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Assessing the Wizards past the first quarter of the 2019-20 NBA season

The Washington Wizards’ offense is still good, but not as great as it was in the beginning. Meanwhile, their defense remains among the worst in NBA history.

Washington Wizards v Miami Heat
Davis Bertans is emerging as one of the NBA’s elite shooters.
Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Twenty-three games into the regular season, the Wizards are who they were expected to be. As is often the case with a young group that plays hard and scores a ton, they’re fun to watch. As is often the case with a young group that doesn’t play with an ounce of sense of defense, the opponents score a ton-and-a-half and they can be frustrating to watch.

At 7-16, the Wizards sit 12th in the Eastern Conference and are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the league’s sixth worst record. Their strength of schedule-adjusted scoring margin ranks 21st, and their net rating is 23rd.

Over the past couple weeks, their offense has fallen to fifth best — still good, but fading after a hot start. Some of that was inevitable because of the team’s dearth of established talent. They’ve also struggled with recognizing and attacking quickly when opposing defenses double Bradley Beal.

Their defense remains staggeringly awful. They’re allowing 117.2 points per 100 possessions, worst in the NBA by a whopping 2.9 points, and in contention for worst defense in NBA history. While many, including myself, pinned much of the responsibility for their defensive struggles on Isaiah Thomas, it should be noted they’ve been just as bad with Thomas sidelined with a strained calf.

Player Production Average

Below are results from Player Production Average (PPA), an overall production metric 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.

Here are approximate ranges for PPA scores:

  • 225+ — Most Valuable Player candidate
  • 175+ — typically All-NBA level
  • 150+ — usually the minimum score for All-Star level
  • 100 — average
  • 75 — useful reserve
  • 45 and below — replacement level

Wizards PPA through games played December 10

Thomas Bryant C 18 28.4 157 156
Dāvis Bertāns PF 23 28.9 112 133
Bradley Beal SG 23 37.0 149 123
Troy Brown SG 20 22.1 100 112
Moritz Wagner C 21 20.4 104 104
Ian Mahinmi C 3 17.0 na 101
Rui Hachimura PF 23 29.7 99 98
Jordan McRae SG 13 18.1 80 79
Isaiah Thomas PG 17 24.9 78 77
Ish Smith PG 23 25.3 71 77
Isaac Bonga SF 18 15.5 83 69
Chris Chiozza PG 9 11.6 -3 55
C.J. Miles SG 10 16.1 49 48
Admiral Schofield SF 10 7.6 95 41
Justin Robinson PG 5 2.8 34 29
Garrison Mathews SG 2 7.0 -94 -94

Wizards Notes

  • Davis Bertans has been on a scoring and three-point shooting binge. His PPA shot up 21 points in just four games — a significant improvement over a short span. Back in November, I observed that Bertans was hoisting 12.0 three-point attempts per 100 team possessions and wrote that the Wizards should find a way to get him more. They obliged and he’s now up to 13.7 attempts per 100 — with no loss in accuracy. The Wizards should keep feeding him until defenses force an adjustment.
  • Bradley Beal is Washington’s most talented player, but he’s struggled the past several games with the heavy offensive burden. Teams have been doubling him when he touches the ball in the half-court, and they’ve been blitzing him in pick and roll. Their goal: get the ball out of his hands and force someone else to make a play. Beal’s been guilty of over-dribbling and holding the ball too long, which has hampered the offense in key moments. Once he’s passed out of a double, his teammates have been too slow to attack with a numbers advantage. The coaching staff should be designing set responses to help a young and inexperienced roster recognize and counter this defensive strategy.
  • The team’s defense has struggled even with Bryant and Thomas sidelined with injuries. In the defense part of PPA, Troy Brown Jr. continues to rate as the team’s most effective defender. Bryant is the only other regular to rate as average or better. Backup point guard, Chis Chiozza, who’s gotten playing time recently because of injuries, also rates above average, but has played just 104 total minutes.

Around the League

  • The MVP race could be close — at least according to PPA. In total production, the top five (in order) are: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Lebron James, Luka Doncic and James Harden.
  • On a per 100 possessions basis, here’s the top five (in order): Giannis, Davis, Doncic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Lebron.
  • Even with his struggles so far, Beal ranks 37th in total production.
  • Who’s the Rookie of the Year so far depends on how we look at it. The total production leaders are PJ Washington, Eric Paschall, Ja Morant, Rui Hachimura and Kendrick Nunn. The top per possessions producers: Brandon Clarke, Morant (nice draft for the Grizzlies), Jaxson Hayes, Washington, Paschall, Hachimura, Terence Davis, Kendrick Nunn and Cameron Johnson.
  • Former Wizards draft pick Kelly Oubre Jr. has been doing less of late to make Washington regret his departure. His shooting cooled after a hot start and his overall performance has slid closer to career norms. His PPA currently stands at a slightly above average 107.
  • Carmelo Anthony’s three-game scoring binge was a nice story for a week, but his overall performance...not so much. Anthony’s PPA for the season is 43 — replacement level. Aging has not been kind to the former great.
  • As I write this, the Rockets are 15-8 and fourth in the West. They have four players performing average or better — James Harden (an MVP candidate), Clint Capela, Danuel House, and PJ Tucker. Former MVP Russell Westbrook’s rating is a below average 85. Chris Paul, who the Rockets traded for Westbrook has a 172. Former Wizard Austin Rivers, who for some reason many people think is good, rates right around replacement level, as usual.
  • Former number one pick Markelle Fultz is physically recovered from the problems that sideswiped his first couple years in the league. His PPA is 102, about average. His shooting is a problem, but he’s making free throws and contributing in enough other ways that there’s reason to believe he could be a legitimate contributor. He’s still just 21 years old.
  • Portland at 11-15 is something of an achievement. More than 40% of their minutes have gone to replacement level performers — the equivalent of having two replacement level players on the floor for the entire game.