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The Wizards need better shot distribution

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The Wizards pass well and have spots where they shoot well. The trick is generating a lot of attempts from the right spots.

Andy Lyons

I hope you like numbers, because this one's gonna be a doozie.

I started my research on this article with the intention of praising the passing game of the Wizards this past season. But why were the Wizards still a below-average offense despite high assist numbers? Let's take a closer look.

The Good

John Wall dished out the second-most assists per game (8.8) in the league and the most total assists throughout the entirety of the season (721).

As a team, the 2013-2014 Wizards finished with 1,909 total assists. That's the most assists from a Washington team since the 1996-1997 season. Eighteen years.

It's also been 18 years since the Wizards shot as well as they did this past season (45.9 percent). They scored the most total points since the 2006-2007 season, before Gilbert Arenas got silly. Eight years.

The Wizards attempted (1704), and made (647) the most three-point shots in their franchise's history. Their field goal percentage from beyond the arc this past season (38 percent) was the third-highest total in franchise history and best since the 2001-2002 season. Thirteen years.

And exactly 90 percent of made three-pointers this past season came from an assist, good enough for second-best in the NBA.

The Not-So-Good

Despite these achievements, the team finished only tied for 16th of all 30 teams in points per 100 possessions. On a related note: despite having the fourth-best three-point field goal percentage in the league, the Wizards ranked only 19th in three-pointers attempted per game.

The Really-Not-So-Good

Despite scoring at the fourth-highest rate (58.8 percent) within eight feet of the basket, the Wizards ranked 20th in shots taken within this range. Worse, despite leading the league in total midrange shots taken this past season, the Wizards only mustered a 38.1 percent mark from this range. That landed them 21st in the league

The above segment could have been entitled "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," but that would be a little unfair because the issues can all technically be fixed. It just comes down to the Wizards noticing them and make the proper changes with their court awareness before settling for a shot.

In fact, in researching and comparing the WIzards to some other teams, I found some remarkable comparisons to the Spurs. The Wizards shot exactly 352 more midrange shots than the Spurs this past season. Taking so many more shots must mean they excel from this area, right? No. In fact, the Wizards shot 2.2 percent WORSE than the Spurs did from this range.

Where are the rest of those Spurs shots going? From three point range (where the Wizards excel) and within eight feet of the rim (where the Wizards also excel). The Spurs shot 53 more three-pointers than the Wiz did, which isn't all that big of a difference. But as the statistic above proved that the Wizards are a good three-point shooting team -- remember, top five in NBA -- and thus should ideally shoot from there more often. At least more often than from midrange.

More eye-opening, though, is the fact that the Spurs shot 279 more times from within eight feet than the Wizards did and only did it at a 1.1 percent clip better than the Wizards did. I'm no rocket scientist (and I'm sure none of you reading this are either) but if I have the choice of shooting from within eight feet of the basket and make that shot 58.8 percent of the time like the Wizards -- remember, fourth-best in the NBA -- or take a shot from midrange that I only make 38.1 percent of the time -- remember, 21st in the NBA -- you can be damn sure that I'm going to find a way to put the ball up from inside eight feet instead. It's obviously not so simple to cut out all mid-range shots, but I'd work my butt off to change that distribution. An over 20 percent increase in success? I'll take mine with a cup of coffee, please.

In other words: while the Wizards were leading the league in midrange shots taken, the Spurs were taking their talents closer to the basket for some much higher percentage shots.

And the Wizards have the capability to do the same thing. It's just a matter of whether they will be able to see it while on the court. They have a point guard that can beat any defender off the dribble and big men with vision who can pass with the best.

I really liked watching the following video of Bradley Beal. Not because he looked like a blossoming star, but rather because it showed exactly why he and the Wizards took so many contested midrange shots and how those can be adjusted to three-pointers and/or shots taken much closer to the rim.

This is a subject we've covered extensively, but it has to be for Beal to improve. Why come around a pick and roll and shoot with your heels touching the three-point arc? Why not drop a bounce pass to Nene, Kevin Seraphin, or Marcin Gortat when the pass is open? Why not find a teammate spotting up in the corner for a three-pointer instead of a tough runner?

Beal isn't the only guilty player. He's just a prime example since I've pulled so much of my hair out after seeing him do it time and time again on the court. It can be fixed with some simple adjustments of knowing where your team is most efficient at scoring and manipulating the defense to open those avenues up.

Better shot distribution makes a huge difference. Beal has been compared to Ray Allen since before he stepped onto an NBA court, so what's one more Beal-Allen comparison in the grand scheme of things?

% of two-point shots taken

Two-point FG% during respective season

% of two-point shots taken beyond 16 feet

% of three-point shots taken

Three-point FG% during respective season

Ray Allen, 26.4 PPG (2006-2007)

61.6%

47.9%

21.5%

38.4%

37.2%

Bradley Beal, 17.1 PPG (2013-2014)

70.1%

42.6%

36.1%

29.9%

40.2%

I am in no way saying the barely-legal Beal should have been scoring at a clip that Allen did in his 10th NBA season, but I chose this particular season for Allen because it was his highest scoring season of his career. As you can see, his choices of where to shoot from were far different than Beal's this past season. Whether it was due to awareness, age, experience or something else, I can't say. All I can say is I hope Beal eventually recognizes it.

And Allen never shot more than 23.1 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet in any season during his entire career. Beal shot over 36 percent from that distance this season, as the chart shows.

Yes, Beal and Gortat have found success combining on hand-offs and pick-and-rolls deep in two-point territory, though Beal can often be seen making his move beyond the three-point line and stepping into his deep two-point shots. But the better alternative is to either stick behind that line for a three-pointer or continue his drive and drop a pocket pass to the rolling big man. Again, 40.2 percent from three-point range or the 37.3 percent he shot from beyond 16 feet (not shown in table above)? You choose, Wizards fans.

***

As Umair mentioned in a previous post, the arrival of Paul Pierce should bring along some midrange shooting as well, though a smarter, more space-oriented version of it. The Wizards will have a smart, experienced player in Pierce and two more bodies down low to dump passes off to in Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. Those two could especially help in this area of the Wizards' game.

But even though this past season's Wizards team certainly was a nice outlier from the general history of Washington teams, their shot distribution leaves much room for improvement.

Continuing to learn the game and finding players in their sweet spots -- in the right spots -- should help considerably for next season and seasons to come.