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Maybe we’re asking the wrong question about why the Wizards are playing better

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Daily Digits is a new daily feature we’re doing at Bullets Forever this year where we look at stats about the Wizards. We’ll dive into the numbers, add context, and discuss how they affect the product on the court.

Today’s stat is the Wizards’ Net Rating when John Wall and Markieff Morris shared the floor this season, which is...

-9.3

The Wizards’ recent surge without John Wall has revived all of last year’s narratives about how the team plays better without him. Last season, that was a bunk narrative that wasn’t supported by the data, but as Fred Katz of The Athletic detailed last week, that has changed this season:

They’re not just better sans Wall this season; they’re actually a net positive, outscoring opponents by a half-a-point per 100 possessions when he’s not there. They get outscored by an almost masochistic 6.0 points per 100 when he’s playing.

Think of it like this: If the Wizards magically improved their season-long net rating by 6.5 points overnight, they would fly from 24th in the NBA, surrounded by the Pistons and Magic, to eighth, sandwiched by the Spurs and Raptors. And as the team continues to climb without Wall, the disparity is showing most on defense, where the Wizards are almost five points per 100 possessions better without their star.

There are several factors that go into that discrepancy, some of which are more Wall’s fault than others. Obviously, the injury that eventually ended his season played a big part. His struggles to adapt to the changes Washington made this season also hurt.

But what about the players he shared the floor with? Wall suffered through Scott Brooks’ early season lineup vacillations more than anyone else and hasn’t been able to reap as many of the benefits of playing with Thomas Bryant and Trevor Ariza. Plus, Wall shared a lot of time with another player who went out of the lineup right before the Wizards’ picked up their play: Markieff Morris.

It begs the question: How much of Wall’s on/off discrepancy is because of Markieff Morris’ struggles this season? Here’s a look at how Washington’s performance has varied with Wall and Morris on and off the floor.

Wall and Morris on the floor

Lineup Minutes Net Rating
Lineup Minutes Net Rating
Wall and Morris 604 -9.3
Wall w/o Morris 500 -1.5
Morris w/o Wall 279 -3.7
No Wall or Morris 762 2

As you can see, the Wizards have still played better this season without Wall, but the split is much less significant once you take Morris out of the picture. That should provide hope that Wall can close the gap once he’s healthy again, but also makes it clear Morris needs to play better to make a difference once he’s cleared to return to the lineup.