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Beam Me Up-tempo, Scotty

The lede

The Bucks have played 46 games. In their 23 fastest-paced games, they are 14-9. In their 23 slowest-paced games, they are 5-18.

Slow is not the Skiles Style

Now more than halfway through the season, Scott Skiles is running easily the slowest offense of his head coaching tenure, currently 26th overall with an 89.9 pace factor (an estimate of number of possessions played per 48 minutes). His reputation as a defensive-minded coach may have misled some to believe that Skiles has historically run slow offenses, but that is far from the case.

This season and last mark the first two times that Skiles' teams rank in the slower half of the NBA. His 00-01 Suns were sixth fastest in the NBA, and at 51-31, that remains his winningest year as head coach. He pushed the ball with the Bulls as well -- notably his 06-07 version boasted the best defense overall and sixth fastest pace.

The Bucks have fallen from 11th to 19th to now 26th in pace under Skiles as the league in general has gotten faster -- last year and this year are the two fastest since the turn of this century as a league.


Before the Hawks game on Wednesday, I referenced some of his fast teams in Phoenix and Chicago and asked Skiles if he was comfortable with the Bucks ranking toward the bottom of the league in pace:

No. When we defend right and get the rebound, we want to push it every time. And we've done a decent job of that. Not great, but decent. It's just that we haven't come up with anything. We'll have a three-on-one or something and lose the ball. Then we've got to bring it right back out and run a set, and things like that. Like I would think most teams do, we want to push it every chance we get, and try to score in early offense. But we've got to make better decisions, and we've got to make shots when we do that.

Well, the Bucks have pushed it and done a decent enough job to the extent that they are dead last in the NBA scoring just 9.8 fastbreak points per game.

That cannot continue.

Defending and defensive rebounding

Going back to the first line of the Skiles quote, the Bucks rank third overall in defensive rebound rate, and they are the sixth most efficient defensive team in the NBA -- so the opportunity to push the ball is there. They are getting stops, and they are frequently getting the ball back in play, as opposed to passing it in from under the hoop.

Andrew Bogut is an elite defensive rebounder -- his 27.2 defensive rebound rate and 8.1 per game average both rank him in the top six in the NBA among starters. Moreover, Bogut is a skilled passer who possesses high-level court vision for a center, and he is a capable outlet passer. Drew Gooden is also a very respectable defensive rebounder - his 22.0 defensive rebound rate ranks him ahead of Al Jefferson, Tyrus Thomas, and Davis Lee - and though his court awareness and propensity to pass (he is averaging 0.7 assists) lags a bit, he is also just a couple seasons removed from logging serious minutes with those moderately successful, fast Bulls teams.

Igniting the break

Andrew Bogut not only leads the league in shotblocking, he is also the best at swatting the ball to his own team. Some of those quick, direction-changing plays should spur a fast break, at least in theory. After a couple of his nice passes led to points in the win against New Jersey on Saturday night, Bogut said he is comfortable pushing the ball to create:

I can dribble for a big guy. Seriously. Sometimes when I get a rebound and find a quick outlet, especially when it's in the flow of things, teams aren't used to a big guy bringing the ball up, so it creates some sort of confusion.

And if Larry Sanders - who leads the NBA in blocks per minute -- finds a spot in the rotation, the Bucks would have a pair of game-changing defensive players who are apt to provide opportunities for their mates to push the ball. Meanwhile, the Bucks are on the lower end of the steal per game spectrum, averaging 6.9 per contest, which ranks 21st overall, but that could go up.

The return of Jennings and Delfino

Of steals. Of ballhandlers. Of three-point shooters. Of pace?

Before Jennings went down the Bucks weren't running much either, but their pace factor did drop from slow to even slower with Jennings sidelined, from 90.9 on Dec. 18 to 90.1 when he returned on Jan. 26.

Jennings and Carlos Delfino tie for the team-lead averaging 1.2 steals per game, and they are both more than comfortable dribbling and directing the offense. I also asked Skiles before last Wednesday's game whether he thought the impending return of Jennings might kickstart the fastbreak:

He has an effect on it, that's for sure. He is a very good player, so he's going to have an effect on that. But you need a lot of combinations there. If you are taking it out of the net all the time, it's not going to happen for you. You've got to be able to get some stops, you've to got rebound the ball, you've got to have a guard or two that'll push it, you've got to have wing runners. You'd like to have a big guy that's a really good rim-runner and can catch and finish. And you'd like to have a couple three-point shooters out there so you can push it and look opposite and knock down a three in transition. And that for us is Carlos, and he's been out. So hopefully we can get everybody healthy here at some point. Because you are right, we want to push the ball and try to attack.

"Push the ball and try to attack." And why not? The Bucks are sub-magical in the halfcourt, and they have some youngsters who would be playing to their strengths in the open court, instead of misfiring contested jumpers.

At the rim

Maybe the Bucks, ranked last in the NBA converting at the rim and last in fastbreak points, just aren't meant to finish on the break though, right? Depends on how you look at it. I would argue that the Bucks have a low conversion rate at the rim in part because they don't create many fastbreak opportunities. Fastbreaks are a high-efficiency means to scoring, whereas finishing at the rim within the halfcourt offense among nine other players and a tall last line of defense wall is a far more precarious endeavor.

The Sixers, for example, are a below-average (18th in efficiency) offensive team, but they would surely be even worse if they didn't score 16.6 fastbreak points per game, third most in the NBA. And they probably also would not have the seventh ranked conversion rate at the rim if they did not create all of those fastbreak opportunities in the first place. Granted, the Lakers and Magic are among the league's lowest in scoring on the break and among the highest in conversion rate at the rim -- but consider the personnel in the post (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, etc.) for those teams.

And the Bucks do have players with a demonstrated ability to finish at the rim in transition. Corey Maggette had struggled mightily up until recently playing within Milwaukee's relatively slow offense after excelling (at least statistically) in Golden State's up-tempo offense. Yet this very season, Maggette is first in And1 % among all non-centers and non-power forwards. And get this: Chris Douglas-Roberts (5.8) is third overall in And1 % in the same group, trailing only Magggette (6.0) and Dwyane Wade (5.9).

Faster, better?

Fastbreaking makes for efficient offense, generally speaking, but a fast-paced offense does not equate to a good offense (and vice-versa) by any stretch of the imagination. The Kings and Wizards are top ten in pace and fastbreak points, and bottom five in offensive efficiency.

Faster, better. Slower, worse.

So how have the 2010-11 Bucks fared in fast versus slow games this season?

A new look at pace

While we are on the topic, I highly encourage you to read an exciting new perspective on judging pace in the NBA. SB Nation's Rohan Cruyff introduced a completely new statistic, Speed Index, that controls for offensive and defensive pace, accounts for offensive rebounds, and is based on offensive shotclock usage. In short, teams play at different paces both offensively and defensively, which possessions per game does not account for. In addition, offensive rebounds traditionally count as one possession, whereas the author counts offensive rebounds as resetting the Speed Index. By measuring seconds used in the shot clock rather than possessions, the author finds a more meaningful to understand how quickly teams operate offensively. The study reveals that pace slightly underestimates how quickly the Bucks play offensively, because teams take a relatively long time to shoot against the Bucks. At the time of the report, published last week, the Bucks ranked 20th in Offensive Speed Index.