Driven by a prolific offense and a historically bad defense, the Wizards are 6-13 and sit 12th in Eastern Conference. Their prospects aren’t improved by injuries to Thomas Bryant and Moe Wagner, who not only are two of the team’s most productive players, but comprise the entire center rotation.
While some fans have expressed frustration with Bryant’s play this season, his performance is largely consistent with his breakout season a year ago. He’s still a solid rebounder and efficient scorer inside (shooting 79.7% on at-rim attempts compared 82.0% last year), and this season he’s added assists without increasing turnovers.
The biggest change is that Bryant has been shooting more two-point jumpers, and while he’s not bad from 10-plus feet, they’re the least efficient shots in the game. Bryant’s defense may also be worse than last season, though it’s difficult to say for sure since 61% of his minutes have come with Isaiah Thomas on the floor. In the defense part of my metric Player Production Average (PPA — updated numbers below), Bryant rates as having an average defensive impact.
Thomas, of course, is the worm in the Wizards’ defensive apple. Unsurprisingly, he rates as a strong negative on the defensive end. Playing him is akin to gifting points to the other team. He rates as the team’s worst defender by a significant margin, which is saying something considering how defensively challenged the roster is.
Just two players (Bryant and Troy Brown Jr.) rate as average or better defenders so far this season. Of the other regulars in the rotation, only Ish Smith, Rui Hachimura and Bradley Beal rate better than replacement level on the defensive end — and none of them by much.
Side note: surprisingly, Thomas does not rate as the league’s least effective defender. That honor belongs to the Clippers’ Landry Shamet, who apparently does almost nothing on defense except foul.
Beal is having an outstanding offensive season. He’s been six-plus points per 100 possessions more efficient than average while at the highest usage rate of his career. He deserves a chunk of responsibility for the team’s defensive futility. Whether it’s the grave misfortune of sharing defensive possessions with Thomas (they’ve been paired for 56% of Beal’s minutes) or resting to play defense, Beal is having the worst defensive season of his career.
Player Production Average
Below are scores in PPA, an overall rating metric developed by me 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. In PPA, 100 is average, higher is better, and replacement level is 45.
Mega thanks to Tony East for helping me reconstruct a portion of the PPA metric. I had a catastrophic data loss and all backups were a couple thousand miles away. Thankfully, the only part of the metric I couldn’t redo from memory was something I’d discussed with Tony...and he still had the conversation.
So, if you don’t like the numbers, blame Tony this update.
Wizards PPA Through Games Played December 3
- Despite adding inefficient jumpers to his offensive repertoire, Bryant remains one of the team’s most efficient offensive players. His 122 offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) is more than 13 points better than average.
- Davis Bertans leads the Wizards with an offensive rating of 128, which is fitting because he’s an elite shooter and nearly 80% of his field goal attempts are from three-point range. Weirdly, his .640 effective field goal percentage ranks only second on the team. That’s because backup big man Moe Wagner’s efg is .681.
- Bertans overall PPA score may be lower than some expect. That’s mostly attributable to the lack of dimension to his game. He’s a great shooter and he avoids turnovers, but he doesn’t rebound, isn’t a playmaker, and rates as a replacement level defender. That shooting is still valuable though. Bertans belongs in the NBA’s three-point shooting contest.
- The Wizards will probably need to make a decision about what to do with Thomas in the lineup. The team is no better offensively when he’s in the game, and he cripples them on defense. The team isn’t focused on winning games this season, but they’ll have to make a determination on whether Thomas in the lineup is damaging their player development work. As things stand, it’s extremely difficult to evaluate the defensive chops of anyone who shares the floor with Thomas. I think they’ll be better off trading or releasing him soon and giving his minutes to some of the younger guards in the organization.