How Fast Should Florida Basketball Be Playing?

While Florida’s offense has struggled there has been a central criticism from a lot of fans and that’s the pace the Gators have played at. Slow in the half court for the eye test and without enough transition buckets to please the masses Coach White has taken heat for not playing with the speed he was known for at Louisiana Tech and in his first two seasons in Gainesville. Would playing faster instantly help a challenged offense currently ranked 64th? Let’s take a look into some numbers to find out.

How Slow Is Florida? (The KenPom Myth)

Anyone who reads my stuff knows I love KenPom. I look at it every single day and I probably don’t write a single article without at least glancing at the site. Unfortunately, there is a statistic from KenPom that I have seen cited on Gator Country forums, Twitter, and Reddit that has been used incorrectly and it’s a myth I have to bust. Here is the statistic that has been stated.

The Gators are 338th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo.

That number has then been used to say things like “why is Florida playing so slow? Why would they want to be the 338th slowest team in the country? Pick up the pace!”

So here’s the thing. The adjusted tempo metric factors in the total number of possessions in a game to create that number. Florida has been playing absolutely elite defense that has forced their opponents incredibly deep in the shot clock, evidenced by the fact the Gators are 351st in opponent possession length which is an amazing number in my mind. The slow possessions the Gators are forcing their opponents to have are limiting the total number of possessions in the game which is leading to that slow adjusted tempo number they have. So when you see the Gators are 338th in adjusted tempo you shouldn’t think “the Gators are the 338th slowest team” you should think “the Gators play in the games with the 338th most possessions” which might be a bit confusing and is definitely a nerdy thought, but I hope it helps frame why the Gators are not the 338th slowest team in the country.

If you want to know how fast the Gators play offensively it would be more accurate to look at their average possession length as that shows exclusively how fast they are playing when they get the ball.

They are 137th.

So next time you hear someone citing adjusted tempo as a representation of how slow the Gators play offensively, politely correct them and say how it would be better to look at average possession length as a more accurate representation of how fast or slow they are playing on offense.

Even though it’s not 338th, 137th is still not super fast and it’s nowhere near the top-60 average possession length teams Coach White had while at Louisiana Tech and his first two years in Florida.

Is Faster Always Better?

No, and I think this is another myth to remember when talking about Florida’s pace. There is an idea that faster is always better when it comes to basketball and there is just not a lot of evidence to support that. Villanova had the best statistical offensive season in college basketball on their way to a championship last year and their average possession length was 233rd. Two seasons prior when they won their other championship they were 290th. The team they played in the championship game last season, Michigan? They were 308th. Loyola-Chicago road their 285th length of possession to the Final Four.

Fast teams can win too and I’m not suggesting slow is always better. Gonzaga currently has the best offense in college basketball and is 12th in average possession length and North Carolina won their championship in 2017 going 25th in average possession length.

The fact that speed isn’t always better and a lot of the elite offensive college basketball teams have played slow and methodical is just something to think about as it relates to how fast Florida should play.

Gators In Transition

How effective has Florida been when they have pushed the ball and got out into transition?

19.6% of their shots have came on the fast break and though I don’t actually have an official ranking, I will anecdotally say this is lower than most team sheets I have looked at the usually have between 23%-27% of their shots coming in transition. When they have gotten shots in transition they have been okay at 1.037 points per possession which puts them in the 49th percentile, just below the middle of the pack. Andrew Nembhard has been the best Gator in transition shooting 72.7% and being an excellent passer with 0 turnovers so far when running.

You could look at the fact they are an average team at converting in transition and say that they shouldn’t try to get more offensive that way due to the fact they aren’t great at it but I think it should be interpreted in a different way. Even though the Gators are average at best in transition, scoring 1.037 per possession is still more efficient than their numbers with a spot up jump shot (0.92), an isolation shot (0.639), or an offensive rebound put back (0.791).

Florida’s overall point per possession in the half court is 0.865.

That means any shot they take in transition is statistically better than a shot taken in the half court. With that in mind, taking more of their shots in transition than their current number of 19.6% should help them score more points and help their offense already.

Let’s look at a few other differences in Florida’s offense between transition and half court offense.

Field Goal Percentage:

Transition: 51%
Half Court: 40.9%

Turnover Percentage:

Transition: 13.2%
Half Court: 14%

Free Throw Rate (How often you draw fouls resulting in free throws):

Transition: 15.4%
Half Court: 12.7%

Am I the only one that was surprised to see the Gators turn the ball over more in the half court than in transition? Those numbers all help the idea that the Gators should try to look for offense off the break whenever possible. You obviously still want to get good shots and not force up a transition attempt for the sake of a transition attempt but I think these numbers and especially the points per possession number show that a great look in transition should be heavily valued.

Middle And Late Clock

We’ve talked about playing fast as it relates to transition but what if there isn’t anything there and you’ve got to get into your half court sets. Pace isn’t all about if you run in transition or not, it can have a lot to do with when you shoot when you do set up in the half court.

Let’s look at some of Florida’s offensive numbers in middle and late clock situations. The middle of the shot clock is from 11-20 seconds into the shot clock and late is from 20-30.

Percentage Of Shots At Rim:

Middle: 27.3%
Late: 31.7%

Field Goal Percentage At Rim:

Middle: 52.5%
Late: 60.5%

Percentage Of 2-Point Jumpers Taken:

Middle: 31.5%
Late: 20.8%

Percentage Of 2-Point Jumpers Off A Pass:

Middle: 28.0%
Late: 42.9%

Percentage Of 3-Point Jumpers Taken:

Middle: 41.2%
Late: 47.5%

What jumps out to me is that the Gators are actually taking better quality shots in the late shot clock period than the middle. In basketball you want as many layups and threes as you can get while limiting the number of mid-range shots you take. The 2-point jumpers (the worst shot in basketball) taken statistic shows that the Gators are settling for bad shots. Not only were there more 2-point jump shots in the middle of the clock, only 28% of them were off a pass and that means 72% were in isolation, an even worse shot. The worst offender for this is Jalen Hudson who has taken the most middle-clock 2-point jumpers and guess what, every single one of them has been in isolation. If it’s late in the shot clock and pulling up for a long two is the best shot you can get I’ll take it but shooting that in the middle of the clock is a bad possession.

Takeaways

Transition field goal attempts are currently one of the best shots for the Gators and I think they need to try to get more of them, especially off the turnovers they have been great in generating but also off any rebounds where they might have numbers. However, if there isn’t anything there in transition, the numbers are suggesting to me that the Gators need to continue to work to get good shots and that might mean they need to play slow in the half court. The fact that this team isn’t spectacular offensively means they will likely have to work the ball around for a lot of the clock to get a good look. If they improve offensively than it probably means they can get a good look sooner and then their pace will speed up but until that happens I think a methodical half court tempo might be the way to go.

I also want you to remember that faster isn’t always better. The Gators could stay at their current offensive pace and get better or hey, they could even play a lot slower and get a lot better offensively. I’m not saying they need to play even slower to get better, I just want people to know that pace doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with production and a lot of the best offensive teams are slow teams. Like I mentioned earlier I do think getting more transition attempts will help the offense but I also think playing smart when the transition opportunity isn’t there will be important for this team to improve.