What images stand out about the Wizards from last season? Most likely, it's some form of John Wall driving to the hoop, and kicking it out to Trevor Ariza or Bradley Beal.
At this point in the season, the Wizards are without both Beal and Ariza. Paul Pierce has largely taken over Ariza's role, and with Beal out indefinitely, Washington has had to turn to Otto Porter Jr. and Rasual Butler for all of their perimeter shooting needs.
As a team, their drives-per-game are down, currently ranking second to last in the league, per Grantland's Zach Lowe, ahead of only the lowly New York Knicks. And that's a problem, considering Wall was basically the only player who drives to the hoop for Washington.
Without Ariza, and with the offense taking more long twos as a whole, the Wizards couldn't afford a drop-off in drives, but that's exactly what's happened, and the offense is suffering for it.
This season, Wall is averaging seven drives per game, which is up from 6.5 per game last season. Last year, the guys with the next highest number of drives were Beal (3.2), Andre Miller (2.9) and Trevor Ariza (2.7), per NBA.com/Stats.
While Beal's numbers have increased very slightly this season, Pierce drives to the hoop the third most often on the team and averages 2.5 per game, and Miller's has fallen to 2.1 per game.
Now, Washington's offensive numbers have actually improved since last season. The Wizards are attempting more free throws, more of their points are coming off free throws, and they have a better offensive rating.
But there's still plenty of room for improvement. And, if the Wizards want to improve their offense in the second half of the season, they have to get to the basket more often.
Seven of the top 10 teams in points per possession off of runners are all playoff teams (Chicago, Los Angeles Clippers, Warriors, Raptors, Rockets, Thunder and Trail Blazers), according to Synergy Sports data, and all but one of the top 10 teams in points per possession on isolation plays that turn into passes are playoff teams (the Wizards are fourth in that category).
Last year, Wall was in the 77th percentile in the league in points per possession on drives, and has fallen just slightly to the 75th percentile for this year. He's also currently 19th among all players in points per game scored off of drives, and the guys at the top of that leaderboard are some of the best players in the league (James Harden, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, etc.) Last year, he was 10th in that category, ahead of Westbrook.
Even when he's not scoring, Wall's drives attract multiple defenders, usually leaving someone open along the perimeter.
Take for example this possession in the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls.
Wall pulls in three defenders, and he's able to kick it out to the perimeter, and a series of passes allows Ariza to get off a wide open jumper.
While Pierce has been very good in catch-and-shoot situations, it just doesn't happen nearly as often for him. So far, Pierce has attempted 158 catch-and-shoot jumpers, which puts him on pace for about 239, while Ariza attempted 292 last season and had an adjusted field-goal percentage of 60.4 in those situations, according to Synergy.
Beal's likely replacements while he's out, Butler and Porter, have combined this season to make 2.3 three pointers per game on catch-and-shoots, a mark that Ariza had on his own last season. When Beal is in the lineup, he and Pierce make quite the combination along the perimeter, but together, they're averaging 3.4 less three-point attempts than their opponents per 100 possessions. Last season, Beal and Ariza combined to make two more threes than their opponents per 100 possessions, and their effective field-goal percentage was 2.4 percent higher than their opponents, per Basketball-Reference.com.
I don't want this to seem like I'm piling on Pierce, but the simple fact is the number of drives for the Wizards have gone down at the same time that their three-point shooting hasn't been as effective and hasn't come as often, especially with the second unit on the floor.
Pierce and Beal are both averaging about one made three per game off of an assist from Wall, and no one averages more than 0.6 per game, while three players averaged more than 0.7 last season (Ariza, Beal and Martell Webster).
Not all of those assists necessarily come off of drives, but Wall's ability to get to the hoop are certainly a large factor in how many threes the Wizards attempt/make.
When Beal is healthy, he needs to start driving to the basket more often, and guys off the bench like Webster and Porter need to start driving more. It's one thing for Wall to kick it out to Pierce for a three, but if other players can start doing it, it will open the door for other guys to get open shots, and will take a lot of the pressure off of Wall to be the only guy on this team who can create shots for others.