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Where has the Wizards’ defense gone?

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards have won four of their last five games and are 7-4 overall since the All-Star break. But remarkably, the team has a negative point differential and a -1.1 Net Rating during that span.

The team has not only had to come from behind in three of their last four victories, but they had to do so when facing double-digit deficits. They blew huge leads against the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets and fell behind quickly in games against the Utah Jazz, Toronto Raptors, and Portland Trail Blazers.

The reason why? Their defense is lacking. Washington is allowing opponents to shoot 41.3 percent from deep on 11.4 makes per game. Opponents have had a 55 percent effective field goal percentage mark against the Wizards in that same span. They’ve given up 110.3 points per 100 possessions since the break, which has caused them to drop from 9th to 16th in Defensive Rating over the past 11 games.

The momentum the team gained throughout the last few weeks is real. They’re winning games against opponents that they should be beating. That’s all you can ask for from a good NBA team. But over these last 11 games, there is no question the Wizards’ defense has suffered, particularly during their five game road swing.

The team missed the mark on many of their defensive concepts. They botched switches on the perimeter, transition defense was almost nonexistent, and they lacked communication throughout the trip. Let’s take a closer look at what these things look like.

Wizards get a taste of their own their own medicine

The Wizards are one of the most dangerous transition teams in the league. The team scores 1.19 points per possession in transition — the third-highest mark in the league according to NBA.com’s Synergy Stats tool.

But throughout this road trip, the Wizards allowed other teams to return the favor thanks to poor transition defense. Here’s an example from the Suns’ second quarter comeback effort against Washington.

bledsoe drive gif

The first thing any team should do after a miss on offense is locate the ball. Once the ball is located, place a man on it. After Eric Bledsoe corrals a rebound, the Wizards don’t do that. He’s allowed to get to halfcourt with a head of steam.

Porter, who tries to pick Bledsoe up, has to turn all the way around and is still flat-footed when he tries to slow him down. Bledsoe blows by him with ease and gets an and-one at the rim. This is a completely preventable basket with a quicker reaction to the ball. The numbers were even. Phoenix shouldn’t have scored.

Let’s take a look at another play from Monday’s game against the Timberwolves. Watch how Bradley Beal trots back on defense behind the ball after a miss at the rim.

The goal in transition is for everyone to pick up a man, even if it isn’t their original cover assignment. Beal doesn’t do that at all here. That gives the Wolves a 4-on-3 break. John Wall has to pick between giving Rubio a wide open driving lane to the rim or allowing Brandon Rush to shoot an open three. Either way, the Wolves get a great look because of the breakdown.

Here’s another example where Nemanja Bjelica just straight up outruns the defense on a rim run despite three Wizards backpedaling in transition.

rubio thread

It took a dime to get him the ball in the right spot, but you don’t have to read the scouting report to know that Rubio is capable of passing the ball in tight windows.

It isn’t a great look for the Wizards. It could be effort. It could be fatigue after playing their fifth straight game on the road in a week. But either way, it’s bad.

Effort and Communication are key

Fatigue is always a factor when it comes to defense, but it doesn’t take much energy to talk. The Wizards had multiple defensive breakdowns throughout this stretch of road games that just came down to communicating with one another and making the smart defensive play.

Even during their big comeback against Portland, Washington gave up some incredibly easy shots to Portland, like this one:

Wall completely dies on the screen, allowing CJ McCollum to easily plunge into the lane on a drive.

Porter rotates into the lane after Gortat plays up to high on McCollum and allows him an inside angle. To the naked eye, it would seem that Porter’s rotation is what did the Wizards in. But it was really Wall’s lack of effort fighting through the screen that broke this play for the Wizards.

Here’s another play from Minnesota where Porter gets caught on a cross screen under the rim and calls for Wall to rotate onto his man, Andrew Wiggins. But in this moment, communication broke down for the Wizards.

cross pass

Both Wall and Markieff Morris stick with Wiggins who cuts to the ball, but no one rotates to the corner with Brandon Rush. In an ideal world, Wall would move to the corner but Porter called for him directly to pick up Wiggins instead of switching man-to-man with Morris.

The miscue led to an open three and one of 10 assists Rubio would pick up in the first quarter that helped Minnesota develop an insurmountable lead early in the game.


The regular season is long and it is unreasonable to expect players to play with maximum effort each and every time they take the floor. Even great teams go through stretches where their defense is subpar.

Still, it’s concerning to see that this has become a pattern for the Wizards, especially with a tough stretch of games on the way very soon. If the Wizards want to do some damage in May, they’ll have to tighten things up on the defensive end.