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Wizards wins, #WIZ50, and why discounted Papa John's Pizza is becoming the norm

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Why are Wizards fans enjoying more discounted pizza at Papa John's this season than in with the past? And are there any statistical reasons why this is increasing?

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The Wizards are currently 26-12, second place in the Eastern Conference after defeating the San Antonio Spurs, 101-93. This is cause for celebration. Part of it is because the Wizards didn't just beat the Spurs for the first time since 2005, but it is also because they also scored just over 100 points. When they do, all Washington area residents can get 50% of regularly priced items at Papa John's Pizza the following day with an online order using the Promo Code #WIZ50. Today is the 17th time that Papa John's franchises in the D.C. area have offered this excellent deal.

And that stat gives me an idea. How many #WIZ50 wins - or wins with 100 or more points - did the Wizards have over the last four seasons? What is the percentage of Wizards' wins that ended up with a #WIZ50 promotion? And what is the Wizards' #WIZ50 win percentage overall for a season? Here is a chart below with those statistics:

#WIZ50 Wins Total Wins Total Games #WIZ50 Wins/Total Wins #WIZ50 Win Percentage
2011-12 11 20 66 55.00% 16.67%
2012-13 17 29 82 58.62% 20.73%
2013-14 31 44 82 70.45% 37.80%
2014-15 17 26 38 65.38% 44.74%

A couple things pop out immediately from these statistics. First, as you might expect, there were more #WIZ50 wins when the Wizards won more games during a season. Another trend is that the proportion of #WIZ50 wins compared with overall wins were considerably higher in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons versus the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. This trend warrants a closer look.

The effects of offensive and defensive efficiency vs. the opportunities to get discounted pizza

Below is a table of the Wizards' offensive and defensive ratings, plus some additional offensive statistics, including three point and free throw shooting totals and rates:

Pace Off Rtg Def Rtg PPG 3P 3P% eFG% FT FT% FT/FGA
2011-12 93.6 (22) 101.0 (25) 106.2 (21) 93.6 (22) 344 (25) 32.0% (28) 47.2% (26) 1,008 (26) 72.7 (26) 18.4 (27)
2012-13 92.2 (15) 100.2 (30) 103.0 (5) 93.2 (28) 545 (18) 36.5% (10) 47.5% (25) 1,279 (24) 73.3% (23) 19.1 (25)
2013-14 93.2 (18) 106.0 (17) 104.6 (8) 100.7 (16) 647 (16) 38.0% (5) 50.6% (11) 1,253 (29) 73.1% (25) 18.1% (30)
2014-15 93.3 (20) 105.8 (16) 103.7 (9) 99.6 (18) 226 (27) 39.2% (1) 51.0% (10) 576 (26) 73.7% (24) 18.9% (25)

Stats from Basketball Reference for games played through January 12, 2015. Numbers in parentheses are where the Wizards rank in the NBA for the season.

From looking at the offensive and defensive ratings over the previous four NBA seasons, we can use statistics to help explain for an increased number of #WIZ50 wins, in particular for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons as opposed to the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons when they failed to make the post season both seasons:

  • The Wizards' offensive rating improved considerably from the 2013-14 season on - Washington was a bad team on the offensive end of the floor in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, which you can see from their low offensive ratings and win totals. However, the ratings improved since then, where Washington has been in the middle of the league from the 2013-14 season on.
  • Improved defensive ratings result in increased wins - The Wizards had a Top-10 defensive rating for each of the last three seasons. Better defenses will give teams a better chance to win games, even if their offenses aren't elite. However to win games, teams still need some offense. Washington's offensive rating ranked last in 2012-13, largely due to John Wall sitting out the first 33 games of the season due to a knee injury.
  • Slow pace plus bad offensive ratings meant less discounted pizza during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons - The Wizards' pace has remained in the "slower half" of the NBA in three of the last four seasons. Slower pace ultimately results in fewer points per game.
  • Improved three point shooting efficiency significantly increases the team's effective field goal percentage, and chances to win when combined with a strong defense - The Wizards are known for making the most of their three point shots, where they were Top-5 in percentage for each of the last two seasons, and are first this season in that category.
  • The Wizards' low number of three point shots made and poor free throw shooting rates and percentage are limiting the number of games where they score 100 or more points - From a purely analytical sense, it makes sense to see Washington take more three pointers since they are making their existing shots at a high rate. Yet, they aren't mainly because Randy Wittman would rather see the offense take open shots more than three pointers, though to be fair, these aren't mutually exclusive. I'm worried more about the low free throw percentage that this team has had over each of the past four years, and to a lesser extent, their low rate of getting to the free throw line compared with the rest of the NBA. If the Wizards make more free throws through some combination of increasing efficiency and drawing more fouls, this will also increase the chances of them scoring 100 points in a game.

