Tempo Talk: Snyder, Jazz Aim to Push the Pace

October 3rd, 2014 | by Dan Clayton



What will Quin Snyder's vision of pace mean for Alec Burks and the Jazz? (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

What will Quin Snyder’s vision of pace mean for Alec Burks and the Jazz? (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz can still count on one hand the number of 2014-15 practices they’ve had, and already they’ve introduced their new philosophy in the form of a triumvirate of “P” words.

Play with pace. Play with a pass. Play with a purpose.

That’s the alliteration of the week, the holy trinity of head coach Quin Snyder. Much of his week has been about explaining to his players, their fans and the media what those concepts mean. In particular, he’s made it clear that “pace” doesn’t just mean running up the floor in a hurry.

“Pace to me also means shortening the amount of time between different actions,” Snyder said to David Locke on media day. “It becomes mental as well as physical. How quickly can you get from a pick-and-roll to a post-up, (or) make a layup and pace back the other way?”

Those hypotheticals — and not-so-hypotheticals — have driven as much early training camp talk as anything. The rookie coach has been on guys about how quickly they can read situations and make the right play without hemming and hawing the possession away.

“Hopefully (the) decision-making process is instantaneous,” Snyder added. “And that allows us to play with pace.”

So pace, in the mind of this coach, is less about a track meet or a frenetic tizzy and more about being mentally prepared to make decisions quickly. With that in mind, many of the stats we use to analyze pace are more about treating the symptoms than the disease. To really see how the Jazz are doing at making the right decision in the smallest amount of time possible, you’re going to have to watch some basketball games. But there are a few stats that help paint a picture, too. These are the tempo stats I’ll be watching to see how Quin’s pupils are doing at implementing his pace vision.

Easily accessible on 82games.com, shot clock usage gives a cleaner view of pace because it’s really focused on what happens at your end of the floor. Possessions per game isn’t a bad stat, but the speed at which your opponents burn their possessions plays as heavily into the equation as what you do.

This is where I return to a favorite graph of mine, one I’ve been following since my very first SCH post, a requiem on the Al Jefferson Jazz. What this shows is that the Jazz have been in steady decline in terms of generating early offense since even before Jerry Sloan stepped down and Deron Williams was traded. For years now, they’ve been settling for an offensive identity that generates fewer good, early looks.

paceoct14 paceoct14b

League-wide, teams shoot a lower eFG% on shots later in the shot clock, because by that point you’re settling for what the other team is willing to grant you. In the Jazz’s case, they’ve been settling more than anybody. In fact, last season they took 17% of their attempts in true desperation time (21+ seconds elapsed on the shot clock). Think about that — that’s one in every six Jazz shots counting as a heave.

I think the Jazz will try to bring their percentage of shots in the first 15 seconds back up above the 60% mark pretty quickly.

Another one to keep an eye on is possession time per touch. I was actually surprised to see that the ’13-14 Jazz were as high as 17th quickest in the league in this stat. This measures the amount of time, on average, that a single player has the ball per touch. Snyder has said that he wants his guys to more quickly decide what they’re going to do with a touch — shoot it, drive it, pass it.

Another way to measure this phenomenon is possession time per pass, or measuring how many seconds the ball is held for every pass. According to NBA.com’s player tracking data, the Jazz had 3.6 seconds of possession for every pass, 10th slowest in the league. That amount of time should come down significantly if players do what Snyder is asking: make a read as soon as you catch the ball — or even before — and react almost immediately.

It’s harder to notice real progress on these ones statistically. There’s a lot of noise in them, because it doesn’t account for possession types that by nature require an extra second with the ball. Pick-and-roll players might need the ball in their hands for several seconds to force the right defensive decision points, whereas a backdoor cut for an alley-oop literally requires a fraction of a second of possession time. And, as Snyder himself pointed out on Monday, sometimes the right basketball play is to keep it for another couple seconds. That’s why we might have to trust our eyes a bit more to measure progress here, but the player tracking around possession per touch/pass is a start.

And, even though the difference here is measured in tenths or even 1/100s of seconds, there is some proof in the statistical pudding. The top three teams in terms of keeping possession times short are the Spurs and two very Spursian programs run by Popovich disciples: the Bobnets and the Hawks.

Last year, the Jazz were third in the league in tracked passes, but 6th worst in both Offensive Efficiency and in Assist Ratio. That discrepancy is reflective of two realities. First, the Jazz’s tendency to burn a lot of clock means they had to do something with all those extra seconds. Second, it means the Jazz had a lot of empty passes that didn’t really lead to anything. This is where Quin’s three “P” words come together. If they’re making decisions in a more time-economical fashion (pace), then they’ll still be moving the ball (pass), but with a greater sense of what they want to accomplish with it (purpose). Frankly, the Jazz could use more of all three

Finally, as Snyder mentioned, defensive pace is as important as anything, so I’ll also be watching for defensive shot clock usage. Last year, a staggering 38% of opponent attempts came in the first 10 seconds of the play. Since opponents were able to shoot .563 eFG% on those shots, it’s no surprise that the Jazz’s defensive ranking was so poor.

