The Lakers Are Playing Blisteringly Fast Basketball And We Have The Charts To Prove It
Lonzo Ball raced up the court, tossing the basketball to an open LeBron James. Without dribbling, James lobbed the ball up for sinewy center JaVale McGee, who threw down a dunk. A total of five seconds had passed in a 48-minute game.
That sequence — at the beginning of a game in which both James and Ball notched triple-doubles this month — illustrated a key takeaway so far this season: the Los Angeles Lakers are playing basketball at a blisteringly fast pace.
In fact, no team in the entire NBA over the last 24 seasons has played as fast as this year's Lakers.
Lakers Near The Top As Pace Of Play Escalates In The NBA (possessions per game)
But the 2018-19 Lakers aren't even at the top of the NBA for speed of play. This year, the Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings are outpacing the Lakers. The trio find themselves at the forefront of a leaguewide acceleration in pace.
The length of the games hasn't changed, but the amount of action in them has. Faster pace of play and more efficient offense have both pushed up scoring this season.
Last year's youthful, LeBron-less Lakers averaged about 100 possesions a game, second-highest in the league. (This year that same figure would rank ninth in the league.) Over 31 games this year, the team is now averaging 103 possessions per game.
For the Lakers, that's intentional.
"We're trying to play fast," coach Luke Walton said before the season. "We want to push it."
The question was how LeBron James, whose past teams had never cracked the top ten for pace, would fit into that plan. The answer? LeBron has fit in just fine, enjoying another season of gaudy statistics while playing with several teammates a decade or more younger than him.
The Lakers currently have a winning record, and are eyeing their first playoff berth in five years.
On Christmas, they'll take on the defending champion Golden State Warriors in Oakland. The Warriors are averaging about 100 possessions a game. That's the team's fastest pace since 2009-10, when the Dubs boasted a promising young rookie named Stephen Curry.
WHAT ABOUT THE CLIPPERS?
L.A.'s other NBA team, the superstar-less Clippers, started the season on a tear, before stumbling in more recent weeks.
Like their Staples Center cohabitants, the Clippers are playing the most fast-paced basketball in modern franchise history. The team is averaging 100.5 possesions per game this season, a figure that would have been first in the NBA just three years ago.
Clippers Playing At Faster Pace This Season (possessions per game)
The Clippers, who have Christmas off, are also in the playoff hunt. Coach Doc Rivers has previously expressed skepticism towards pace and other advanced statistics, telling the O.C. Register last year: "We just find our own pace. We know what it is when we see it and when we don't."
Note: Data in this story accessed on December 23.
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