NBA’s Top Transition Teams

Previewing 2018-19’s best fast break teams.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers ran more than any team last season with 22 possessions per game in transition, accounting for 1.057 PPP which was 15th per Synergy. Adding the King will only help matters, considering he was 2nd in the NBA last season with 531 points in transition. LeBron is a like a locomotive storming down the court, as Luke Walton said, “If he gets the loose ball and pushes himself, he’s a problem to deal with, from his playmaking to his ability to get to the rim.”

James is flanked by a few players who like to get out and run, including Kentavious Caldwell Pope who had 25.5% of his possessions come in transition (5th of players with at least 200 possessions). Additionally Kyle Kuzma is another transition threat, running on 23.6% (10th) of his possessions and scoring 292 points in transition (21st).

The most fascinating Laker, the 21 year old Brandon Ingram is also a killer on the break. Ingram continues to refine his offensive game going into Year 3, but the former #2 overall pick was very efficient in transition last season. Ingram scored 1.172 PPP (18th) on 180 possessions, while shooting a sky high field goal percentage in transition (64.5% – 5th).

Lastly, excellent passers Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo, lob threat Javale McGee, and Josh Hart will keep Los Angeles as one of the fastest action shows in town. As a whole the Lakers have questions to be answered, but their proficiency in transition is a certifiable strength going into 2018-19.

Even without Lebron, the Lakers ran more than any team last season

2. Golden State Warriors

The defending champions are deadly in the open floor. Last season, they scored 1.155 PPP in transition (2nd), while running on 18.6% of their offensive possessions.The Dubs have consistently been one of the top transition teams in the League under Steve Kerr, featuring a lineup full of stars who are comfortable running and gunning.

Klay Thompson is the most lethal of the Big 4 on the fastbreak, leading the NBA in PPP in transition at 1.331. As is customary for the refined shooter, many of Thompson’s attempts came from behind the arch, where he shot a career high 44% last season.

As a Warrior KD’s largest impact has been in transistion, with KD increasing his possessions on the fast break each year in blue and gold. His first year he led the NBA with 1.36 PPP in transition, and last year he slipped to 1.108, held down by the key to the offense Stephen Curry missing 31 games.

Golden State’s lineup attacks throughout with veterans like Iguodala and Livingston still able to run, and Draymond always looking for the hit ahead pass. The Warriors have a younger supporting cast this season, particularly with springy front court athletes Jordan Bell and Damian Jones, bolstering an already great transition offense.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets were the Association’s elite in transistion last season, scoring an NBA best 1.119 PPP in transistion.

The Rockets return a potent offense commanded by last season’s bearded MVP James Harden. Harden took occasional time off from raining step back threes and living at the foul line to score 236 points (29th) in transition, running on only 11.6% of his offensive possessions.

Houston’s transition offense may take a hit with the departure of Trevor Ariza to Phoenix. The small forward was successful running the floor, finishing second in the NBA with 1.313 PPP in transition (26.6% of his possessions). His potential replacement in Mike D’Antoni’s starting lineup, Eric Gordon is also capable of landing a few long balls on the break. The father of run and gun is leaning towards starting Gordon to take the Rockets offense to even more dangerous levels. Gordon can fill the transition void left by Ariza as last season, as he scored 1.241 PPP (11th) in transition.

The Rockets will look to keep up the turbo speed while integrating Carmelo Anthony, an above average transition player who contributed 182 points (64th) on 1.06 PPP (46th) with OKC last year.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

As you might imagine, Giannis Antetokounmpo excels in the open floor. With each elongated stride and vicious throw down, the Greek Freak scored 506 points in transition last season, third in the NBA per Synergy.

22.2% (24th) of Antetokounmpo’s possessions were in transition, and when he gets a head of steam coming at the rim there is very little the defense can do to stop him. Last season, Giannis led the league in points per transition possession at 1.202 for players who ran as frequently as he did (over 300 possessions).

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The Greek Freak’s length is lethal in transition

With 421 possessions in transition, Giannis also has two frequent running mates in Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. Middleton had 291 possessions in transition (10th) and Bledsoe ran on 289 possessions (11th).

Transition offense was a strength for the Bucks last season, totaling 1868 points on the fast break. Milwaukee trailed only the Lakers in possessions per game in transition at 20.5, but they can improve their efficiency. They scored 1.109 PPP in transition, 11th in the NBA last season and a mark they will look to improve under new coach Mike Budenholzer.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia scored the 6th most points in transition last season, led by the brilliant Ben Simmons. Simmons is a blur from end to end, throwing down powerful dunks and whizzing passes to teammates, making the 76ers fast-break a must see affair. He scored 278 points (25th) in transistion, and ignited countless other breaks with his defense.

