The 2020-21 Charlotte Hornets finished the regular season with a 33-39 record and the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference. Let’s take a look back on the Hornets team advanced stats and better understand why their season went the way it did. This week we’ll break down the Hornets pace of play.
Advanced stat: Pace
What it measures: The number of possessions per 48 minutes for a team or player
Hornets result: 99.0; 18th in the NBA
Pace is an interesting advanced metric. The speed at which a team plays isn’t necessarily “good” or “bad” by itself. For some teams, keeping the tempo at a slower pace allows them to grind out wins. For others, racing up and down the floor is the path to victory.
For example, this season the Milwaukee Bucks played at the second fastest pace in the league at 102.9 and are currently representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors ranked third in pace at 102.8 - virtually equal to the Bucks - but they missed the playoffs.
On the other end of the spectrum, the five teams with the slowest pace of play - the Knicks, Heat, Clippers, Nuggets, and Mavericks - all made the playoffs. Again, there’s no perfect pace that can be peanut butter spread across the NBA. The “right” pace for each team depends upon their roster, strengths, weaknesses, and strategies.
Charlotte played at just below NBA average pace in 2020-21 with their 99.0 possessions per 48 minutes ranking 18th in the league. To put this in recent historical context for the Hornets as a franchise, in 2019-20 they were dead last in the NBA at 96.2, so their speed this season represented a significant increase from the year before. In 2018-19 they ranked 21st at 99.2. James Borrego seems to enjoy life in the slow lane.
With the Hornets perimeter-oriented, athletic roster and glaring lack of talent in the paint, I thought Charlotte would play at a pace closer to the Top 10 fastest in the league than the Bottom 20. Guards LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham, and Terry Rozier can all push the ball. Wings Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington can finish in transition. The Hornets have six players who seem well-suited to play at a fast pace, but the team played at a below-average tempo. A team with a lot of Ferraris seems to be obeying a 65 MPH speed limit.
From an individual standpoint, LaMelo Ball played at the fastest pace by far. His 103.3 pace was about three possessions more per 48 minutes than the majority of the Hornets core players who hovered around 100. The core player with the slowest pace was Devonte’ Graham at 99.3. Charlotte knew when they drafted LaMelo that he was going to push the pace and he delivered during his rookie season.
Again, pace isn’t necessarily “good” or “bad” by itself. It all depends on a team’s roster and overall philosophy. I would like to see the Hornets increase their tempo next year, especially as LaMelo Ball will play a more prominent role in his sophomore season.
The Hornets have the Ferraris. Let’s rev the engines!