Two weeks in, and the NBA is playing at its fastest pace in more than two decades. In terms of something a little more recent, the average NBA team is playing faster than the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns.
Make no mistake, there is a revolution happening in the NBA.
Last season's Golden State Warriors broke the mold, winning an NBA title by sprinting up and down the court, shooting lots of jumpers and playing at a faster pace than any other team in the NBA.
But where last season's Warriors seemed like Usain Bolt on a basketball court, they wouldn’t come close to keeping up with the track meet that is the 2015-16 NBA season.
In 2014-15, the Warriors were the only team to average more than 100 possessions per 48 minutes. In 2015-16, there are 15 teams averaging more than 100 possessions per 48 minutes. Last season's gold medal sprinters from Golden State would rank 12th this season.
There haven’t been this many teams playing this fast since 1990-91, when there were also 15.
In fact, there are more teams playing at a rate of at least 100 possessions per 48 minutes this season than in the last 20 seasons combined. As recently as a three-season stretch from 2010-11 to 2012-13, there was not one team that averaged 100 possessions per 48 minutes.
So what happened? Why the sudden shift?
In the 20 seasons before last year, there were 13 teams that averaged at least 100 possessions per 48 minutes. Of those 13, four made the playoffs, with one – the 2006-07 “We Believe” Warriors – winning a playoff series. Only one of those 13 – the 2007-08 Nuggets – won 50 games. And of the four to make the playoffs, none were seeded higher than six, meaning of the entire bunch, there was not one serious championship contender. In other words, playing fast was not a viable path to the top of the NBA mountain.
Until the 2014-15 Warriors.
And it wasn’t just Golden State. The Rockets made the conference finals after finishing third in the NBA in pace and setting an NBA record for 3-point attempts in one season. And although the conference finals representatives in the East were more methodical, both Cleveland and Atlanta ranked in the top five in made 3-pointers.
Is it here to stay?
That of course is the million-dollar question. Is the hike in pace merely the NBA’s Tamagotchi? Or is it here for the long haul?
Over the last 30 years, the only time there’s been a larger increase in pace from one season to the next came on the heels of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. In 1999-2000, the average pace jumped from 91.6 to 95.7 possessions per 48 minutes. What followed was a three-peat by a Lakers team anchored by Shaquille O’Neal that ranked 10th in pace over the span of their three titles.
The next three titles were won by teams that ranked 20th, 23rd and 23rd in pace. In a league dominated by slow teams, brooding bigs (O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki) and half-court stars (Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady), the pace revolution never materialized.
This time feels different.
The reigning MVP shoots more transition 3s than anybody else.
• Russell Westbrook averages more fast-break points than entire teams.
• Paul George is playing power forward.
That sound you hear? That’s Mike D’Antoni, Doug Moe and Paul Westhead laughing and saying, “I told you so.”