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The Wizards defy logic with their competent offense and incompetent defense

Washington Wizards v Orlando Magic
The Wizards best defender has been Troy Brown Jr.
Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images

As the season approaches its midpoint, the Wizards continue to make little sense. They’re still decent on offense and terrible on defense. With Bradley Beal sidelined with a sore knee they figured to collapse, but in the six games he’s missed they’ve beaten the Heat, Celtics and Nuggets and lost to the Knicks, Trail Blazers and Magic.

Say it with me: This. Team. Makes. No. Sense.

Currently, there are eight players on the team’s injury report, including John Wall, Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner. NBA rosters are limited to 15, plus two two-way players. They’ve already received two roster exceptions because of their rampant medical issues — even starting two injury exception players in the same game. That’s something I’ve never seen in the 40-plus years I’ve been following the NBA. And, with Garrison Mathews out with an ankle sprain, they may need a third exception.

Yet, their effort and enthusiasm makes them a bit tougher to defeat than most opponents seem to expect, and speaks highly of the job the franchise has done to change the atmosphere. The sullen, to-cool to try vibe has been banished and replaced with guys who have limitations but are working hard when they have an opportunity and cheering teammates who do well.

The effort level naturally raises questions about why their defense has remained so bad. While it’s tempting to chalk the defensive problems up to youth, lack of cohesion and lack of defensive talent, it’s worth note that other young teams — notably the Warriors and Knicks — have made in-season defensive improvements without making roster changes.

Some have attributed Golden State’s improvement to Draymond Green returning to action. But, so far this season, the Warriors have been about the same defensively with Green on the floor as they’ve been when he sits.

Many more pixels will be published about the Wizards defense in the coming weeks.

Player Production Average

Below are scores from my Player Production Average (PPA) metric. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, includes a degree of difficulty factor, and for the first time a position/role adjustment. PPA credits players for doing things that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt — each in proper proportion.

In PPA, 100 is average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

The position/role adjustment is designed to reflect how roles an on-court positioning affects individual abilities to produce certain stats. For now, I’m incorporating four positions/roles: point guards, wings, forwards and big men. I expect this adjustment to evolve as I continue to research it and analyze results.

For now, the PPA scores below are not exactly comparable to previous scores I’ve published. The change lowers scores for big men while boosting ratings for wings. The differences for forwards and point guards are minimal.

Wizards Player Production Average

Bradley Beal W 26 31 36.5 156
Troy Brown W 20 34 25.6 121
Dāvis Bertāns F 27 28 30.0 119
Johnathan Williams C 24 6 20.5 117
Gary Payton W 27 9 23.6 113
Thomas Bryant C 22 18 28.4 112
Jordan McRae W 28 21 22.2 107
Garrison Mathews W 23 15 13.1 106
Rui Hachimura F 21 25 29.2 94
Isaac Bonga W 20 32 16.7 87
Ish Smith PG 31 37 26.1 83
Moritz Wagner C 22 21 20.4 75
Ian Mahinmi C 33 17 20.8 73
C.J. Miles W 32 10 16.1 60
Isaiah Thomas PG 30 28 23.9 56
Chris Chiozza PG 24 10 12.3 44
Anžejs Pasečņiks C 24 12 22.2 39
Justin Robinson PG 22 9 5.4 38
Admiral Schofield W 22 23 12.1 29

Notes and Observations

  • The Wizards’ bad defensive results are apparent in the individual numbers. After incorporating the position/role adjustment, the team has two current rotation players with above average scores in the defense part of PPA: Gary Payton and Troy Brown Jr.
  • There’s been a lot of good feeling towards Anzejs Pasecniks, but his performance looks better than his production. The sample size is still tiny — just 266 NBA minutes — but he rates below replacement level overall, and on defense.
  • The Wizards front office should keep watch on Johnathan Williams. He performed well in limited playing time — even rating a little better than average on the defensive end — but was released due to a roster crunch. He might be worth bringing back as a reserve big man.
  • Ish Smith has had some sensational games...and some clunkers. Overall, he rates a bit below average so far this season. The Wizards continue to start Isaiah Thomas over Smith, which is becoming increasingly untenable. Thomas’ performance has slid back towards replacement level and his defense is horrendous. Worse, Thomas’ athleticism is significantly diminished by the serious injuries over the past few seasons. At his best, he relied on quickness, agility, crafty moves and incredible shot-making ability. He can still hit tough shots, but the quickness and agility has dissipated.
  • Is Jordan McRae’s ability to score for real, or is this simply a hot streak? My guess is it’s the latter — he’s closing in on 29 years old and he’s never shot this well or been this efficient, even in the G League. It’s fun while it lasts, though.