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Everyone’s Playing at a Faster Pace, but Most Aren’t Playing Better

Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

Last season the Golden State Warriors took the NBA by storm, proving to be one of the best teams in NBA history. And, since we live in a copycat world and watch a copycat game in a copycat league, to no one’s surprise, cats did copying.

Like, lots of copying. Like, if there is an NBA version of plagiarism, almost every team in the NBA should be busted right now. Everyone is racing to be like Golden State. And when I saying racing, I mean racing. And when I say everyone, I actually mean literally everyone but the Milwaukee Bucks.

Last season, the Warriors pushed the pace and proved you could play great defense by doing so. And they knocked down threes. So. Many. Threes.

And thus the words “Pace and Space” became all the rage in the NBA as teams vowed to become more like the Warriors. And they’re doing that. Twenty-nine of 30 NBA teams are playing faster than they did last year.

Playing more quickly doesn’t necessarily translate to playing better, though, as a lot of teams just seem to be playing worse, faster.

It’s a bit shocking when you look at the NBA averages. League-wide, according to Basketball-Reference, offensive rating fell from 105.6 to 103.5 while Pace climbed from 93.9 to 96.9. Overall, teams are using three more possessions per game to score .8 more points.

That wasn’t the plan. And it’s worse when you look at the team breakdown. As the chart below reveals, almost everyone is playing faster—and less efficiently.

Offensive Rating and Pace Change Since 2014-15

In fact, only six teams, the Warriors, Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Oklahoma City Thunder are playing faster and more efficiently. And every one of those teams, either through players getting healthy (Heat and Thunder), the draft (the Timberwolves and Knicks) or free agency and trade (Charlotte) upgraded their rosters—with the exception of the Warriors.

In addition to playing faster, the goal was to play “stretchier.” All the buzz this offseason was about how bigs were learning to shoot threes. Not surprisingly, teams are shooting more threes this year too, with the average bouncing from 22.4 attempts to 23.5. More does not mean better, however, as the league’s three-point percentage has gone down, from 35.0 percent to 33.9 percent.

-Change in 3-Point Rate and 3-Point%

Seventeen of 30 teams are attempting more treys. And with a few of the teams who are taking fewer, such as the Atlanta Hawks (minus Kyle Korver) and Cleveland Cavaliers (minus Kyrie Irving) that’s a personnel thing. With others, such as the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers, they’re teams that are still shooting a high volume of threes.

Of the teams shooting more threes, nine of them (the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards) are shooting them worse.

In all, there are only seven teams this year who are shooting more threes and making them at a higher rate than they did last season: The Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings. And while the Wolves are shooting “more”, they’re still least in the league.

Only three teams are playing more efficiently, faster, and knocking down more threes at a higher rate: The Warriors, Timberwolves and Hornets. And the other two teams had a pretty darned low floor to start from.

Which just goes to show, no matter how much you try and emulate the master, he’s still the master, and you’re still just emulating. One important caveat to all this is that the Warriors have Stephen Curry. And there’s only one of him. When you have a cat who can virtually accidentally knock down ridiculous shots from half court while trying to draw the foul, you have a very special kind of cat.

So all you copycats, yield and pay homage to Curry, the emperor cat.

Stats for this article are current through games of 11/15/15. 

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