-ball method of how to play baseball. When the home run ball was rampant (all with steroids) the stolen base and sacrifice were out. Now with a decrease of the long ball the value of the stolen base has returned.

Basketball has been searching for its version of money-ball. The three point shot has been the rage of the NBA. Each year the % of FGA as 3 point shots continues to rise with no sign of over saturation.

Synonymous with 3 point shooting has been playing with space and pace. However, this pairing may very well be faulty. Their has never been a correlation between pace and winning.

Space yes, pace no. The money-ball approach to NBA offense is space and 3 point shooting, but a slower pace shows to be more important than high possession style.

Interestingly, none of the following research ever touches on making three point shots. Having an offensive system that can generate three point shots, despite not playing at fast pace is the differentiation.

Over the last 10 years, 11 teams have been in the bottom 20% in pace of play and in the top 20% of % of fga as 3 point attempts.

  • 10 of the 11 have had winning records. Last year’s Dallas Mavericks are the exception.
  • All of them but the Mavericks had a top 15 offense and 7 of the 11 have had a top 10 offense
  • The combined winning percentage of these 11 teams was 62.4% or 51 wins and the average offensive rank was 7.5

This is not an easy level to achieve. The next tier is slow pace and top 10 (or top 33%)of % of fga taken as 3 point shots. This increased the data sample to 16 teams over the past 10 years.

  • 14 of the 16 teams had winning records
  • All but last year’s Mavericks were in the top half offensively
  • 10 of the 16 were in the top 10 offensively
  • The combined winning percentage was 61.4 and average offensive rank was 8.3

Drop the parameters even further and the same trends show. Over the past 10 seasons 27 teams have been in the bottom 20% of pace of play and in the top half of % of FGA as three point attempts

  • 23 of the 27 have had a winning record. Note 4 of the last 9 have not, with the Quin Snyder Utah Jazz rebuilding project being two of those 4 teams.
  • The average winning percentage has been 60% with an average offense rank of 10. Only 5 of the 27 teams have had a below average offense.

There is definite trend line developing. If you are in the top 20% of FGA as three point shots you average winning 62% with an average offensive ranking of 7.5, if you move to the top 33% or top10 in % of FGA as 3 point attempts you win 61% with an average offense of 8.25 and if you are in the top 50% or top 15 of % of FGA as 3 point attempts you win 59.7% and your offense is on average 10th. All with your offense in the bottom 20% of pace of play.

Building an offense that can shoot a high volume of threes in predominately half court sets is not an easy task for a head coach. It takes elite screening, superior passing and great spacing.

The NBA news and discussion is dominated by the Golden State Warriors madness and the James Harden/ Mike D’Antoni combination, however the data would show those are the outliers and the money ball method to offense in the NBA is slow pace with a lot 3 balls.

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