One of the challenges in evaluating the 2019-20 Washington Wizards is that franchise leadership isn’t expecting to win and isn’t trying to...this season. Head coach Scott Brooks and the players are theoretically trying to win each game, but every decision made by the front office and the coaching staff is done with an eye toward the future.
Most good statistical tools are designed to help explain why teams win and lose. They do that for a team designed to lose games, but the measures may not be quite as meaningful as they would be for a squad trying to win. For the Wizards, this season is mostly about helping promising youngsters become professionals, and setting the decks for future roster moves.
Viewing the team through the “they’re just not trying to win” lens can be helpful. For example, Isaiah Thomas — three years past his prime, and with two injury-plagued and ineffective seasons on the odometer — doesn’t belong in a starting lineup. He still has some offensive game, but at his best he was among the league’s worst defenders, and his best is solidly in the past.
But, he’s replacing Ish Smith, who also doesn’t belong in a starting NBA lineup. With good reason, Smith is a reluctant shooter, and his poor jump shot shackles his game.
One issue the team would be wise to address is the performance of Bradley Beal, who they’ve designated as a franchise bedrock. Through the first eight games, Beal is struggling under the burden of responsibility the coaches have heaped upon him, and it’s time for the coaches to figure out how to make life easier for him.
This season, Beal seems to be intent on emulating Dwyane Wade when his game and temperament are more akin to Ray Allen. The Wizards’ All-Star has been at his best with a usage rate of 27-30 percent. Last season, he finished at 27.9% while carrying a bigger load offensively when John Wall left the lineup. So far this season, he’s at a whopping 34.4%. The extra usage is mostly missed shots and turnovers. Beal’s zero-point possessions per 100 team possessions have increased from 14.4 to 19.7 so far this season.
This doesn’t mean Beal has lost it. Rather, it’s likely a reflection of the reality that few players can maintain high efficiency at extremely high usage rates. Those who can are the game’s true elite through history. The players doing it so far this year: James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Derrick Rose, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving. This season, 18 players have a usage rate of 30% or higher. Only De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant have been less efficient than Beal.
Some of this is likely just bad luck. Beal has been one of the game’s deadliest shooters in recent years, but has missed a high number of open looks so far this season. That will probably change. Still, the team would be smart to reduce Beal’s shot creation burden. It might make for some painful possessions as his younger and less skilled teammates figure things out (or don’t), but... this team isn’t trying to win.
The coaching staff needs to accept the growing pains, give Troy Brown extended time at point guard — give young players opportunities to succeed or fail. And there’s little point in giving minutes to C.J. Miles or Smith or Thomas at the expense of younger players. Those veterans aren’t going to help the team win now, and they’re unlikely to be around in the future.
Player Production Average
This is the first time this season I’m publishing data from my Player Production Average metric. PPA is an overall production metric I developed that credits players for things they do to help a team win and debits them for things that don’t — each category appropriately weighted for how much it helps their team win/lose.
PPA weighs a player’s performance per possession against that of his competitors season by season. While PPA falls into the category of a linear weight metric, the actual values for statistical categories float a bit season to season based on league performance.
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.
Read more about it here.
Wizards PPA Through 8 Games
The team’s production leaders are the youngsters they’re hoping will be part of a reloaded team led by Beal and a healed Wall — Thomas Bryant, Troy Brown, and Rui Hachimura.
In addition, Mo Wagner has flashed potential to be a bona fide rotation big man. He needs to learn to play under control — he’s averaging a staggering 6.0 turnovers and 9.9 fouls per 100 team possessions.
- I’ve been a bit less impressed than most by Hachimura, but he’s been good for a rookie. I continue to think his career floor is as a solid rotation player.
- Davis Bertans is a great shooter without much else to his game. His usage rate is low (13.8% so far) and he isn’t a rebounder, playmaker or defender.
- The Isaac Bonga, NBA starter experiment has likely come to an end, but he should stay in the rotation ahead of Miles. At 20 years old, Bonga may have an NBA future. At 32, Miles does not.
- Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas aren’t getting the job done at PG. If that continues, the team should transition to Justin Robinson, Chris Chiozza, Brown, or G-Leaguers with promise. The coaches seem to “get it” with Ian Mahinmi, who hasn’t played this season.