My 2005 NY Times essay showing that a super-fast pace and NBA titles have often gone hand-in-hand
Here is the original link.
New York Times
January 9, 2005
Phoenix Pays a Little Homage to Much Faster Times
By DENNIS HANS
The Phoenix Suns are a much-needed breath of fresh air for an N.B.A. that remains far too bruising and boring. After 32 games, they were averaging a league-best 109.3 points, an astonishing 7.9 points more a game than the Dallas Mavericks, ranked No. 2 in that category.
But for those who become winded watching Steve Nash and his buddies run up and down the court, consider this: The Suns average 85 field-goal attempts a game. The 1960 N.B.A. champion Boston Celtics averaged 120.
Take a minute to let that sink in. We're talking 41 percent more attempts than today's run-and-gun Suns. On average, the 1959-60 Celtics would hit the Suns' average of 85 attempts with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Suns are headed in the right direction, and I hope they run all the way to the N.B.A. title. Nothing would make me happier than Mike D'Antoni becoming a coaching role model.
D'Antoni learned the game from his father, a legendary high school coach in West Virginia whose teams turned on the crowd by running the opposition right out of the gym. It was a style that kept the focus on the players on the floor, not on the "genius coach" on the sideline. Most important, it was a style that made kids want to play basketball.
Critics say the Suns cannot race their way to an N.B.A. title, but the record shows D'Antoni is on the right track. The Suns' up-tempo style is reminiscent of that of the greatest teams in history, most of which ran at every opportunity and led the league in scoring or field-goal attempts or were near the top. The greatest team over a prolonged stretch - the Bill Russell-era Celtics of 1957 to 1969 - won 11 titles in 13 seasons. They led the league in field-goal attempts every season from 1959 to 1965 and won the title each of those seven years.
Two of the greatest single-season teams, the 1967 Sixers and the 1972 Lakers, each led by Wilt Chamberlain in his moderate-scoring phase, led the league in scoring. The Sixers averaged 125 points, on an average of 100 field-goal attempts, and the Lakers averaged 121 points, on 98 field-goal attempts, each without benefit of a 3-point shot.
When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson joined forces for the 1970-71 season, they led the Bucks to the scoring title (at 118.4 points a game) and the N.B.A. title.
Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics were always near the top in scoring, and those teams combined to win eight titles from 1980 to 1988, when the league scoring average was about 110. The other title team in that stretch - the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, led by Moses Malone and Julius Erving - ran its way to a 112 average.
The N.B.A.'s second-greatest dynasty, the Michael Jordan-era Bulls from 1991 to 1998, led the league in scoring in two title seasons and scored well above the league average in each of its six championship years. That team also served as a beacon in the dark days of the slow-paced Thug Era, first by dethroning the Bad Boy Pistons, then by serving as the worst nightmare for Pat Riley's Broadway Bullies.
In comparing today's go-go Suns and the early-1960's Celtics, it must be noted that the Boston teams played in a league without the 3-point shot. If we convert the Suns' 9.1 successful treys per game a game to 2-pointers, their scoring average would plummet to 100.2. The lowest-scoring team in the 1960's, the 1969 Bulls, averaged 104.7.
To be fair to the Suns, a portion of their staggering field-goal-attempt deficit compared with the early 1960's Celtics is not their fault. Rather, it is a reflection of the walk-it-up, milk-the-clock, prevent-fast-breaks-at-all-costs philosophy of some opposing teams shackled by control-freak coaches. (Thankfully, their numbers are dwindling, and a few of the worst offenders have started to lighten their grip.)
Such coaches did not haunt the league when Red Auerbach was running the Celtics. The closest thing to a slow-down team in 1960 was the Cincinnati Royals, and they fired 104 field-goal attempts a game, 22 percent more than today's beep-beep Suns.
Fans of the Suns can take comfort in another feature of the early Celtics: their running did not prevent them from being a great defensive team. That greatness was predicated on quickness, which they had in abundance.
Alas, the Suns do not have Bill Russell as their last line of defense, but they do have active, athletic players who get their hands on an awful lot of passes, dribbles and shots. If the Suns can remain above average in field-goal defense and sustain that in the playoffs, their efficient, reasonably brisk offense could carry them to the N.B.A. crown.
The 2005 crown, that is. The 1960 Celtics would run them right off the floor.
Dennis Hans is a writer who lives in Florida.