HANG TIME, Texas — Break out the oxygen tanks for the thin air in Denver. Start ironing the extra rubber onto the soles of those sneakers.
George Karl wants the Nuggets to run. And run and run and run.
Does anybody have leftover programs and posters from when the nutty professor Paul Westhead tried that route in Denver back in 1990? Do you remember his Nuggets averaging a league-high 119.9 points per game? Oh, and giving up 130.8? How about the night they surrendered 107 points in one half to Phoenix, which is still an NBA record?
Talking to Scott Hastings on KKFN in Denver, an unabashed Karl says his plan for getting his Nuggets out of a three-year funk of being bounced from the playoffs in the first round is to pick up baton from where Mike D’Antoni left off with his “Seven seconds or less” offense in Phoenix.
“I’ve never seen it be that successful in the NBA, but I think the big thing for us is, who is going to commit to playing fast? We talked about it and last year we did a good job at it, but there’s no way I want to slow down. I want to try to prove the world wrong — that you can run and win in the NBA, and you can win big if you keep running. The problem is, can you run for 82 games every minute, every possession of every game?”
While putting the pedal to the metal can certainly inject a level of excitement and enthusiasm to an arena, Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie reminds with the cold hard stats that it has never been a path that has led to a championship.
Recent NBA history says that the answer to this is no — or, at least, you can’t run every minute, every possession, every game and actually win a title. Of the 52 teams that have made the conference finals since 2000, only 14 have played at a top-10 pace (using Basketball-Reference.com’s pace metrics), while 29 have played league-average (15th of 30/14th of 29) or slower.
Karl’s belief is that an all-out commitment to running is the best way to take advantage of the open court talent of his newest addition Andre Iguodala. But it should be noted that Iggy’s transition game and most of the best running attacks in league history have come off the defense.
It’s also interesting to remember that Karl had his most successful seasons in Seattle when he got the Sonics of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp to trade in many of their wild-and-crazy ways and clamp down on defense.
This is not to say we’re against revving up the offense. Some of the most joy NBA fans have had over the past decade were watching Rick Adelman’s Kings, Don Nelson’s Warriors and D’Antoni’s Suns make the scoreboards spin like slot machines. However, the Warriors were a routine first-round out, Sacramento made it the conference once finals and D’Antoni’s Suns, twice.
We’re looking at fun. We’re looking at points. We’re looking at entertainment. But as far as the Rocky Mountain Hi-Test Offense being the path out of the first-round for Karl and his Nuggets, we can only hope.