All that said, you can't use these stats alone to explain why the Wizards are winning at a considerably higher rate in 2014-15 than 2013-14. Offensively, their offensive rating is actually worse from a numbers sense, and their shooting percentages aren't appreciably better. Their defensive rating has also not been that much better either. Many of the wins that the Wizards have won this season have often come during times which they would have lost earlier. For example, Washington lost a considerable number of games to underachieving opponents for whatever reason. This season, we are seeing the Wizards defeat these opponents more consistently, even when in adverse situations, like against the Orlando Magic on December 10.

Comparing the Wizards' number of #WIZ50 wins this season vs. other top NBA teams

I don't know if every NBA team has a pizza promotion as aggressive as the Wizards', but we can compare how many 100-plus point wins the Wizards have against other teams, especially those who are among the league's elite. How well does Washington stack up?

Let's compare the Wizards against the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, and Toronto Raptors with their number of #WIZ50 wins, pace, points per game, and offensive rating. The chart below is sorted from the team with the most #WIZ50 wins to the least:

Team #WIZ50 Wins Total Wins Total Games % of wins w/ #WIZ50 #WIZ50 Win Percentage Pace PPG Off Rat
Warriors 25 30 35 83.33% 71.43% 98.4 (1) 109.2 (1) 110.7 (4)
Blazers 23 30 38 76.67% 60.53% 94.2 (12) 103.8 (6) 108.7 (7)
Raptors 22 25 37 88.00% 59.46% 93.4 (17) 107.8 (3) 114.1 (1)
Rockets 21 27 38 77.78% 55.26% 94.8 (8) 101.8 (13) 106.2 (15)
Hawks 20 30 38 66.67% 52.63% 94.2 (11) 102.9 (7) 108.7 (8)
Grizzlies 18 26 37 69.23% 48.65% 91.9 (27) 101.8 (14) 108.1 (10)
Wizards 17 26 38 65.38% 44.74% 93.3 (20) 99.6 (18) 105.8 (16)

The Wizards rank lowest on the list, not only with the total number of #WIZ50 wins, but also, the proportion of #WIZ50 to overall wins.

The reason why this is the case is because the Wizards rank in the bottom half of the NBA in pace, points per game, and offensive rating. None of the other teams rank toward the bottom half in all three. The other teams that rank in the bottom half for one of the categories, in particular pace, will rank higher in the other categories.

To be fair to the Wizards, the Grizzlies' #WIZ50 win total is aided considerably by the fact that they have four overtime wins this season, including a mid-December stretch where they won three overtime games in a four-game stretch. All four of Memphis' overtime wins were #WIZ50 ones. Washington on the other hand has only two overtime wins this season, with both being #WIZ50's.

Final Takeaways

The Wizards are off to their best start in decades, and fans are being rewarded with lots of discounted Papa John's food the next day, if they choose to buy it. Their overall improvement on defense and offense over the past several seasons have helped them win more games, make the playoffs, and increase the number of orders at Washington, D.C. area Papa John's franchises after those wins.

Even though we have seen improvement on both ends of the floor, the Wizards still are an average team offensively. Yes, the lack of three point shooting volume despite a high percentage is part of the reason why the Wizards aren't scoring more points. But another major reason is their low number of free throw shooting attempts and percentage of making their shots.

If the Wizards can tweak their offense so that they take more free throws and perhaps optimize their offense for more three point shots, that could also help them score more points per game, and help save fans some money when they need to eat pizza.

NOTE: This is not a sponsored post, and I have no affiliation with Papa John's. But you can bet where I'm getting some lunch this afternoon.