I don’t know if the Jazz will improve from their 12.9 fast break points per game, or their 4th worst fast break defense, or even their bad habit of waiting until the last four seconds on one of every six shots. But these are the stats I’ll be watching as we try to decipher the pace identity of the new-era, Snyder-led Jazz.

Dan Clayton

Dan Clayton

Dan covered Utah Jazz basketball for more than 10 years, including as a radio analyst for the team’s Spanish-language broadcasts from 2010 to 2014. He now lives and works in New York City, but contributes regularly to Salt City Hoops, FanRag and BBALLBreakdown.
Dan Clayton

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  1. cw says:

    I’m not really feeling your arguments about the Jazz’s slow pace. There is only a six % difference between your highest and lowest values on both graphs and those field goal rates could easily represent changes in personnel. I do think it is a good point about the 17% of shots in the last 4 seconds. That’s not a good number. But I also think the jazz were designed to be bad last year with only two good subs and and that had some effect on the number of last second shots they were taking.

    Another thing to note is pace does not seem to affect winning %.The top 4 in pace last year were Philly, LA, Denver, Minn. San Antonio was 12. Miami, Chicago, and Memphis all had slower pace than the jazz. I think it makes sense for the Jazz to fast break more becasue it fits the personnel and the altitude. On the other hand, hunting shots early in the clock in non-fast break situations and just playing fast in general DOESN’T seem like it fits the Jazz well as they are not particuarly good shooters and are pretty young which means their decision making ability and offensive skills are still developing.

    I will be very interested to see how the changes Snyder is hoping to bring work out. I think any improvement he can get out of them on D will have a greater effect on winning than changes in pace.

    • Mewko says:

      With pace, his philosophy isn’t the 8 second offense Mike D’Antoni had. It’s how quickly you can move from play to play. How fast can you find the open man for the basket?

      Snyder emphasized that the team needs to hustle on the other end of the court for defense, saying: ” I don’t care if we get an offensive rebound this year! ” The league is trending for faster pace and more 3 pointers, and right now it is littered with point guards that will use their speed. If you don’t hustle back, you might give up an easy dunk or layup.

    • Dan Clayton says:

      Thanks for your comment. 6% is actually a pretty huge number. Taking 6% of your offense out of the least efficient bucket and putting it in the most efficient bucket is HUGE. Look at the relationship 1 extra point of point diff makes on expected wins, and you’ll realize 6 possessions of a game is no small thing.

      • cw says:

        you might be right, but off the top of my head I disagree. Off the top of my head, the useful thing about number is they mean the same thing in different situation and .06 is a small number. BUT…. again, you may be right.

  2. mjm says:

    It’s pretty obvious from that first chart when the Jazz acquired Al Jefferson, isn’t it?

    • Dan Clayton says:

      That’s why I have referred to this bunch of research (as well as the % of jump shots versus close shots) as the “JefferJazz” research.

  3. Paul Johnson says:

    Pace is not as important for a talented team, although any team can benefit from fast break points or early offense. Playing with pace can be a mixed bag for less talented teams–sometimes it works, but more often, the more talented team beats a “high pace” team at its own game. Furthermore, a very talented team usually is able to impose its pace on a less talented team. In any event, as a fan, watching a team playing with pace is usually more entertaining.

    • Dan Clayton says:

      I’m not sure I agree. The Spurs are very talented but just won a ring because the pace within their possessions was so fast that other teams couldn’t keep up with their mental velocity. I think your statement might be true if we’re talking about the more traditional definition of pace (ie, # of fast break possessions). Generally speaking, you just need to know what your identify is and be able to impost your will.

      • cw says:


        David Locke did a podcast where he examined shooting percentage at segments of the clock. FOr example team x shot 56% in the first 7 seconds of a possession, or something like that. The thing I took away from it, was that there was no correlation between shooting % at certain times in the clock and winning. Basically, winning teams had better shooting percentages at every segment of the shot clock.

  4. Brent says:

    Playing with pace will improve the offense, however if we really want to win more games, we MUST play better defense. As Dan said “Last year, a staggering 38% of opponent attempts came in the first 10 seconds of the play. Since opponents were able to shoot .563 eFG% on those shots, it’s no surprise that the Jazz’s defensive ranking was so poor.”
    Hard to win, especially in the playoffs when you do that.

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