In his latest Morning Tip for NBA.com, David Aldridge had a good response to a question concerning the disconnect between the Wizards and other teams when it comes to shot locations:
Since Ernie Grunfeld took over as Wizards GM in 2003, there have been one hundred twenty eight (128) 46-win seasons posted by NBA teams. The Wizards have none of them. Charlotte and Philly are the two other franchises with zero 46-win campaigns over that same time frame. Grunfeld hired a coach who is staunchly and publicly anti-analytics, while owner Ted Leonsis sits on the advisory board of the Journal of Sports Analytics. There would seem to be a disconnect here, no? The Wizards' recent slide has shined a light on an old and shallow roster, apart from a few exceptions of varying impact. Leonsis is famously -- perhaps notoriously -- loyal and slow to make changes in leadership within his sports teams. At what point does he wonder whether Grunfeld is the man to lead the Wizards to sustained relevance in the modern NBA?
I know the criticism of both Grunfeld and Randy Wittman well, Ben -- the Wizards take way too many deep twos and should shoot way more 3-pointers (specifically, Bradley Beal). This is the kind of instance where I believe the analytics community gets a little strident. The Wizards didn't shoot a lot of threes when they were 31-15, but few people were carping then. The long knives have come out as Washington has spiraled downward since the break. (You know who shoots even fewer threes than Washington? Memphis -- where advanced stats are king, and Lionel Hollins is in Brooklyn. But the Grizzlies have Marc Gasol, a favorite of the advanced stats community, and they're 26 games above .500. I don't hear many calls for Dave Joerger's head.) I know where the NBA game is, and is going -- threes, threes, threes -- and I know I'm likely on the wrong side of history. I still believe, though, that your personnel dictates how you play. The Wizards have two really good bigs in Nene and Marcin Gortat who need touches. Should Wittman design more sets for more threes for Beal and Pierce? Yes. Should he or Grunfeld be fired if the Wizards don't get out of the first round? I wouldn't. I think continuity matters if you're trying to build a championship team. But, if you're asking me if Grunfeld needs to add another quality wing player next season, the answer is yes.
For as much as we've harped on the Wizards' need to adapt more to the way teams are playing nowadays, much of what David Aldridge says here rings true. At the moment, the Wizards - just like the Grizzlies - stand a better shot at being competitive by going against the grain and trying to exploit the weaknesses of teams that are going small and spreading the floor. The Wizards shouldn't change their identity just to fit in.
The biggest issue with the Wizards isn't that they aren't taking enough threes per se, it's that they're missing simple opportunities to turn long twos into threes. Let's start with an example from Friday's game against Philadelphia:
Drew Gooden has plenty of time here to backpedal the extra step it would take to turn that long two into a three pointer without throwing himself off balance when the pass from Wall arrives. Taking that extra step back would have done little to lower his risk of making the shot - Gooden is shooting 40 percent on mid-range shots, and 34.6 percent on threes, according to NBA.com - but it would have increased the return for making the shot.
Here's another example, this time involving John Wall. On this play Nene does a great job screening off Isaiah Canaan and inadvertently preventing Luc Mbah A Moute from contesting in the process. Thanks to the set up, Wall has plenty of time to step back and calmly take a three without fear of a hand in his face.
But instead of taking a step back to create more space and take a shot with a better reward if he makes it, he takes a step in, which puts him in position where he has to shoot over his own teammate for a shot worth less points:
Look, we know John Wall's not a great shooter, but it's not like his percentages drop off when he goes from shooting a 20 footer to a 23 footer. If he's going to take a shot with a low chance of going in, he may as well take the one that gives the team more points if it actually goes in.
Lastly, let's take a look at a play from a little over a week ago, when the Wizards were in Detroit. Here the Wizards set up Otto Porter for a shot at the top of the key.
The play worked pretty well to get Porter an open shot, so why not stretch it out just a little further so Porter can take that shot from beyond the arc? Compare Porter's numbers at the top of the key and above the arc:
Again, you're sacrificing less than a two percent of a chance of the shot going in exchange for a 50 percent better return on the shot. It seems like a pretty worthwhile risk, especially for a guy like Porter. He gets as many points for going 2-10 from beyond the arc as he does for going 3-10 at the top of the key.
Sure, you could dig through the shot logs of every team in the NBA and find examples of players stepping on the line or missing chances to turn open long twos into open threes. Things happen. But the Wizards are more guilty than most in this area, which is why this topic keeps getting harped on. When little things like this show up game after game, it becomes clear the Wizards either don't understand what's at stake here - or they just don't care.