Philadelphia has a multi-pronged attack on the fast break, a unit that will improve with Markelle Fultz’s length and explosiveness. Robert Covington is a frequent transition player, scoring 296 points (20th) in the open floor, and running on an astonishing 26.3% of his offensive possessions. JJ Reddick is always a threat to bury easy transition three’s, scoring 1.231 PPP (11th) when he is in transition.

Philly’s athletic, push the pace attack is something to watch as they attempt to mask their shooting issues in the half court.

6. New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans has an uptempo style that makes them one of the one of the league’s premier offenses. Last season, en route to a sixth seed in the West, the Pelicans finished the season’s third in points behind only the juggernaut Warriors and Rockets. Their offense featured a substantial amount of fast breaks, running on 17.4% of their possessions, finishing the season with 1592 transition possessions.

New Orleans’ MVP candidate Anthony Davis is stellar in the open court, like he is basically everywhere on the floor. Despite his rebounding and rim protections responsibilities, Davis managed to run on 253 of his 1878 possessions (13.5%). When in transition, AD was magnificent, scoring 317 points (12th) on 1.253 PPP (9th) and shooting 65.9% (2nd behind Ben Simmons).

AD and Jrue are frequent fast breakers in the Big Easy

New Orleans also starts other frequent runners in Jrue Holiday and Et’waun Moore. Holiday finished the season with 296 transition possessions (8th) and Moore ran on 264 (20th). At 1.104 points per transition possession (57th) and 52% field goal percentage, Holiday has room to grow as a transition player. Holiday was excellent down the stretch last season, averaging a career high in points and field goal percentage, and an improvement in transition will only help him.

The majority of E’Twaun Moore’s offensive possessions were in transition with 27.4%(3rd) coming in transistion. At 1.129 PPP (20th) the run and gun style elevated Moore as a player, scoring double digits points (12.5ppg) for the first time in his 7 year career.

The Pelicans attack will be bolstered by the addition of Julius Randle in the offseason, another transition terror. Randle was part of the Lakers turbo-charged system last season, bulldozing his way to 280 (24th) transition points.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook, the catalyst behind the Thunder break, missing time will hurt OKC’s transition offense in the early going. Westbrook is the league’s most dynamic player on the fast break, having led the NBA in points in transition every year since 2014-15. As is always the case with Russ, his statistical success is tied to a large volume and not to insane efficiency. Last season he scored 1.013 points per transition possession, 58th of players with at least 150 such possessions. Over the last 4 years, he hasn’t finished above 29th in PPP, although the Thunder appreciated the 541 transition buckets that Russ scored in 2017-18.

Russ and Playoff P are back for another season of running and gunning                                     Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City ran on 16.3% of their offensive possessions, accounting for 1629 points via the fast break, both eighth in the league last season. Recently re-signed Paul George is also dangerous on the fast break, scoring 300 points (T-16th) on 1.038 PPP. Russ and PG are both end to end threats, and the younger supporting cast of Dennis Schröder, Terrance Ferguson and Nerlons Noel will keep the Thunder in the upper echelon of the NBA’s transition teams.

8. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers will be one of next season’s more exciting teams, not just in transition but in the Eastern Conference post LeBron. Last season’s breakout star, Victor Oladipo, leads the Pacers push, finishing last season with 411 (4th) points in transition. Oladipo led the NBA at 2.4 steals per game, many followed up with him being shot out of a cannon and exploding to the rim.

Oladipo is not the Pacers only transition threat, as Bojan Bogdanovic balled out in the fast break last season. Bogdanovic ran on 25.9% of his offensive possessions (4th for players with 250 transition possessions), scoring an extremely effective 1.275 PPP (3rd). Many of those points came from distance, where Bogdanovic has emerged as threat, shooting over 40% for the first time in his 4 year career.

The speedy Darren Collison was also a successful fast break weapon, running on 24.9% of his offensive possessions and scoring 1.169 PPP (19th for players with at least 150).

The Pacers have a few breakout candidates on their roster, and with a top tier transition offense and improved three point shooting, the 48 win team is poised for another jump.

 

Other top fast breaking teams to monitor: Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Phoenix Suns

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