Under Randy Wittman, the Washington Wizards have been known for one thing: Defense. Since Wittman took over the reins in 2012, the Wizards have been a top-ten defense every year he has been the full-time coach, until this year.
While it's still too early to conclusively say the Wizards defense is beyond hope for this season, there's no arguing they've been very bad up to this point. As of November 26, the Wizards are 22nd in Defensive Efficiency, behind teams like the Blazers and 76ers.
So what's the deal? There are plenty of theories out there, so let's try to sort through the what is actually hurting the Wizards this season, and what just happens to be a convenient storyline that means nothing:
FACT: The NBA is shooting better than average against most of the Wizards' roster
According to NBA.com's Player Tracking, the only Wizards forcing players to shoot below their regular averages are John Wall, Marcin Gortat, and Jared Dudley. Everyone else other than those three, Bradley Beal, and Gary Neal are allowing opponents to shoot four percent or better than average against them this season.
The worst offender? Otto Porter. Opponents are shooting 11.1 percent better from the field against Porter than average. Maybe Porter's numbers are skewed by the big nights Carmelo Anthony and Paul George had against him, but at the same time, it's probably not a coincidence players keep having big nights against him. As well as Porter played against DeMar DeRozan in the playoffs last season, perhaps it's time to revisit just how good of a defender he is at this point in his career. He has the physical and mental tools to be a lockdown defender in this league, but he still needs more game experience trying to lock up the league's best perimeter threats to get good at it.
MYTH: The Wizards' turnover issues are contributing to their defensive woes
You'd think all those turnovers the Wizards have committed this season would lead to easy points for the opposition that would drive down Washington's defensive rating, but that hasn't been the case. Even though the Wizards have the sixth-worst turnover percentage in the NBA, they're 15th in points given up off turnovers. So even though Washington is a below average team in protecting the ball, they're a completely average team at keeping teams from profiting off their miscues.
FACT: Players are lighting up the Wizards beyond the arc
According the NBA.com's Player Tracking tool, players shoot 4.4. percent better than average on threes against the Wizards. The only team that letting teams shoot better from deep are the Pelicans, and keep in mind they've been ravaged with injuries this season, especially on the perimeter.
MYTH: The Wizards' new offensive system is hurting the team's defense
The Wizards were not the only team in the NBA to make big changes over the summer to embrace small ball and pace & space concepts. The Pacers and Hornets also both made big changes and they're both top-ten in defensive efficiency, despite the overhaul. And let's not forget the Warriors, who have been at the forefront of this movement, have been top-five in defense each of the past two seasons.
WEIRD FACT: The Wizards' defense is better when the team plays slower
Most data and research shows a team's pace doesn't affect a team's offensive or defensive efficiency, but that hasn't held up through the early going when it comes to the Wizards. The Wizards are playing six possessions per game slower in wins than losses. It's still early so that number could very well balance itself out with time, but at least for the time being, it's worth a mention.
OPINION: We probably should have seen this coming
Last year, the Wizards had the 25th-best defense in the fourth quarter. Why? Well, it's hard to pin it down on one specific thing, but it's worth noting the fourth quarter was where teams really started to get freaky with small lineups last season, and the Wizards were ill-equipped to stop them. Not surprisingly, Washington was among the league leaders in three-pointers and free throws allowed in the fourth quarter, which led to their downfall in several contests last season.
The problem is, teams aren't saving these lineups for crunch time anymore. Teams are playing the full 48 minutes the way they used to play the final six last season, and while they're somewhat better equipped to defend smaller, more versatile lineups this season, clearly they haven't cracked the code on how to stop new-age offenses and it's playing a part in Washington's struggles.