The Statistical Analysis We Need

I was looking at this latest iteration of efforts to use adjusted +/- statistics to evaluate NBA players, and it served as a reminder of how frustrating I find it that such a large proportion of efforts to apply quantitative tools to the analysis of basketball are dedicated to these searches for magic formulae to assess player quality. There are other, more interesting and probably more fruitful, lines of inquiry where quantitative skills could shed some light.

For example, there's a popular conception of a link between pace and defensive orientation -- specifically the idea that teams that choose to play at a fast pace are sacrificing something in the defense department. On the most naive level, that's simply because a high pace leads to more points being given up. But I think it's generally assumed that it holds up in efficiency terms as well. The 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns, for example, were first in offensive efficiency, third in pace, and fourteenth in defense. But is this really true? If you look at the data season-by-season is there a correlation between pace and defense? When pace changes leaguewide, does scoring efficiency also change? Then there are lots of interesting team level issues to ask. Intuitively, some teams' offenses are optimized for the fast-paced style and will function less efficiently during games that wind up being played at a slow pace. And vice versa also probably holds. But are there some teams who are making a mistake? Squads who score more efficiently when they play slower, but usually try to play fast?

I'm too lazy to actually conduct research into those questions, and I'm not even sure I know how to calculate a coefficient of correlation correctly these days, but I'd read someone who wanted to do it.