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Hope by the Numbers

Editor's Note: Welcome back, bwoodsxyz!

When following a 7-15 team, there is always the risk that what seem like legitimate reasons for hope--that the season can and will be salvaged and that all is not yet lost--are just delusion.  And, when those reasons are based purely on the numbers, well, you know what Mark Twain said.

That said, in surveying some of the most basic numbers surrounding this Wizards team (no advanced stats requried), there are some that make it seem reasonable enough to think/hope/dream that this could yet unfold into an exciting, if still short of contending, season.

8-14.  Ok, let's ease into this.  8-14 is the team's current pythagorean record.   The team has "only" been outscored by 3.5 points per game, or 76 points total.  Statistically, in theory, this is a truer representation of the team's play so far than that awful 7-15 figure, and puts them only 3.5ppg of scoring margin away from being a .500 team.  What, that doesn't make you feel better?

10-13, 39-43.  Let's set the bar low.  The first number is the record of the 2009-10 Charlotte Bobcats, currently sitting in 8th place in the East only 2.5 games ahead of the Wizards.  The second number is the record of last year's 8th seed Detroit Pistons.  Assuming you can convince yourself either (1) that the return of this team to contention is really a two-year process and that just getting back to the playoffs this year is Step 1 (you may need to ignore certain contract situations to pull that off), OR, more likely (2) that all this team really needs to do is get into the playoffs in the first place, while playing some decent ball, and then is capable of going on a run, then it is quite possible that the team doesn't need to do any better than 33-27 the rest of the way to give itself a chance at meeting its preseason goals.

18th (or 20th).  Depending on which source you look to, this is the Wizards' current defensive efficiency ranking.  This is not a bad defensive team.  It certainly is a team prone to defensive breakdowns at the wrong times, but, on the whole, this is something that we probably would have all been fairly pleased with coming into the season.  Meaning that the 23rd-ranked offense (in efficiency) is probably the real problem with the team.

42, 70.  These are the numbers of additional three-pointers that Wizards' opponents have made and attempted, compared to the Wizards.  This margin stands out particularly because the Wizards and the opposition are so close in many of the team stat categories, including team FG shooting, total FG attempts, and rebounds. 

Some of the three-point margin comes from the not-very-surprising reason that the team is 25th in the league in 3-pt % defense.  But, it is also the result of the team sitting 21st in the league in 3-pt % offense.  Moving up from 33% to just 36% (which would be 11th in the league), given the number of attempts the team has taken, would be worth 36 points, or almost half the improvement needed to look like a .500 team.  And what's equally important is that the team already has someone who should help put them there once he's back in the lineup.  (Not to mention that Miller has 0.9 wins produced in 258 minutes compared to DeShawn's crippling 0.0 wins produced in 313 minutes and Foye's probably-more-disappointing 0.1 wins in 348 minutes.) 

22.  How many more turnovers the team has committed than the opposition.  This is a particular source of disappointment for a team that has for some time had a relative lack of turnovers as a strength.  These 22 turnovers are likely a major source of 7 extra field goals and 20 extra free throws the opposition has made.  Simply equalizing the turnover margin (i.e., cutting down the turnovers committed by even just one per game), never mind getting back to the low-turnover days of the past, gets this team very close to looking like a .500 team.  And there has been no shortgage of brain cramp turnovers that should be easy to cut down on. 

7.  The number of rotation players, including the injured Mike Miller, producing above-league-average PERs at this point.  That's a lot, and does not include Caron Butler, Nick Young, or Randy Foye, and very, very much does not include Deshawn Stevenson.  Of course, one of the players not on the list *should* normally be on there, and one of the players on that list is someone who this team looks to for much more than above-league-average.  While Miller's return and a little more familiarity with each other and Flip's offense SHOULD address the three point shooting and turnovers enough to make this look like a .500 team, more will be needed to collect enough wins to dig out of the deficit already created.  That more almost must come from a combination of Arenas and Butler.  Based on their career track records, there is every reason to think it can.  Whether it will, however, is another thing entirely.......