Numeric Narratives: The Pace Of The Pacers

Today is the first edition of our re-worked "Stat of the Week" feature. Finding the format restrictive for several reasons, I've decided tomade some changes. The schedule is going to be more flexible, although I'll still be trying to get a piece up at the beginning of each week. Doing away with any pretense of recapping the previous seven days will allow for multiple posts a week if several interesting statistical angles present themselves.

Finally I'm going to be spinning off the Statistical Query section into it's own series. There won't be a set schedule for that. I'll just post them as I finish them. As always if you have a stats question or angle relating to the Pacers that you'd like me to look into send me an email me at Levy2725@gmail.com.

Today's post revolves all around pace, or the speed of the game. This can be measured statistically with something called Pace Factor. This is an estimate of the number of possessions which occur during a team's game. For an example of a team with a high Pace Factor think of the Phoenix Suns over the past half-decade. For an example of a team with a low Pace Factor think of the Portland Trailblazers of the past few seasons.

Through today the Pacers' have been playing at the 5th fastest pace in the league, 94.5 possessions per game. This is well above the league average of 92.2 possessions per game. Despite this fast tempo the Pacers are scoring just 99.7 points per game, 13th in the league, and just slightly above the league average of 99.4 points per game.

Playing at this faster tempo has not brough the Pacers much offensive success. Partly because their offense hasn't been very efficient. They are 23rd in the league in Offensive Rating, 21st in eFG%, 24th in TOV%, 17th in ORB% and 17th in FT/FGA. In this way, pace can be deceiving. Teams that play at a faster tempo tend to put up big offensive numbers but not necessarily in measures of efficiency.

Last week I put a post together for The Two Man Game, looking at how some of the best offenses in the league change their pace depending on their lineup. The post looked at the ten most efficient offensive teams and found that all of them except Dallas had at least one lineup with a positive Net Rating significantly above or below their teams average pace. The takeway was that most efficient offenses have the ability to manipulate their personnel and maintain efficiency even when the game is played at different speeds. They certainly aren't one the most efficient offenses in the league, but do the Pacers have this ability to play effectively at different tempos?

The table below shows the 23 lineups the Pacers have used this season that have played more than 20 minutes together. For each lineup I included their minutes played, ORtg., DRtg., Net Rating and Pace Factor. The calculations for pace are an estimate. They aren't exact because most lineups haven’t played the same number of offensive and defensive possessions. In order to estimate pace factor from the available data I took the average of each lineup’s possessions on both sides of the ball.

Unit

Min

ORtg.

DRtg.

