I suppose you could consider this post a partial rebuttal to Mr. Friedman's post, though it really wasn't intended as such. For the record, I really do appreciate David defending his post civilly on here, because that's something very few people would do. At the same time, I was in the process of writing this anyway before the Celtics game.
Gilbert Arenas' return to the lineup doesn't merely provide excitement. It also provides a potential scapegoat, because after all, the Wizards have been playing quite decently without him while incorporating a style that seems to be completely different.
Over the next month or so, once the Wizards invariably lose in the playoffs, there are going to be a lot of people who will blame Arenas for messing up the team's chemistry. They should instead point to one thing, and one thing only, for our impending elimination.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "But Randy Ayers is the best ever, he's improved our defense so much! It's all Gilbert's fault because he wasn't there this year and he came back and messed things up!"
Except that's not really true. We can trace this problem back to just before Arenas' return, when we went on that five-game Western Conference swing.
Here are the Wizards' defensive ratings in the seven games prior to our last two wins over Chicago and Boston. The number in parenthesis is their opponents' normal offensive rating.
Portland: 128.4 (108.1).
Seattle: 109.5 (101.6).
Sacramento: 108.6 (109).
LA Lakers: 128.6 (114.6).
Utah: 146.5 (115.5).
Milwaukee (Gilbert's return): 113.9 (106.4).
Miami: 117.3 (102.2).
That's six games in which we allowed our opponents to score far better than they had all season. In four of those games, our opponent had an offensive rating that was more than 15 points higher than their normal offensive rating.
What happened? First of all, it's important to note that while the Wizards had improved defensively before this recent stretch, they still weren't a very good defensive team. This isn't like Boston, who went from being average defensively to being one of the best defensive teams in league history. We were still in the bottom third of the league in defensive rating, but because our pace dropped significantly (26th this year after being 5th last year), it looks like we've made bigger improvements than we have. Lots of people have confused defensive improvements with simply playing at a slower pace.
But more importantly, we're starting to lose concentration with our weakside defense again. One of the major things Ayers did do was get us to stop sagging so much into the middle. Such a practice allowed us to defend the paint, but we consistently allowed teams to shoot an incredibly high percentage from three-point range. Our effective field goal percentage against was extremely high, even if our raw defensive field goal percentage was average.
So how have we done on that regard. Here are our eFG% numbers surrendered in that seven-game stretch.
LA Lakers: 57.5.
Assuming Seattle and Utah are the two outliers, the average eFG% for our opponents during the other five games of that stretch was 56.7. That's not going to get it done, and it's why our defensive eFG% has once again dipped into the bottom five in the league. To advance in the playoffs, we need to do a better job of defending the three-point line.
Is there hope? Yeah, definitely. Our last two defensive ratings are 97.6 (against the Bulls) and 100.8 (against the Celtics). We allowed Boston to post a 57% eFG%, but still, that two-game stretch is a nice sign. Those were also both games in which Arenas played, and for the most part, our worst defensive performances during this stretch came with him not playing, so it's not like this is exclusively Arenas' fault.
Subjectively, though, I'm inclined to say that the defense problem isn't close to being solved. Chicago's offense is terrible, and Boston could have easily dropped more points on us had they hit their open shots. There needs to be a lot of improvement in this area, and there isn't much time to make it.
But when people ask why this has been a .500ish team even with three all-stars, this is the first answer you should give them. Not Arenas exclusively, but rather, our pathetic excuse of a defense.