Despite its weak schedule, the numbers still look good for Portland. The Trailblazers are scoring exactly as many points per possession as their opponents have given up (on average) this season, which basically means they have an average offense. However, on the defensive side, Portland is second only to Boston in terms of least points allowed per possession. While the Blazers’ schedule has been pretty lame, the offenses they have played against are still scoring at the league average clip, preserving the significance of that defensive stat. In fact, the Blazers are also second in the league behind those Celtics for best point differential, thanks mostly to their tough defense.
So often we hear announcers talk about the pace of the game, as in, “The Blazers need to keep the score in the 90s to beat this Golden State team.” I’m curious this season as to whether or not the pace of the game (meaning total number of possessions) matters all that much in the outcome. So far it seems that slower paced teams are able to also defend more efficiently. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell whether it’s because good defensive teams tend to be slower teams, or conversely, because slower paced teams are able to play better defense.
In Portland’s case, 12 of its 15 games have been played at a slow pace.* The Blazers are 8-4 in these slower games, 1-0 in medium games, and 1-1 in fast-paced games, so they haven’t played enough games at a faster pace to make any claims about their ability to adjust various teams. Portland did look pretty damn awful playing the fast-paced Warriors the other night, and in their two fast-paced games combined, the Blazers are shooting just 42.5% from the floor and turning the ball over as though it were smothered with Sex Panther Cologne (24.5 average/game). As the season progresses, the Blazers should play a few more fast-paced games so we can really see if it hurts them.
Taking a look at the rest of the league, the fastest teams by possession go, one through five, Golden State, New York, Indiana, Denver, and the LA Lakers. The slowest, ordered 30-26, are Detroit, Portland, Charlotte, Boston, and Miami.
The most efficient offensive teams are Phoenix, Toronto, Atlanta, Denver, and San Antonio. The least efficient are New Jersey, Minnesota, Charlotte, Chicago, Washington.
And finally, the most efficient defensive teams are Boston, Portland, Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Oklahoma City. The least efficient are Toronto, New Orleans, Memphis, Sacramento, and Golden State.
One final note: it’s interesting that the top two defensive teams, Portland and Boston, have some of the league’s best shot blocking combinations. Oden and Przybilla have combined for nearly 4 blocks a game, while Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett erase three shots every game. Interior defense is definitely more than just blocking shots. But the fact that the Blazers and Celts are first and fourth, respectively, in opponents’ field goal percentage suggests there is definitely something to having some shot blockers down low.
*The average possessions per game this season is 99. All teams/games that average 99 +/- 2 possessions are considered medium paced teams/games. Obviously the fast and slow paced teams/games are those that fall outside the range of 97-101.