Breaking down the Washington Wizards' long two-point jumper problem

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The Wizards offense has been a disappointment this season despite the addition of Marcin Gortat and a healthy John Wall, largely due to their propensity to fire away from midrange. But there can be some good long two-pointers. We point out a couple plays where we can live with the shot.

The long two-point jumper has been recognized as the worst shot in basketball and ultimately a good barometer for poor offensive teams. As a whole, the league has hovered around 38 percent from that area (16-23 feet) the past few years while shooting nearly 36 percent from three-point range. Given that a three is worth one more point than a long two, you can see why it's a much more efficient shot.

Only five teams shoot more from 16-23 feet than the Wizards, and only the Bobcats, Pistons and Rockets shoot a worse percentage, per NBA.com's stats page. One of those teams, Houston, has taken the least amount of shots from that distance to date, while Detroit has spacing issues through the roof and Charlotte suffers from mediocre talent.

What's Washington's excuse, then? They have two of the league top three-point marksmen from a year ago, Marcin Gortat, who's among the handful of great finishers out of the pick and roll in the last half-decade, and a budding superstar at the league's most prominent position. Yet they rank 21st in the league in offense rating and 19th in points per play, per MySynergySports.com. Any lineup without Nene takes a turn for the worse, including their most frequently-used one: a Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and Gortat quintet that's scoring just 102 points per 100 possessions in 220 minutes this season, which fails to reach league average.

That's not to say the long two-point jumper is completely useless. Sometimes, you have to take it, and sometimes, you have players that are actually good at making it. The long two-point jumper is one of the main reasons why Nene is having a bounce-back season for the Wizards, for example. Over 42 percent of his shots have come from midrange, and he's connecting on a very healthy 45 percent of them per NBA.com's stats page. Aside from Wall, he's the only starter on the team with a positive net rating. His proficiency from mid-range has opened up the floor just a little bit.

Here, the Wizards come out of their HORNS alignment -- two bigs at the elbow, two wings in the corner -- to run a double high screen with Gortat and Nene for Wall at the top of the key. John has the option to choose either screen, and in this case chooses Gortat's side of the floor.

Nene_spot

Jeff Teague gets crushed by Gortat's screen, and because Wall is such a threat to drive, the Hawks must show hard on the pick and roll. This forces Al Horford to clog up the middle, making way for Nene to have a clean look at the basket. He's shot 14 for 25 in spot-up situations, up from just 36 percent a year ago.

Nene_spot_2

Nene_spot_3

Problem is, this isn't a pet-play designed specifically for Nene. There have been a number of instances where the Wizards used this set with the less effective Booker on the floor. This is the crux of the issue with Wittman's offense: It's not tailored to fit the personnel on the floor and it's under the belief that it could plug-and-play just about anyone into the offense. We witnessed first-hand what that was like last year with the excess of Emeka Okafor pick-and-pops, and we're seeing the exact same issues repeat itself this season.

Outside of Nene, then, the Wizards are taking too many long shots. How do they fix the problem, though?

Too many off-the-dribble jumpers

There's no doubt that both Wall and Beal settle for a ton of jumpers. The Wizards' ball handlers rank dead-last in field goal percentage out of the pick and roll, per MySynergySports.com, and it's in large part due to their starting backcourt failing to probe the defense. But what about the three players not involved in the initial action?

Contrary to Beal's pick and rolls, the majority of Wall's are stationed right at the top of the key, which allows him to go either left or right instead of toward the middle. From there, he can pull up from his preferred elbow, hit his big rolling through the middle of the paint or rifle a pass into the opposite corner if he sees the defender sagging off. But problems too often occur when defenders stay home on shooters while opposing bigs drop back on the pick and roll.

Wall_j

Wall has been pressed into too many jumpers that look exactly like this. Wizards' shooters have been so proficient from the corners over the past two seasons, almost to a fault. The coaching staff has gotten complacent even, allowing shooters to just camp in the corners while Wall continues to hoist up shots out of the pick and roll. There are often no passing lanes for Wall to work with and no movement off the ball to better space out the floor.

Not enough ball movement

The coaching staff has the personnel, they're just not using it. Again, they have two great catch-and-shoot players, two credible rollers to the rim and a spot-up shooter in Ariza that has the ability to slide over to the power forward position. That's more than enough to run some decoy action in order to tilt a defense and open up lanes for their ball handlers.

Strangely enough, they do run some misdirection with their loop play, it just happens at the beginning of each quarter. And this year they've introduced a new wrinkle to the offense which calls for Beal coming off a baseline screen. Initially it looks like a Gortat pick and pop that evolves into a pick and roll with Trevor Ariza, but Beal quickly loops his way through one side of the floor and out the other. He jets around the Gortat screen, catches and has a wide-open look at the basket.

These are the type of sets that accentuate Beal's strengths: Catching and shooting, pulling up on the move instead of from a stationary position off the dribble. It's also set that gives him several options, something he rarely sees as a ball handler. He can always pitch it back to Gortat along the sideline, probe the defense to get Ariza's defender to sink down or take it to the hoop himself.

But these misdirection plays occur so infrequently that they look so off base from Wittman's normal offense. More often than not, you'll see Beal trapped on the baseline, as Mike wrote about last week.

It's not enough to just stay content with open looks out of the pick and roll. There has to be more structure in place, coaches distinguishing between good shots and bad and players understanding their limits and where they're most effective. And while every team is going to have to take some long two-point jumpers, the Wizards at least need to find ways to push more of those shots to Nene and get Beal moving instead of running him off a pick and roll and seeing him pull up with a hand in his face.

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