Making Pace the Issue

I thought this was a very interesting article in the Denver Post yesterday, but not in a good way.  The primary topic is how the Nuggets are focusing on defense during training camp, which is fine with me, but I believe the conclusions drawn by both the author and George Karl are completely off base.

George Karl is quoted as saying that in order to be a contending team there are certain defensive statistical benchmarks that must be achieved.  The article never directly quotes Karl as to what those defensive categories are, but it goes on to talk about field goal percentage against and points allowed per game.  I would imagine that the author on those categories because those are two that Karl mentioned to him.

I think we all can agree that opponent’s field goal percentage is a decent indicator, although not a perfect one, of the strength of a team’s defense.  Likewise, I think we can all agree that points allowed per game is a horrible way to evaluate a defense. 

I believe most everyone who reads this blog realizes that a much more accurate statistic for evaluating a defense is defensive efficiency.  That statistic takes the pace at which a team plays into consideration.  The Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the league.  They pack over 103 possessions into the average game.  The NBA Champion Boston Celtics played at a much slower pace ending up with 93 possessions per game.

If your opponent has ten more chances to score every game due to a faster pace of play your defense would have to be light years better in order to allow the same total points per game than a team like the Celtics.   

The author laments how the Nuggets were nowhere near the top ten in the NBA for points allowed per game.  In fact they were 29th out of 30 teams.  However, they were in the top ten in the league in defensive efficiency.  There is no mention whatsoever of that.

The conclusions drawn by the article are that because nine of the top ten teams in the NBA in points allowed per game made the playoffs, and thee of the four conference finalists were in that group as well, the Nuggets must tighten their defense so that they can finish the season as one of those top ten teams. 

Obviously, no team who plays at the fastest pace in the league will ever have a top ten points per game defense.

This is where the article completely misses the point.  Instead of an indictment of the Nuggets defense, a defense that again ranked ninth in the league in defensive efficiency and 14th in field goal percentage allowed, it is an indictment of the Nuggets pace.

That is an indictment I made over the summer.  If you are a Nuggets fan and have not read this post, I strongly recommend you do so, then come back here with my argument in mind.  If you have read that post, read it again (you will at least have to click on it to know which post I am talking about so go ahead and read it again).  If you have not read it the next sentence will sound ignorant and will probably make you a little mad, especially if you grew up in Colorado cheering for the local sports teams.

I believe the Denver Nuggets must alter their style of play if they are ever to become a true championship contender.  I realize it is fun to watch and Phoenix showed that a nearly perfectly run fast paced system can work (they may not have ever won anything, but they certainly were contenders) and maybe someday some team will win a title with a top three or top five pace factor, but why waste year after year trying to force something to happen when there has been no evidence at all to support that it is possible?

I love the Denver Mile High Mystique as much as anyone, but I strongly believe the Nuggets must evaluate the overall philosophy of their franchise.

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