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A more comprehensive look at the quarter-season mark

I already looked a little bit at where the Wizards are at after a quarter of the season, but, inspired by Matt's post and the end of finals (in case you're wondering, I don't want to talk about them), it seems like a good time to take a deeper look.

Note: All stats come from Knickerblogger's stats page, which should be a daily visit for any NBA fan.  The stats are all tempo-free, meaning that the formula takes into account the pace at which teams play.  Going based off pure points per game is incomplete because giving up 100 points means something different for Phoenix than it does for, say, Houston.

Unfortunately, thus far, the stats all point to the same conclusion.  The Wizards are an average team.  Based off simply watching the games, it seems like DeShawn Stevenson is fitting in well and the two-headed monster at center is doing it's job effectively, but a closer look reveals that the Wizards are no better than last year.  In reality, they're probably a little worse.  

As a disclaimer, I should probably mention that numbers cannot prove the entire story.  Observation of on-court performance is key, but these numbers are great references to help build on in an analysis of the team.  

First, let's go through the offensive stats.  (for explanation of these and more, go here)

  • Offensive Efficiency (points per 100 possessions)
  • 2005/06: 110.4: (7th in league, fourth in East)
    2006/07: 110.1: (7th, 2nd)
    DIFFERENCE: -.03(0, +2)
  • Pace (Possessions per game)
  • 2005/06: 92.0: (T6th, T3rd)
    2006/07: 92.2 (T7th, T2nd)
    DIFFERENCE: +.02 (-1, +1)
  • Efficient Field Goal Percentage
  • 2005/06: 48.4% (21, 12)
    2006/07: 49.0% (18,8)
    DIFFERENCE: +0.6 (+3, +4)
  • Turnovers per 100 possessions
  • 2005/06: 15.1 (5, 3)
    2006/07: 14.9 (3, 3)
    DIFFERENCE:-0.2 (+2, 0)
  • Offensive Rebound Percentage
  • 2005/06: 29.5% (6, 3)
    2006/07: 26.8% (17, 8)
    DIFFERENCE: -2.7% (-11, -5)
  • Free Throws/Field Goals
  • 2005/06: 28.4 (4, 2)
    2006: 27.6 (6, 2)
    DIFFERENCE: -0.8 (-2, 0)

From the looks of things, the offense is about the same as it was last year.  The team looks to be shooting better, but it's coming at a slight cost to their free throw rate.  This seems to indicate the Wizards are hitting a few more jumpers and getting a few less free throws than they did last year.  The biggest thing that should jump out at you is the decline in offensive rebounding.  My theory is that it's due in part to playing Brendan Haywood less than before.  Etan Thomas has a better rebound rate (17.7) than Haywood (16.9), but Haywood is averaging more offensive rebounds per 40 minutes (4.8) than Thomas (4.0).  More drastic, however, is the decline of Antawn Jamison's rebounding rate from 13.5 last year to 11.1 this year.  

Now, let's take a look at the defensive stats.

  • Defensive Efficiency(Points allowed per 100 possessions)
  • 2005/06: 109.1 (23, 10)
    2006/07: 111.0 (28, 14)
    DIFFERENCE: -1.9 (-5, -4)
  • Efficient Field Goal Percentage
  • 2005/06: 50.4% (24, 11)
    2006/07: 50.7% (24, 13)
    DIFFERENCE: -0.3 (0, -2)
  • Turnover Rate
  • 2005/06: 17.7 (2, 2)
    2006/07: 17.0 (17,9)
    DIFFERENCE: -0.7, (-15, -7)
  • Opponent's Offensive Rebounding Percentage
  • 2005/06: 29.1 (26, 13)
    2006/07: 29.5 (25, 12)
    DIFFERENCE: -0.4, (+1, +1)
  • Opponent's FT/FG ratio
  • 2005/06: 25.6 (18, 6)
    2006/07: 25.7 (20, 8)
    DIFFERENCE: -0.1 (-2, -2)

Yikes.  I said it before, but the defense is clearly worse than last year.  Even the one thing the Wizards did well last year (forcing turnovers) has gone downhill, although not by too much of a margin.  How can this be explained?

For one, replacing Jared Jeffries with DeShawn Stevenson has downgraded the defense as a whole.  Stevenson's reputation is one of a lockdown man to man defender, but he is a poor helpside defender.  Jeffries' main strength was that his combination of length and quickness made him such an instrumental part of the Wizards' defense.  He could rotate to defend anyone from the point guard to the center, and while he should not have been re-signed, his loss is really killing the Wizards on defense.  Stevenson has the same problem Arenas and Butler have; namely that he loses concentration when the ball goes away from his man.  He struggles to fight through screens and allows his man open looks off the dribble.  Jeffris was never a great man defender, but he worked through screens and cut off passing lanes well.  

The other big problem has been playing Brendan Haywood less.  I saw this on the RealGM forums, but apparently, the Wizards' defensive efficiency is remarkably better when Haywood is playing instead of Thomas.  This is interesting because Thomas' tangible defensive stats (defensive rebounding, blocks, plus/minus) all give him the edge over Haywood.  One can probably infer from that evidence that Haywood is a better overall defender in the areas that can't be measured, such as helpside defense, intimidation, and shots altered.  Thomas gives you more highlights and flash, but he's also beat many more times.  If the Wizards want to get better, they may have to play Haywood more.

Finally, the Wizards have gotten away from the gambling and pressure defense they had before.  They used to pick up full court more often last year, which led to steals and easy buckets.  Now, however, they're playing defense in the halfcourt, and it's leading to open jumpers and layups.  Eddie Jordan seems to want to emulate the tough defensive teams like Detroit (of 04) and Chicago, but you have to put pressure on your opponents to do so.  As Matt points out, the Bulls rank first in the league in turnover rate, and they're mostly seen as a half court defensive team.  You can be a good halfcourt defensive team that forces turnovers.  It doesn't have to be one or the other.

So what does this all show?  Like I said, the Wizards are simply an average team right now.  In the Eastern Conference, that should be enough to make the playoffs and get bounced early, but it won't be enough to contend.  The reality is that the Wizards right now are further away from being a contender than they were last season.