Commentary

The Heat's risky speed game

Miami's uptempo offense is a good thing, right? Not when you look at the history

Updated: January 5, 2012, 11:03 AM ET
By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN Insider
Dwayne WadeAP Photo/Chuck BurtonDwyane Wade and the Heat have set a blistering pace so far this season.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls it a "pace and space" offense, and it's taking the NBA by storm.

After the Heat plodded up the court with one of the slowest paces in the NBA and yet came two wins short of an NBA title, Spoelstra scrapped his grinding offense for one that capitalizes on the speed of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He got the idea after watching Oregon Ducks football coach Chip Kelly run his training camp -- yes, on the gridiron -- and has installed the high-flying offense on the hardwood.

Initially, many saw this as a bunch of coaching hoo-hoo. It's an annual tradition that a bunch of coaches make false promises in training camp that their teams are going to play more up-tempo. We're gonna play fast! This, however, rarely happens. But Spoelstra has actually made good on his promise and the Heat are running like they've never run before.

To illustrate how historic Spoelstra's acceleration is, we'll call up the pace factor metric from Basketball-Reference.com, which estimates the number of possessions a team tallies per 48 minutes. Since basketball is fluid by design and there isn't a discrete stoppage of play like in baseball or football (unless a whistle is blown, of course), we have to estimate possessions from the box score and use that to measure a team's tempo.

So how do the Heat look on the speed gun? Using this metric, we find that the 2010-11 version of the Heat recorded an estimated 90.9 possessions per game, which ranked 20th-fastest in the league. Yes, a team armed with dual nitro-boosters in Wade and James played slower than the average team last season.

But this version is putting the pedal to the metal. So far this season, the Heat are averaging a blistering 98.4 possessions per 48 minutes, which means they're squeezing in an extra 7.5 possessions every game thanks to Spoelstra's new philosophy. The Heat aren't even waiting for a miss to run up the floor; James has already created coast-to-coast fast breaks on his own after a make.


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