What really matters

Hey gang,

A lot of wind being expelled lately by myself and others over whether Kahn is a doofus, whether Rambis is an incompetent nayboob, and so on and so forth. A ton of media members, columnists, and others have all jumped all over Kahn's "we're going to be uptempo!" approach, all defaulting to the 'it's winning that matters' and 'defense wins championships' arguments for why Kahn is a nincompoop. I got to any of this actually true?

Let's look at pace first:



Since the three point era, this graph illustrates the correlation between pace and winning percentage. The highest winning percentage is on the left, the lowest on the right, with the y-axis being pace. What is interesting is that the best 5 to 10 teams over that time ran at a pace nearly identical to what the Wolves ran last year.

Interestingly the bottom half of teams is far more variable than the upper half. I arbitrarily broke the groups in two when putting into Excel because it's easier to keep track of where you're at, but this seems important now. What it shows is that the fear people have about fast teams never winning is, in fact, supported to an extent by the data. For example, Golden State's historical pace corresponds with Houston and Detroit's pace. GSW, of course, won at a .411 rate while Houston and Detroit won at a .540 and .535 rate for the same period.

Final tally? Pace is correlative, in general, with winning, but certainly not causative.

Since the hand check rule went into effect it certainly is possible to win while running a lot.

What if you don't run a lot? The results are that you win a little bit more compared to a fast pace, but you can still lose.

What is probably more important is a relatively high efficiency combined with a solid pace. I don't know how to search for that, but generally speaking in order to accumulate an Ortg of over 110 since 2005 I'm assuming that you have to run a little AND be efficient. Indeed, the pace numbers range from 86.8 to 99.7 - all put up a 110+ Ortg and won a lot.

Running the same numbers for defense (looking at teams with a Drtg of less than 105 since 2005), we find a similar selection of winning teams - but interestingly just not as winning as the 110+ Ortg teams. For these Drtg teams the pace is noticeably slower - 86.3 to 94.3.


So where does this leave us? If we're examining these superficial level arguments (e.g. Kahn doesn't know what he's doing because the Wolves were the fastest team last year and everyone knows defense wins championships), we are left wanting. Let's recap:

- we have clearly seen that teams CAN win, a lot, running a fast pace

- we have clearly seen that teams CAN win, a lot, running at a slow pace

- we have clearly seen that teams DO win, a lot, by being efficient and effective offensively (Ortg of 110+), regardless of pace

- we have clearly seen that teams DO win, a lot, by being very effective defensively (Drtg of 105 or less), at typically a slower offensive pace

What all this suggests to me is that, if we could hack into Darryl Morey's computers, what we would find is that the teams that take the greatest care of their possessions (fast-ish pace with efficiency, slower pace with great defense) and force other teams into more careless possessions win more often than not.

In that way, then, talking about uptempo or fast breaking and Kahn's GMing ability is beside the point. Last year the Wolves were 24th in the league in Ortg (104.2), and were 29th out of 30 the year before (101.7). They just weren't very good at being efficient offensively. Pace is not a causative factor here; at best it's correlative. Defensively they were horrible both years, finishing no better than 27th in Drtg both of Rambis' years here. In terms of ppg allowed, 107.7 per game is the best Rambis achieved here.

This brings me to my final graph, and what is important to focus on with this team, this GM, this FO, and this coaching search:



This graph illustrates the correlation between a positive Ortg minus Drtg and winning percentage (in descending order: winners on the left, losers on the right), since the advent of the three point line. Pace? See the graph above. Ortg? Drtg? In general the top 50% are no worse than 106 in Ortg (typically 107-108 range), and no worse than 108 in Drtg (typically 105-106 range). The bottom 50%? Typically in the 104-105 Ortg range, and 107-108 range for Drtg.

You could do this same analysis using scoring differential and get similar results. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, this is the general basis for Pythagorean win predictions (which despite their simplicity are remarkably accurate).

What this all says to me is that firing Rambis is justified. His teams posted very high paces (top three in the league both years) while finishing in the bottom quarter in Ortg. More damning is that the former Defensive Captain Coach of the world champion Lakers fielded a horrible, horrible defensive squad. Seriously. A 111 Drtg as the high? Ugh. As SnP has pointed out, this team has been historically bad, and while the players deserve their share of that credit (and thus Kahn), Rambis deserves a lot of the credit/blame as well.

Moving forward, what is important is to find a coach who can get the most out of these guys. Count me as one who thinks that Rubio will make a significant difference in the offensive efficiency of this group. His best ability is organizing and setting up his troops, and that is one of the HUGE things these guys need. Defensively this squad needs help. A lot of help. Fortunately it's actually pretty hard for them to get any worse than they are now, so improvement is well within reach. I'm not a good enough defensive mind to know what this team could be capable of, but I think getting down to a 106 to 107 Drtg should be their goal. When combined with an improved offense this team suddenly becomes a .450-.500 club.

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