Net

Pace

Collison-Dunleavy-Granger-McRoberts-Hibbert

440.3

113.7

99.4

+14.2

97.5

Collison-Rush-Granger-McRoberts-Hibbert

152.4

107.7

116.1

-8.3

93.9

Collison-Dunleavy-Granger-Hansbrough-Hibbert

151.9

100.7

96.4

+4.2

97.3

Ford-Rush-Dunleavy-Posey-Jones

84.1

100.0

97.0

+3.1

93.9

Price-Jones-George-Hansbrough-Foster

76.5

123.4

102.8

+20.4

89.1

Collison-Dunleavy-Granger-Posey-Hibbert

65.3

117.0

109.0

+8.1

98.8

Collison-Rush-Granger-Hansbrough-Hibbert

65.2

106.5

107.4

-0.9

90.2

Collison-George-Granger-Hansbrough-Hibbert

55.0

89.8

133.0

-43.2

94.7

Ford-Rush-Granger-Posey-Hibbert

50.3

93.8

99.0

-5.2

91.1

Collison-Rush-Dunleavy-Granger-Foster

49.4

121.9

105.4

+16.5

91.8

Ford-Rush-Granger-Posey-Jones

47.4

93.7

106.5

-12.9

96.8

Collison-George-Granger-McRoberts-Hibbert

41.4

111.0

116.1

-5.1

106.7

Ford-Dunleavy-Granger-McRoberts-Hibbert

38.2

104.6

100.0

+4.6

84.8

Ford-Dunleavy-Granger-Posey-Jones

37.6

90.1

75.0

+15.1

91.9

Ford-Rush-Granger-McRoberts-Hibbert

32.6

128.3

118.3

+10.0

88.4

Ford-Dunleavy-Granger-Posey-Hibbert

30.2

101.6

110.4

-8.7

95.4

Collison-Rush-Dunleavy-McRoberts-Hibbert

26.3

72.7

100.0

-27.3

99.5

Collison-Rush-Granger-Posey-Hibbert

26.0

84.8

135.4

-50.6

86.9

Price-George-Granger-Hansbrough-Foster

25.5

110.0

81.6

+28.4

93.1

Collison-Rush-Granger-Hansbrough-McRoberts

25.5

100.0

108.0

-8.0

92.4

Collison-Rush-Granger-Posey-Jones

21.7

93.6

95.1

-1.5

97.2

Collison-Dunleavy-George-Granger-Foster

20.9

104.6

104.7

-0.1

100.0

Ford-Rush-Granger-Posey-Foster

20.4

123.6

100

+23.5

79.9

In terms of predictive value some of these lineups are essentially useless. It's unlikely we'll see much of T.J. Ford or Mike Dunleavy over the rest of the season. Still, I included them to help identify some patterns from the games already played.

I then broke these lineups into three categories by pace. I took the league average pace of 92.2 and gave a buffer of 2 possessions on either side to create an "average pace category." Anything above 94.2 we'll classify as fast paced. Anything below 90.2 we'll call slow paced. Even though the team's overall pace would be considered fast by these labels we still get a fairly healthy spread. Of these 23 lineups, 6 would be slow, 10 would be fast and 7 would be average.

Using that breakdown I calculated the average ORtg. and DRtg. for these lineups based on the tempo they played at. The table below shows this information along with the minutes played for each category.

Pace Min. ORtg. DRtg. Net
Fast 899 106.8 103.2 +3.5
Average 425 104.4 102.9 +1.5
Slow 259 113.2 108.6 +4.6

The Pacers' defense seems to excel in an up-tempo game where turnovers abound and opponents can be goaded into taking quick shots instead of exploiting matchups in the half-court. The amazing thing to me is that their offense has been so much more efficient when the game is played at a slow tempo. This seems to run counter to my instinctual analysis of the team. When I think of the Pacers' offense really clicking this season, I think of fast breaks being run off turnovers and defensive rebounds, crashing the offensive glass and early offense before the defense has a chance to get set. When I think of the Pacers walking the ball up the court and taking their time, extended and awkward post-ups for Roy Hibbert and contested jumpshots by Danny Granger are the images that come to mind.

However if you look a little deeper at the makeup of these lineups, a pattern starts to emerge. Of the 6 lineups playing at a slow tempo only one features more then three starters (I'm counting Dunleavy as the starting shooting guard). In fact one of the most effective slow tempo lineups has been the Price-Jones-George-Hansbrough-Foster combination Frank Vogel has been using off the bench. This is the 5th most commonly used lineup for the Pacers and it is easily the most effective of those five. In very general terms the bench players have been more efficient in a slow-down game while the starters are more effective when they get out and run.

This pattern becomes even more apparent when you look at some of the Pacers' 1st Quarter performances over the past few weeks. Since Frank Vogel took over, the Pacers have built double digit leads in the 1st Quarter against Toronto, Cleveland and Golden State. All three of those teams are above the league average in terms of pace. They have won 2nd Quarters by a margin of 7 or more against Miami (twice) and Charlotte. Both Miami and Charlotte are below the league average with regards to pace. Against bad teams that play at a high pace the starters have been able to build big leads. Against teams that play at a slow pace the bench has been able to come in and take advantage.

Besides satisfying curiousity, I'll be honest in that I'm not entirely sure what the value of this information is. The Pacers are very efficient offensively when they play at a slower pace. However this doesn't manifest itself as clearly with the starters on the floor. Changing the starting lineup may balance out the strengths of the two units but I'm not entirely sure balance should be the goal as much as improving in both areas. Of course if Lance Stephenson starts playing consistent minutes the whole discussion could become a lot more complicated. At the very least the Pacers' coaching staff should be approaching the last month and a half of the season with the specific knowledge of which lineups play better at different paces and using that to counter and create matchup problems.

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