The NBA is seeing a newfound resurgence in pace. Some teams are winning because of it, and some are losing. Basketball fans, as a whole, are winning.
The league leaders in pace so far have been the Atlanta Hawks, with a pace of 109.0 possessions per game. In comparison, the league leaders in pace in the 2017-18 season were the New Orleans Pelicans, with 101.9 possessions per game. Granted, the season is still in its infancy, and that number for the Hawks will probably go down as the season goes into its later stages. But make no mistake — the entire league is putting more emphasis on playing at a much faster pace, as if the ghosts of the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers and the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Phoenix Suns procreated, the result of their union being the 2018-19 NBA season.
The entire league is shooting more threes
One significant factor that is contributing to the league-wide increase in pace is the increased emphasis in three pointers. Over the years, the league has shifted from mid-range/post-play offenses to offensive schemes predicated on getting efficient three-point shots. It was once said that Stephen Curry’s unique skillset as a deadly three-point shooter would influence a new generation of players and teams that rely mostly on the three-point shot.
That vision might very well be the reality already, as Ethan Sherwood Strauss put it in his latest article for The Athletic:
“These other teams can play faster, though. They can move the ball, Warriors-style. They can add shooting and go smaller. They can switch on defense, an approach that, incidentally, gives the Warriors offense the most trouble. Of course, it’s hard to replicate Steph Curry, whose unique abilities have been leveraged in unprecedented ways. While these other teams might not have Curry, per se, guards get bolder with their off-the-dribble 3s every season. The generation Curry inspired is coming for him, if it hasn’t already arrived.”
In a league where the Warriors were once the undisputed kings of playing fast and hoisting up three-point shots, they have slowly found that the rest of the teams are catching up — they are finding themselves in danger of becoming the old lion in a den full of hungry, bloodthirsty lions.
In the 2015-16 season, the Warriors led the league in three-point attempts per game, with 31.6. In the 2016-17 season, they put up a similar amount of threes per game, with 31.2 — however, that was only good for fifth-most attempts in the league. In the 2017-18 season, that number dropped to 28.9, which placed them at a middling 17th place.
The league leaders for the last two seasons have been the Houston Rockets. Their three-point attempts per game: 40.3 in 2016-17, and 42.3 in 2017-18 — a rocket-propelled explosion (pun intended) of three-pointers that have allowed the Rockets to challenge the Warriors’ status as the best in the West...
...for the most part.
Five games into this season, the league has seen an overall surge in three-point attempts per game. The current leaders are the Dallas Mavericks, with 42.5 attempts per game. Including the Mavericks, there are three teams with over 40 attempts per game — the other two being the Rockets and the Milwaukee Bucks. In today’s current three-point climate, the 2015-16 Warriors would have been tied with the New York Knicks for 18th in attempts.
The NBA’s emphasis on three-point shooting has perhaps become the biggest revolution since the shift from low-post play dominated by big men to perimeter-oriented play lorded over by guards and wings.
This current iteration of the Warriors, meanwhile, are 21st in attempts. As a team, they are currently shooting 53-of-144 (36.8%) from three-point range, good for 13th in the league. Curry has accounted for 33 of those 53 makes — making the rest of the team 20-of-81 (24.7%). The Warriors’ two best shooters not named Curry — Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant — are shooting 14.8% and 25.0% from three-point range, respectively. If there was an award for
three-point MVP (and should it be awarded this early in the season), then Curry is far and away the winner.
Curry’s unique dominance
The best players in the league dominate in their own special way. LeBron James is like a freight train installed with a supercomputer, barreling down the lane with strength and agility, while having the IQ and passing acumen that instantly boosts his teammates’ 2K ratings by approximately five points. Kevin Durant is like a hitman who goes in for the kill, and stays quiet and silent while doing so — efficient, versatile, and virtually unstoppable. James Harden is a thespian extraordinaire, able to incite a multitude of emotions from his audience — including awe, laughter, sadness, and anger.
Stephen Curry is nearly impossible to quantify into something concrete. If he were to be compared to something, it would be some sort of weapon capable of mass destruction — perhaps a nuclear missile that can be fired from a sniper rifle. Like Curry’s threes, each salvo that is fired is accurate and deadly, yet capable of the kind of world-ending damage (or in the case of the Warriors’ opponents, game-ending damage) the likes of which we have never seen.
Of course, no one wants to watch actual nuclear missiles being launched in real life. It is safe to say, however, that these kinds of missiles from Curry are the only kinds of destructive forces that we’ll ever need to watch in our lifetimes:
What else is there to break down about Curry’s threes that haven’t already been analyzed by pundits (and so-called pundits)? We all know that he is extremely proficient in threes off the dribble — no doubt the best three-point shooter off the dribble in the history of the league. As a catch-and-shoot player, he is second-to-none. And of course, his virtually unlimited range is impeccable — capable of launching from beyond 30 feet while nearly having the accuracy of Shaquille O’Neal posting up near the basket. Curry is an anthropomorphized intercontinental ballistic missile.
On Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards, Curry served a reminder to the rest of the league — full of teams and players itching to become the “next Golden State Warriors” or the “next Stephen Curry” — that for all the troubles the Warriors are having in a category they once ruled over, they are still the golden standard of the NBA — and that he is still the undisputed king of the three-point shot.
He also served another reminder to the rest of the league — that he is a former two-time Most Valuable Player, and that absolutely no one should leave him out of that conversation whatsoever.
Curry, being the nuclear missile powered sniper rifle that he is, has set his sights on a third league MVP award. And by the look of things, he won’t settle for anything less than a headshot.
Five down, 77 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.