For reasons I can't quite explain, I continue to be fascinated by the Wizards' struggles defending three-pointers. Here are three things I've learned as I continue to dig into the issue:
The Wizards 3-point defense is so bad it's a statistical outlier
Washington is allowing opponents to shoot the seventh-most 3-point attempts per 100 possessions, and they're shooting 6.2 percent better than their season averages on those shots, according to NBA.com's Player Tracking, the worst mark in the league. But to understand just how bad that is, you have to dust off your high school math books.
Remember box and whisker plots? Those annoying charts you had to make in school to figure out if an entry in a series of data was a true statistical outlier? Well, if you create that plot on how each team guards opposing players from beyond the arc relative to their average, the Wizards' defense is so much worse than every other team that they're an outlier, you can check the math yourself.
In some ways this is encouraging, because it provides some hope that those numbers should normalize with time. To that end, here's another encouraging stat:
The WIzards give up an average number of open three point attempts, but teams are making them at the best rate in the NBA
According to NBA Savant, the Wizards are 14th in the league in the number of three-pointers they've given up where there isn't a defender within four feet of the shooter. But, opposing teams are shooting 41 percent on those shots, the best mark in the league. The good news is there isn't a wide gap between the Wizards and the next-worst teams. If teams shot one percent worse against the Wizards, they'd move up two spots just like that.
Perhaps there is some dumb luck attached to this, but maybe the reason teams are shooting so well when they're open is because they have so much confidence from how they shoot threes that are more closely contested.
Teams are still firing away when the Wizards are guarding them tight
According to NBA Savant, teams shoot more threes with a defender within four feet of them against the Wizards than anyone else, and there's a good reason for it: They shoot better on these shots against the Wizards than anyone else.
So what's at work here? Well, let's start with the injuries. Because of the Wizards' struggles with big man depth, most times players are trying to contest players that are taller than them. So when you have someone like Ramon Sessions trying to guard someone who is 6'6, even if he's close, he's not going to be able to keep his man from getting a good look.
Another issue is at play is how some of the team's bigger defenders struggle to get a hand up, Otto Porter in particular. Look here at how James Harden is already in his shooting motion before Porter gets a hand up:
Then there's the matter of screens. On this play, Porter was only 2.5 feet away from Paul George, but even though he was close, he can't contest because he's behind the shooter:
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Bottom line: The Wizards' defense should get better as opposing teams naturally cool off and the Wizards get some of their players back, but that alone won't fix all of Washington's defensive issues on the perimeter.