If you've noticed your favorite NBA team packing in a few more possessions per game by switching ends a little faster, you're not imagining it. Twenty-eight of the 30 teams, in fact, increased their pace in 2013-14. Only the already-fast Rockets, who got just a touch slower, and the Bucks, who got much slower via hiring Larry Drew and replacing Monta Ellis with O.J. Mayo., are exceptions.
As was the case when we checked in back in January, league-wide possessions per game is up two percent, from an average of 92 possessions per game in 2012-13 to 94 this season. That's predictably boosted per-game scoring: the average team scores 100.8 per game now. Fast food joints are giving away a lot more tacos this season, provided tacos are given away for scoring at least 100 and not holding the opponent to under 100.
But what's interesting is how widespread the increase in pace has been. As noted, all but two teams have increased their average possessions per game. A number of them have increased their pace a lot, as this chart shows.
Denver led the league with 95.1 possessions per game last season and were considered speed demons. That figure would rank No. 11 this season. The whole league is blazing.
Even comparatively slow teams like the Nets have seen jumps in pace ... despite trading for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Toronto, though it remains one of the lower-paced teams in the league, has a striking pace increase. Similar stories apply to Indiana and Portland, who retained their coaches and starting fives (for the most part). It's not just new coaches like Philadelphia's Brett Brown and the Clippers' Doc Rivers leading the charge. It's consistent across the board.
Philadelphia has seen the biggest increase, with its pace jumping nine percent year-over-year. That's followed by the Clippers, who have gotten five percent faster with Chris Paul. This is basically the first time CP3 has led a team faster than average, and one could say it's worked out quite well. The Timberwolves, Pistons and Lakers have all increased their pace at least four percent this season as well.
That's a mix of good and bad teams, and to be sure, there is no relationship between pace and team quality. There are crummy fast teams (like Philly, the fastest team) and crummy slow teams (like Milwaukee, the slowest team). There is a moderate correlation between team age and pace, though: the older your roster, the more likely you are to be on the slower end of the spectrum.
Team pace doesn't correspond strongly with offensive or defensive aptitude, though there are small correlations between pace and scoring efficiency (positive) and defensive efficiency (negative).
What's most interesting about the change is that there doesn't seem to be an outside impetus for it. There were no major rules to boost the value of playing more up-tempo, and three of the four conference finalists in 2012-13 were among the league's slowest teams (Miami, Indy and Memphis). Eleven of the 14 teams with new head coaches for this season are in the top half in year-over-year pace increase, so that could lend a clue: new coaches are cleaning out the cobwebs and pushing the ball. But it's not like someone like Doc was known as a high-pace coach in his former gig. Nine of the 14 new head coaches are rookies. Is this just a function of a younger braintrust in charge?
We'll learn more next season, when we see if this is a trend toward a faster NBA or a blip in the record books.