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Right on schedule: Some key points about the Wizards’ hot streak

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards are in a rare place. Since a 2-8 start, they’re 20-11. They’ve won 15 of their last 21. Their home winning streak has reached 13 games -- the franchise’s longest since they moved from the Capital Center. For a romp through some nutty stats, click here.

Things are so good, the team’s owner hopped on Twitter to post feel-good stats like...

and...

Heady stuff, right?

Well...if you want to keep the happy-happy winning team buzz, stop reading now. And, warning: this is gonna get nerdy.

Let’s start with the schedule — not the opponents, not the level of competition, but the schedule itself. As Ben Becker and I discussed in Episode 2 of our Becker & Broom Podcast, home court advantage in the NBA is worth approximately 2.33 points per game. Through the first 41 games, Washington has played 24 home games. With that imbalance, the league’s schedule makers granted the Wizards about 17 points (2.33 x 24 home games - 2.33 x 17 away games) during the first half of the season.

They’ve outscored their opponents by 11 total points so far this year.

To put it another way, the schedule itself has given Washington an advantage of about 0.4 points per game. They’ve outscored their opponents by about 0.3 points per game. Remember, this is ONLY home court advantage. In other words: the Wizards look about average.

This is an obvious point, but it’s worth stating: the advantage provided by the schedule in the first half of the season will reverse itself in the second half. Of their 27 games after the All-Star break, just nine will be at Verizon Center. During their final 21 games, they’ll be on the road 15 times, including two significant trips to the West.

In addition to the schedule, Washington has benefited from facing the NBA’s fifth easiest level of competition, according to Basketball-Reference. The league has outscored their opponents by about half a point per game — the Wizards have outscored them by half as much.

After beating Memphis last night, the Wizards record climbed to 22-19, three games over .500. As an experiment, I ran a perfectly average team through Washington’s first-half. That average team, pitted against the same schedule the Wizards have faced, had an expected record of 25-16, nine games over .500.

But hey, a lot of that is just the bad start right? Well, the Wizards went 2-8 in their first 10 games. That average team went 4-6. Since then, Washington turned things around and went 20-11. An average team’s expected record: 21-10.

It doesn’t matter how the schedule is subdivided, Washington’s performance against that segment is normal for an average team. This includes their 18 wins at home — the average team had 19.

The schedule gets a little tougher (though hardly difficult) in the second half. My prognostication machine says an average team would go 21-20 the rest of the way to finish with 46 wins. The Wizards, who are right around average, look like they’ll win 20 in the second half to end up 42-40.

On the bright side, expect the team to go 8-6 over their next 14 games to enter the All-Star break five games over .500. Barring improvement from the players on hand or a roster-bolstering trade, the second half won’t be as much fun. My best guess for their final record: 42-40, which will probably get them into the post-season.

Unfortunately, their good record since a bad start isn’t an indicator they’ve become a good team. Rather, their performance is about what would be expected for an average team with a beneficial schedule against weaker competition.

Player Production Average

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. All stats are per 100 possessions — adjusted for game pace for each player during his time on the floor. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level (the production level of the league’s worst 11th man) is 45.

Here are some PPA benchmarks for reference:

  • 225+ -- league MVP candidate (seven players at 225 or higher so far this season)
  • 200+ — typically All-NBA level (top 15-20 in the league — 16 players this year)
  • 150+ — All-Star level
  • 125 — approximate level of an average starter
  • 100 — league average
  • 75 — valued reserve
  • 45 — replacement level

Note: PPA for games played through 01/17/17.

For numbers on the entire league, click here.

PPA tracker

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/8 11/21 12/6 12/18 1/4 1/17
PLAYER GMS MPG 11/8 11/21 12/6 12/18 1/4 1/17
John Wall 38 36.2 168 167 171 171 173 172
Otto Porter 40 33.8 173 177 179 161 163 163
Bradley Beal 36 34.2 66 92 131 157 148 157
Marcin Gortat 40 35.4 135 146 130 129 128 125
Danuel House 1 1.0 119 116 117 115 114
Markieff Morris 39 31.4 67 78 59 75 68 81
Sheldon McClellan 18 11.9 478 88 81 81 65 68
Kelly Oubre 38 19.3 18 17 41 59 43 46
Marcus Thornton 33 17.4 31 41 50 51 44 44
Tomas Satoransky 25 15.2 18 43 29 29 23 40
Trey Burke 36 12.5 -48 28 28 32 35 32
Jason Smith 38 11.8 -93 -42 -23 0 19 27
Andrew Nicholson 25 8.8 33 35 9 -12 6 4
Daniel Ochefu 10 4.2 -181 -119 -117 -109 -36 -38
Ian Mahinmi 1 14.0 -98 -97 -95 -95

Wall, Porter, and Gortat maintained their levels of production while Beal and Morris improved. Satoransky and Jason Smith also saw upticks. The bench remains terrible. Barring a trade, they’ll have to hope Ian Mahinmi can return and give them something worthwhile. They should be shopping for bench help, however. So far they’ve had good fortune with health. An injury to Wall, Beal or Porter would cripple them in the second half.