For decades, the Denver Nuggets have been synonymous with fast pace. Whether it was Larry Brown's teams in the 70s or Moe's in the 80s, Denver was known for getting up the floor and pressuring the opposition with the pace of the game. Paul Westhead believed in pace to the detriment of everyone playing and watching, but after a decade wandering in the NBA wasteland the Nuggets got back to pace with George Karl. And despite a decade of playoff trips built on the principle, commentators called it unsustainable, an oddity, even "cute" - with one of those coming from the Nuggets head coach himself, Brian Shaw. Shaw didn't believe pace could ever be a truly winning formula, and most around the league agreed with him.
Enter the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors did everything that pace opponents said couldn't be done. They played defense, they made shots, they succeeded even in the playoffs where more rest days reduced the wear-down factor and they won a championship.
Now in a copycat league, everyone is rushing to get in on the pace race, as if playing fast alone was the key. As ESPN reports:
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.
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.