The Effect of Pace on NBA Scoring Efficiency

By Sean Kennedy

The shot clock has been largely irrelevant to the Sixers this season, but has that helped them score?

We’ve seen this season that like a young Ricky Bobby, the Sixers want to go fast. The team has employed a pedal to the metal philosophy behind the idea that by pushing the pace, they will be able to get better shots in the open court before opposing defenses can get set, thus making up for any talent gap between the two teams. But I wondered, does a faster pace really lead to better offensive efficiency?

In order to determine the answer to this question statistically, I ran the current numbers on pace and offensive efficiency for all NBA teams (all stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats) through Excel to calculate the correlation coefficient between the two data sets. The R-squared, or coefficient of determination, between pace and offensive efficiency was only 0.1086, indicating a very weak relationship between the variables (in case you were busy forming social relationships or something during those crucial statistics class lessons in high school, 0 indicates no correlation and 1 would indicate perfect correlation). Here’s the data in scatter plot form:

Pace

As you can see, the trend line is fairly flat, indicating the fairly weak relationship between these two factors. But what’s that red dot serving as a huge outlier in the upper-left corner? Why, that’s our beloved 76ers, falling completely off the grid with one of the worst efficiency ratings in the league despite playing at the highest pace. So did the Sixers break Excel and there actually is a correlation between pace and offensive efficiency if we remove them from the equation? No, not really. Even running the numbers with the Sixers’ data removed, the R-squared is 0.23, still a weak relationship.

So although Philadelphia’s speed racer strategy isn’t helping their efficiency, it is likely doing one crucial thing: boosting player’s counting stats to improve their trade values. We’ll see if that factor pays any dividends for the organization come the trade deadline. But in the meantime, is there any strategy they can employ that does have a positive correlation with offensive efficiency? It turns out that effective field goal percentage and offensive efficiency actually has an R-squared of 0.67, a fairly strong relationship. So teams that make shots are better off, maybe the Sixers should try it. Bet you didn’t need a fancy computer to figure that one out.


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