If we asked Wizards fans to name the team’s three best players, in some order most would say the following names: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. What do those three have in common? They’re all going to miss The Bubble.
These absences gives Washington’s young players an opportunity to take on additional responsibility and solidify a spot in the team’s future. Or play their way out of it, of course.
The team’s strengths and weaknesses this season are easy to identify.
- avoiding turnovers — 7th best turnover percentage
- getting to the free throw line — 6th or 7th best, depending on your measure
- forcing turnovers — 4th best
That’s about it. Well, if you want to go “glass half full” feel free to say “overall offense” because they’re scoring 1.5 points per 100 possessions better than league average and they rank 12th overall. That’s a strength, at least relative to their defense.
- defense — dead last in the NBA, 5.4 points per 100 possessions worse than average
- defensive effective field goal percentage — their 29th
- defensive rebounding — 29th
- fouling — they’ve committed the 4th most fouls per 100 team possessions, and they’re 3rd from the bottom in FTM/FGA (the measure used in Dean Oliver’s Four Factors analysis)
The “getting to the free throw line” strength won’t be one in The Bubble — that was mostly Beal, who averaged 10.4 free throw attempts per 100 team possessions. His closest teammate with at least 500 minutes played: Moritz Wagner at 5.4. Washington’s youth doesn’t stress opposing defenses and force them to foul. At least not yet.
The team’s established best players being out doesn’t mean the Wizards are doomed to eight straight stompings in The Bubble. In 479 minutes without Beal and Bertans on the floor, the team was +0.99 points per 100 possessions — gaining almost as much defensively as they lost on offense.
Remove Isaiah Thomas from the equation and the team was +8.64 points per 100 possessions in 334 minutes — losing less on offense and gaining more on defense. To put some numbers with this:
- with Beal and Bertans: 1028 minutes, ortg: 121.5; drtg: 120.0, net: +1.51
- without Beal and Bertans: 479 minutes, ortg: 110.4; drtg: 109.4, net: +0.99
- without Beal, Bertans and Thomas: 334 minutes, ortg: 115.5; drtg: 106.9; net: +8.6
This, of course, doesn’t mean the Wizards will do a bunch of winning in The Bubble. The “without” samples are too small to reach firm conclusions. On the other hand, they’re also large enough to not be simply dismissed — it’s at least worth observing to see if trends hold.
What are likely to be the team’s strengths and weaknesses in The Bubble seeding games?
- Veteran point guards — Shabazz Napier and Ish Smith aren’t going to make anyone forget prime Wall, but they’re professional PGs with quickness and savvy. They should be able to help keep a young team organized and on task.
- Youthful exuberance — The difference was palpable this season. Where in previous years the team was sullen, too cool and surly, the 2019-20 squad was enthusiastic — sometimes too enthusiastic. At a minimum, everyone on the roster is playing for their place in the league and/or their next contract. That can have a way of motivating guys to maximum effort.
- Thomas Bryant’s offense — decent and developing screener who shoots well from everywhere. It’ll be interesting to see if the Wizards get him more touches and scoring opportunities in Orlando.
- Defense — They got better after trading Thomas, and they’ve been decent (slightly better than league average) with Beal and Bertans off the floor, but I don’t trust their young defenders yet. This is their opportunity to prove they can play NBA-level defense.
- Shooting — They were at league average efg with Beal and Bertans taking many of the shots when they were in the game. After those two — and Bryant, who’s best around the basket anyway — the dropoff is steep. Go down the list of players in Orlando and there isn’t a reliable shooter in the bunch: Napier? Smith? Rui Hachimura? Troy Brown? Wagner? Jerome Robinson? Admiral Schofield? Isaac Bonga? The team’s best shooter in The Bubble might be Jarrod Uthoff.
- Inexperience — The Wizards anticipated rotation will have an average age of about 23 years old. Seven players who figure to get significant playing time in Orlando are 22 or younger. The league’s youngest team this season was the Memphis Grizzlies, whose minutes-weighted age was 24.0. The exuberance could be offset by a lack of knowledge and experience.
- Hero Ball — It could be the young players channel the “everybody eats” ethos from a couple years ago. But basically there’s no one around to remember. And what the youngsters have seen all season is the “Beal eats” offense. With so many young players trying to make a mark, it’s more probable than not that someone — maybe several someones — eschew the extra pass for an FGA.
Overall, it’s a good idea to assume the likely weaknesses will significantly outpace the likely strengths in Orlando.
What do you think the teams strengths and weaknesses will be when The Bubble games begin?