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A guide to the Wizards’ struggling defense

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Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It is no secret the Wizards’ defense has been bad this season. They rank in the bottom third of the league based on numerous defensive metrics including defensive rating, defensive rebounding, points allowed off of turnovers, and points allowed in the paint. But is this really a shock?

Brooks Deserves Blame, But Not All of It

Since Scott Brooks has become the coach, the Wizards defense has been no higher than 15th in defensive rating. While Randy Wittman was the coach, the lowest the team ranked in defensive rating was 14th, in his last year coaching in Washington. You can contribute a lot of the decline in defensive effectiveness to changing personnel, an evolving NBA game which features more 3-point shooting and a faster pace, but it still does not change that the team has taken a clear step back defensively with Brooks at the helm.

A, It doesn’t just start with Brooks, although a lot of the blame can be placed at his feet. Perhaps the most alarming issue that the Wizards have had this season, has been their defense of the 3-point line. The Wizards rank 28th in percentage given up at the 3 point line. Last season, they were 5th. They were 22nd in their first year under Brooks.

Brooks has shown he can get the Wizards to defend the 3-point shot, but their effectiveness wanes. Interestingly enough, the Wizards also struggled guarding the perimeter in Wittman’s final season as head coach. The Wizards ranked sixth-to-last in his final year. So it’s clear it’s not just Brooks’ teams who have struggled with defending the arc.

Given the prominence of the 3-point shot in the modern NBA, and the Wizards’ struggles with stopping it, they are putting themselves in some not so favorable company. They’re averaging the second-most threes per game allowed in NBA history. The only team giving up more is this year’s Bucks, but they’re doing it while holding opponents to a lower percentage.

Misguided Effort

The Wizards rank second in the league in deflections this season. They’ve been a top-ten team in that category all three seasons under Brooks. It suggests the Wizards are trying hard, but despite disrupting a lot of passes, it isn’t enough to overcome the times they put the defense in a bad position when they try to break up a pass and miss. Washington has struggled with bad gambles, a lack of communication

Different Faces, Same Results

The Wizards brought in Trevor Ariza to improve Washington’s defensive ability and bring back the defensive identity and culture the team had when he left in 2014. However, little has changed since his arrival. Washington’s defense has been as bad or worse in most categories despite his arrival.

Before and After Trevor Ariza Trade

Time Period Defensive Rating Points Per Game Allowed Field Goal Percentage Allowed
Time Period Defensive Rating Points Per Game Allowed Field Goal Percentage Allowed
Before Ariza 112.3 116.9 47.2
Since Acquiring Ariza 112.2 116.8 48.2
nba.com/STATS

Second Chances

What do those old-school coaches always tell us? Defense wins championships. They also say the defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure the defensive rebound.

The Wizards are third-to-last in rebounds per game. The extra opportunities the Wizards allow give opponents extra opportunities to score which often come when Washington’s defense is already compromised. The Wizards rank 25th in the league in second-chance points allowed.

Where do the Wizards go from here?

No matter how you slice, it the Wizards haven’t been getting it done. It’s fair to criticize Brooks for the team’s struggles. He has long emphasized defense as a key to success, but Washington hasn’t been effective on that end. We can no longer shake our fist at Marcin Gortat struggling to cover a guard on a switch or Markieff Morris failing to rotate to and contest an easy bucket.

The Wizards have to find a scheme that works for their new personnel, but they also have to hold players accountable for how well they execute on defense. Despite the poor start to the season with the team’s star players healthy, Brooks stuck to his rotations and rarely took star players out of the game for poor defense.

The Wizards need to re-establish the defensive identity that carried them through the early years of the Wall-Beal era, while keeping in mind they can’t build it the same way they did in 2013. They can’t rely on a strong post presence like Nene Hilario to direct traffic and anchor the paint. They need a modern big man that can deter drives to the paint and guard perimeter players as needed.

They also need to add more willing defenders to shore up the perimeter. Getting Ariza to re-establish a defensive identity is a start, but he can’t do it alone. The Wizards need to invest in identifying the next generation of wing players who can bring the same defensive intensity. Until they can get their defense up to modern standards, it will continue to keep them from being competitive.