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The Wizards' offense still must tweak their shot distribution to be elite

The Wizards may be second place in the Eastern Conference, but their offense still has statistical inefficiencies that are keeping them from being even better.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

On Monday, SB Nation released their weekly NBA power rankings for the week of November 24. The Top-4 teams were the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, and our Washington Wizards. With the Wizards off to their best start in many seasons, this is uncharted waters for me, but a welcome change nevertheless.

After seeing this power ranking the question that came to my mind was this: How does Washington rank against other teams that currently are among the best in the NBA?

Four Factors Numbers and Team Ratings

I compared the Wizards against five teams, three of which are also Top-4 teams in the current power rankings:

  • Raptors (1st in the Eastern Conference)
  • Warriors (1st in the Western Conference)
  • Grizzlies (2nd in the West)
  • Trail Blazers (3rd in the West)

The relevant stats are below. Numbers in parentheses are team rankings in the NBA for games played up through Sunday, November 23:

Wizards 49.7% (18) 13% (11) 24.4% (19) 20.9% (18) 48.2% (8) 15.7% (4) 76.4% (9) 23.4% (22) 104.9 (20) 101.3 (7)
Grizzlies 49.3% (20) 12.3% (2) 26.7% (8) 23.9% (8) 48.2% (9) 15% (8) 74.9% (14) 18.4% (1) 108.8 (5) 100.6 (4)
Raptors 50.1% (15) 10.4% (2) 24.5% (18) 29% (2) 49.6% (16) 16.4% (2) 73.2% (21) 22.5% (20) 114.1 (2) 101 (5)
Trail Blazers 51.7% (6) 13.5% (16) 27% (7) 19.7% (23) 44.4% (1) 10.9% (30) 75.4% (13) 22.2% (19) 110.8 (4) 101.1 (6)
Warriors 54.4% (2) 16.7% (28) 21.7% (28) 22.1% (13) 44.6% (2) 14.5% (11) 73.8% (18) 21.9% (17) 107.3 (12) 97.2 (1)

Statistics from Basketball Reference for games through November 23

From looking at these rankings, all five team share a common trait, which is their Top-10 defensive ratings. Four of the teams also have defensive eFG% rates that are in the Top-10, and three are in the Top-10 for turnover percentage (the Warriors are 11th). As the saying goes, defense wins championships, and all of these team are doing a good job of it based on these stats.

On offense, however, the Wizards are falling short compared with the other four teams, as their offensive rating is 20th, while the other four teams are 12th or higher. The Warriors, who are 12th in offensive efficiency, are clearly being hurt by their high turnover percentage, which is third highest in the NBA. Perhaps if they take care of these issues (per this piece from Golden State of Mind), they too could have a Top-10 offensive rating if it weren't for those turnovers.

So, what factors are hurting the Wizards' offensive efficiency?

Lack of three point shot attempts despite not-too-bad shooting efficiency

Let's compare all five teams' average number of three point attempts per game and their percentages for games through November 23:

Team 3PA 3P%
Wizards 15.1 (29) 35.9% (12)
Trail Blazers 25.6 (5) 38.5% (3)
Grizzlies 14.8 (30) 37.7% (5)
Raptors 22.4 (14) 35.7% (14)
Warriors 25.2 (7) 37.7% (6)

Stats from

The Wizards are second to last in three point shot attempts per game, yet they are 12th in three point shooting percentage. Considering that John Wall is very good at getting teammates to make corner threes in particular, it's frustrating. Part of it is also because of the departure of Trevor Ariza, as well as injuries to Bradley Beal and Martell Webster, who are all great three point shooters. That said, it's still surprising to see that the Wizards' three point shooting attempts have dropped significantly from 20.8 three point attempts per game in the 2013-14 season to 15.1 attempts per game this season.

As long as the Wizards aren't taking and making more three point shots, their effective field goal percentage, and offensive rating will only improve so much.

The Wizards continue to shoot many long twos (yet again...)

Back in the preseason, Randy Wittman maintained his stance that he's going to encourage his players to take open shots, even if they're long twos which are the most inefficient shot in the game. So, where do the Wizards rank in quantity of these types of shots? The numbers are below for games played through November 23:

15-19 ft shot attempts
Team FGA FG%
Wizards 17.0 (4) 43.1 (11)
Trail Blazers 13.2 (11) 44.9% (8)
Grizzlies 13.1 (12) 33.9% (29)
Raptors 13.0 (13) 39.1% (20)
Warriors 9.9 (25) 47.9% (2)

The Wizards are the team who ranks in the Top-5 (and Top-10) in quantity of shots taken, while the other teams on this list either are in the middle of the pack or near the bottom in the case of Golden State. To their credit, Washington's also close to the Top-10 in shooting percentage, but the Blazers and Warriors rank higher in this category as well.

Part of the issue as to why the Wizards are taking more of these long twos between 15 and 19 feet is personnel driven. Otto PorterPaul Pierce, and John Wall all took more of these shots than from any other distance range listed.

And that's exacerbated because Porter and Pierce are playing in place of the aforementioned  Ariza and Webster, who both took considerably more three pointers than shots 15 to 19 feet away from the basket in 2013-14. Even Bradley Beal, as "long two-prone" as he was last season was still taking a large proportion of three point shots.

If you were wondering which teams are taking the most 15 to 19 foot shots besides the Wizards, the Top-3 teams are the Lakers, Knicks, and Hornets. The Timberwolves are 5th place. All four of these teams also have losing records and wouldn't be in the playoffs if the season started today. It's early, so I don't want to say that taking so many long shots will mean being lottery-bound. But it's still something worthy of noting.

Improve free throw efficiency

The Wizards' FT/FGA rate is 18th, which is slightly below average. They are 13th in free throw attempts, but are 20th in free throw percentage where they make 73.7% of their shots. If they can improve their free throw shooting percentage toward 78% over the course of this season, that will get them close to the Top-10. Two of the starters players who are hurting the Wizards in this category are Marcin Gortat and Nene who make 65.4% and 54.2% of their shots respectively.

With Nene potentially out for some time due to plantar fasciitis, that puts even more pressure on Gortat to improve his free throw shooting. Hopefully, he can improve his free throw shooting toward 70%. In 2010-11, he had his career high in free throw percentage, while averaging more attempts per game, in particular after he was traded to the Phoenix Suns from the Orlando Magic midseason.

Final Takeaways

The Washington Wizards have established an identity as a strong defensive team, which is a necessary element for any championship contender. However, their offense is still not performing at a high enough level if they expect to get to the Eastern Conference Finals or better this season.

Fortunately the season is young, and the Wizards have raced to a 7-2 record before Beal returned to play off the bench last Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. While a slightly below average offense works right now, we have to acknowledge that the Wizards still haven't played very many tough opponents yet. Going forward, while Beal and Webster's upcoming return are both welcome, the Wizards should make a stronger effort to get more three point shot attempts, limit contested long twos, and improve on free throw efficiency. Hopefully that happens when both Beal and Webster are both back up to speed.