Paying Attention

I find it odd how frequently NBA commentators don't seem to pay attention to what's actually happening, instead just relying on vague impressions and reputations. During last night's Spurs-Mavericks matchup, for example, we kept hearing about how San Antonio wants to slow down the pace whereas Dallas likes to play fast. Similarly, the morning after Marc Stein observes that "Dallas knows its game devolved into a fruitless succession of isolations that led to missed jumpers, enabling the Spurs to finally slow things down, albeit six months too late." But while last year's Spurs team was, as usual, slow 23rd in the league in pace, last years' Mavericks were also slow. Indeed, they were slower than San Antonio, 27th in the league in pace.

Insofar as the pace got slow, that was because the game featured two slow-paced teams facing off against each other, not San Antonio controlling the pace. Similarly, while it's true that Dallas ran a lot of isolation plays last night, and it's true that Dallas lost the game, it's highly implausible to say they lost because they ran so much isolation. Dallas had the most efficient offensive in the league in 2005-2006 and also had the fewest assists in the league. The New Dallas, in other words, just is a slow-paced, isolation-oriented team. The strategy didn't work last night, but that's the strategy (and it worked well across last season), it's not some kind of error or one-off occurence.