The Wizards new up-tempo, pace-and-space offense has, understandably, made a lot of fans very happy. It’s a more modern style of play, and one that suits franchise star John Wall much better than a tradition two-post offense. It signals flexibility from Randy Wittman, who (fairly or not) has a reputation for being an uncreative coach.
Preseason results have been mixed, but of course preseason doesn’t mean much, as coaches are experimenting, adjusting, and giving minutes fringe players to figure out who will make the cut for the final roster. To better understand what this new offensive style means for the team, I looked at game-by-game pace (for more information, see point 1 at the bottom) data for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 to see if the Wizards have been more successful when they've played at a faster pace the past two seasons.
The answer here looks like a pretty resounding "no." The Wizards averaged a slightly lower pace in wins than losses, though the difference was not statistically significant.
But of course, as we’ve seen in the preseason there could be a trade-off between offensive pace and defensive success: The same kind of hectic pace that throws opponents off balance can also tire players out, and make it harder to chase down assignments on defense. So next I looked at the relationship between offensive rating (ORtg; see point 2 at the bottom) and pace:
Once again, there is no significant relationship. A faster pace has not led to better offense for this Wizards squad over the past two years.
First, a caveat: There is a difference between playing fast by accident and playing fast intentionally. The Wizards new offense is designed not just to speed up the pace but also take advantage of that pace by littering the floor with shooters (the "space" part of "pace and space.") Just because a faster pace hasn’t led to more wins in the past doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.
But it’s also important to remember that we ultimately need to judge by results, not the process. Some traditionally "bad" offenses can lead to good results with the right players (hi, 2014 Cleveland Cavaliers) and some technically good offenses can still be horrible with bad players (fun fact: The 2014 Sixers actually had a really good shot location distribution).
So what should we take away from this? Playing at a faster pace in and of itself won’t turn the Wizards into an elite offensive squad. Yes, we should hope for improvements in coaching and style of play, because every little bit helps, but what really matters for the Wizards is that Wall, Beal, and Porter continue on their upward trajectories, the offense creates shots from better spots on the floor, and that the front office continues to surround the team's young core with veterans that compliment their talent. Ramping up the pace won't hurt the team, but it’s not going to be the magic that turns the Wizards into title contenders. Recruiting, drafting, and developing talented players and putting them in a system to maximize their efficiency, regardless of the pace at which they play, is still the key.
All data is from basketball-reference.com.
(1) An estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes.
(2) Offensive Rating is an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions. It's important to use this rather than something like points because a faster pace = more possessions = more opportunities to score, but also more opportunities for your opponent to score.