Pace isn’t a panacea.
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder wants to point that out first, before we get into discussing the topic further. Perhaps their biggest rivals, the Houston Rockets, were second in the league in offensive rating last year, but 26th in the league in pace. A James Harden-centric offense is slow and isn’t always fun to watch, but it’s pretty effective in the end.
But Snyder does think that pace can help this Jazz squad get the easier shots it has been seeking. After getting a ton of open shots last season, the Jazz are struggling with that a little bit this season — in the middle of the pack in terms of all sorts of metrics. They’re 18th in terms of shots they take with a defender at least six feet away. They take the ninth-most mid-range shots out of any NBA team, but only the 18th-most shots at the rim and 21st-most threes. And all of this, plus some turnover issues, have meant that the Jazz rank just 21st in offensive rating.
The Jazz have also been pretty slow, so far. They stand 25th in terms of number of possessions per game, and each of their offensive possessions has lasted an average of 14.3 seconds, according to Inpredictable.com, a site that compiles that data. That is 24th in the league.
But when they do run, they’re more effective. On those transition possessions, according to CleaningTheGlass, they get 1.20 points per play, which would really juice the offensive efficiency. The Jazz get transition possessions only 13.5% of the time, fourth-lowest in the NBA, though point guard Mike Conley says that they’ve tried to increase that in recent games.
“I think we are pushing a little bit more in the last week or so, I think it’s been an emphasis of all of ours. We have such, such good, talented guys that can break the paint and make plays,” Conley said. “I think we were starting to push a little bit more and get guys easier and easier opportunities.”
How? Through increased spacing. With a defense worried about four or five players running up the floor, there tend to be gaps that the Jazz can exploit with their improved shooting.
“I think the biggest thing that running does for us is it provides us spacing,” Snyder said. “And when you have good spacing, particularly early in the possession, it gives you a chance to attack and hopefully generate some more open looks for. We want to shoot more threes than we have earlier in the year, and know that’s one way to try to generate them.”
One key to developing those opportunities: Rudy Gobert running up and down the floor. Defenses react strongly to the threat of Gobert cutting to the rim, whether it’s in half-court or transition. But with him in transition, the Jazz can get open looks; without him, defenders may be able to fan out to the Jazz’s shooters effectively.
So one focus of recent practices and shootarounds has been instructing Gobert to do just that, make sure that he can get up and down the floor to provide that opportunity.
One great thing about attacking early: If it doesn’t work out immediately, you have time on the shot clock to start anew.
“We can still be a pick and roll team, but we don’t need to play pick and roll every possession,” Snyder said. “And if we’re playing pick and roll that usually takes some time for that action to develop.”
But while the Jazz think they can improve both early and late in possessions, there’s no doubt that everyone’s in agreement about running just a little bit more frequently.
“You see what happens when we get out there on the floor,” Donovan Mitchell said. “You know, we get layups.”