Pace, Pace, Pace.
That’s the buzzword of the year so far for the Sacramento Kings, who have transformed from one of the slowest teams in the league last season into one of the fastest this year. Thanks to the team’s youth and the fact that De’Aaron Fox might just be the fastest player in the NBA, the Kings are getting up and down the court at a rate faster than at any time in franchise history, at a time when the league is getting faster than it has in decades. For reference, the 2002-03 Sacramento Kings were 1st in the league in pace at 95.4 possessions a game. This year’s Kings team is 3rd in the NBA at 105.6 possessions a game. That league leading pace for the 2002-03 Kings would be dead last in the NBA now.
Sacramento’s speed has been perhaps the biggest key to their current success. Most other teams have not been able to keep up. Last night against the Orlando Magic, Terrance Ross had to request a substitution in the 4th quarter despite being the Magic’s hot hand because he needed a breather. Dwyane Wade called the game against the Kings “a conditioning test”. Magic coach Steve Clifford said before the game yesterday that the Kings might just be the fastest team he’s ever seen in terms of attacking off a made basket.
The Kings have been attacking early and often, with 25.9% of the Kings total shots coming within the first 18 or more seconds left on the shotclock and 42.6% coming with 15 or more seconds left according to NBA.com. There’s also a notable trend of opposing teams getting less efficient as the game goes on.
Opponent Scoring and FG% by quarter
Meanwhile the Kings have seen their scoring jump each quarter, and efficiency stay around the same.
Kings Scoring and FG% by quarter
How sustainable is this kind of pace for an entire year? The NBA hasn’t seen this kind of speed in the game since the 1970s and 1980s (data is unavailable from before the 1973-74 season). The NBA record for pace in a season is 113.7 possessions a game by the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets. No team since those Nuggets has finished with a pace over 105 possessions, and so far this year, the Atlanta Hawks (106.7), New Orleans Pelicans (105.6) and the Kings are all over that number. Only 8 teams since 1993 have finished a season with a pace of 100 possessions or more, led by the 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets at 101.3 possessions a game. Currently, 24 of the NBA’s 30 teams are playing at a 100 possession or better pace, making this a league-wide trend.
The Sacramento Kings have the personnel to thrive in this type of environment and its a testament to Coach Dave Joerger and the players that they have embraced this style of play. So far the results have been great, and we’ll see how the wear and tear of the season affects them, but for now they’ve been imposing their style and will on other teams, and that’s a drastic change from previous seasons.