Small sample size analytics: Boston Celtics’ pace vs offensive efficiency

Pace is often linked with offensive efficiency, but there's not always a correlation -- the Boston Celtics are finding the pace and space that works Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Pace is often linked with offensive efficiency, but there's not always a correlation -- the Boston Celtics are finding the pace and space that works Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Today’s NBA has been defined by two prominent buzzwords, pace and space, and for good reason. An increase in pace has had a direct result in an increase in scoring and spacing has given players attacking the rim more room to operate and three-point shooters to kick out to, who capitalize on open looks with an extra point. This is all part of the current era we’re in where scoring is at an all-time high.

Conversely, with any trend, there will always be a balancing act within the league. It’s important to remember that getting into action quickly does help scoring efficiency but it isn’t the be-all end-all, just like not every possession needs to end with a three or a layup. These two ideals need to work together in today’s game to find a good balance.

This balance is starting to epitomize in the 2023-24 Boston Celtics, the current favorites to take the Eastern Conference. What does their pace and space look like?

As of November 1, Boston is ranked 21st in pace sitting squarely at 100 possessions per 48 minutes. However, They are second in adjusted offensive rating, per

What about spacing? How are the Boston Celtics shooting?

Looking at frequency alone the the Celtics are taking 43.3 percent of their shots from long range, a trend that carried over from last year. They’re also taking 33.5 percent of their shots at the rim, and the rest coming from the mid-range, with slightly more from close mid-range per Some might argue that the shot chart is a little too hot along the three-point arc but it starts to make sense when taking accuracy and transition efficiency into account.

Shooting from long-range Boston is 9th in the league at 38.1%. At the rim, they’re even better at 70.5%, sixth in the league. Mid-range is relatively better still, ranking fourth and making them at 49.1%. Diving deeper and looking at their transition numbers the team is scoring an outstanding 1.53 points per play in transition.

So what does all that mean? It’s just numbers on a screen at the end of only three games, but what it does speak to is the trend this team is developing. In short, they’re picking their spots and picking them well.

Shooting well from all places on the court is obviously a sure-fire way to an efficient offense but when looking at the bigger picture it’s clear that this team is not only shooting well but playing together well. The Boston Celtics are taking only about a quarter of their shots from mid-range while making about half of them means they aren’t settling for those shots but finding them in rhythm, same with their threes.

The slower pace speaks to this. The transition play means they making the absolute most of their fast break opportunities, and mostly off of live rebounds at that.

Their pace isn’t off the charts but it doesn’t have to be. When this team has an opportunity to run, they take it and make the most of it. If the offense needs to slow down, it can do that too. The point is they are making the most of every situation they have in front of them instead of hunting something that maybe isn’t there.

Similarly, the number one ranked offense Denver Nuggets plays at an even slower pace than this Boston Celtics team at 98 possessions per game. And while the similarities between the two teams and their styles don’t go much further from there, they both show symptoms of efficient offenses that aren’t necessarily slow, so much as they don’t need to be rushed.

Where Boston shines of course is its star power, but that doesn’t mean anything if they can’t put it all together. After three games, it looks like the cohesion is starting to take hold.