The Wizards' reputation for offensive prowess exceeded the team's actual performance last year. Pulled down by a poor bench and an over-reliance on mid range shots, the Wizards finished the season 16th in the NBA in offensive rating. Significant improvement was expected given projected improvements from their young players, a deeper bench and the addition of the versatile Paul Pierce.
But those expected improvements have yet to come to fruition. The Wizards have scored a meager 90.5 points per game in the preseason, second worst in the league. Though many factors contribute to the Wizards' offensive struggles, the team's inability to hit threes stands out as the major reason for their offensive shortcomings.
Three isn't a magic number anymore
Last year's Wizards were among the most efficient three-point shooting teams in the NBA. With elite floor spacers like Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster leading the way, along with improved shooting from John Wall, the Wizards punished other teams' defenses that focused too much on packing the paint against Wall, Marcin Gortat and Nene. The Wizards were bound to take a step back as a three-point shooting team this year now that Ariza departed to Houston and Beal and Webster are shelved for the time being.
But the step back has been bigger than expected. The Wizards have only managed to hit 25 three pointers through their first six games, way worse than the 55 opponents scored on the Wizards. The only team that's hit fewer threes than the Wizards is the Los Angeles Lakers, who actively avoid shooting three pointers as part of new head coach Byron Scott's much-maligned new offensive strategy. Not exactly good company.
Perhaps the lack of high-scoring shots is due to an adjustment in opponents strategy. As Wall said after the Hornets loss, "teams know that we were a big corner three team last year, so they are just running to try to take those away."
When asked about Wall's statement after Friday night's loss to the Hornets, head coach Randy Wittman insisted that the Wizards had "plenty of shooters" and saw the lack of three-pointers as a symptom of the Wizards poor ball movement:
"What I just talked about with zero and one passes in a shot, you're not going to make very many, whether it's threes or twos," Wittman said. "We've got to get better at ball movement. That's where we've always gotten our threes off one side of the floor to the other, penetration and kick outs. Not just coming down and pulling up on a three."
There's certainly something to that. The Wizards do play better when the ball is moving and players are not trying to create shots on their own. That said, it is hard to ignore the impact the change in personnel, injuries and free agency is having.
"It's kind of different because you got to think, Otto [Porter] is more of a mid range type of guy and Paul [Pierce] is more of a take into the basket and in the paint area [guy]," Wall said. "Then you add Martell [Webster's injury] into the mix. When you take those guys away ... those shots are going to be there, and you got to be able to knock them down, but at the same time, we want guys to be comfortable with the shots they work on a lot and can make."
Wall doesn't see the new lineup as an excuse to take more mid-range shots. In fact, he said that he hopes it leads to even better attempts.
"[We need] more [shots] to the basket," he said. "Last year, we were probably the team that took the most midrange shots, so you want to switch it up."
Ball movement is great. There is no question that it can help create good outside shots, as the 2014 Spurs showed. The question is whether the current Wizards players can make up for the outside shooting the team lost. We often hear rumors of Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries shooting threes and Porter and Glen Rice showing great improvement from downtown, but until it manifests itself in actual NBA games, there is ample room for skepticism.
A ray of hope?
Garrett Temple provides an unlikely source of potential here. He focused on three-point shooting this summer to the point that he actually beat Beal in a shooting contest earlier in camp. He looked good Friday, hitting two of his three attempts from distance. Throughout his college and NBA career, Temple generally was a poor shooter, but he could thrive as Wall's wingman.
Consider his numbers two years ago, when he often started due to Beal's injuries.
This is a small sample size, but it's encouraging. While Temple played over 600 minutes with Wall in 2012-13, he only shared the court with Wall for around 100 minutes last year. We must hope that the hard work Temple put in this past offseason, along with his comfort playing alongside Wall, will help fill the shooting gap until Beal returns.
Short of that, the Wizards have to be ready to win some ugly low-scoring battles while waiting to get healthy. As Wittman said, the Wizards can't just wait till Oct. 29 for the light to turn on offensively.