The competitive portion of the Wizards 2020-21 season isn’t over, but the end is visible from here. At 2-8, they’re tied with the Detroit Pistons for the league’s worst record despite playing the NBA’s 7th easiest schedule. In strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin, they rank 25th.
The Wizards thought they’d be able rely on an elite offense — they rank 11th. Decent, but well short of the top-shelf attack they would need to overcome their defense, which ranks 27th. Only the ineptitude of the Sacramento Kings, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves has kept them out of the basement for a second straight season.
Washington entered the season with the #SoWizards goal of “contending for the playoffs” yet despite showing every sign of failing have thus far shown a perplexing lack of urgency. Head coach Scott Brooks has shuffled players in and out of the rotation on seemingly little more than a whim but for a team starved of wins, he hasn’t taken the obvious step of going to a playoffs-style 8- or 9-man rotation.
Staring into the abyss of another losing season, and the possibility that Bradley Beal could request a trade, Brooks continues to behave as if the Wizards have established themselves as a good team and just need to work out a few kinks. Declining to panic is good, but it’s past time to start pushing for wins.
One place to start is by matching actions to rhetoric. While Brooks and the players have talked about the need to play better defense, Isaac Bonga — their best defender — has received 11 minutes and 12 seconds of playing time over the past 6 games. The obvious drop from the rotation is Jerome Robinson, who continues to struggle when given playing time.
The team’s biggest issue is the poor performance of Westbrook. His offensive rating is 19 points per 100 possessions below league average so far this season with a usage rate of 30.8%. This is a serious drag on the offense because it takes opportunities from more efficient teammates. If his poor shooting, poor shot selection, and high turnovers persist, the Wizards need to have the courage to take him out of the game for longer stretches and give minutes to more productive teammates.
This being Brooks and the Wizards, I think it’s highly unlikely they’ll curtail Westbrook’s minutes, possession usage or shot selection unless he gets injured and has to sit. It also seems unlikely Westbrook makes the decision himself to change how he plays. Often, it’s great players who are the last to know the extent to which their abilities have diminished as they age.
As if the on-court problems weren’t enough, the Wizards have even more adversity with Thomas Bryant missing the rest of the year due to an ACL tear, and Bradley Beal sidelined because of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
Bryant was hyper-efficient on offense (for a third straight season) and his defense was somewhat improved. The Wizards will have to get by in the middle with Lopez, Moritz Wagner and small-ball lineups that use Rui Hachimura or even Davis Bertans at center. It would be unwise for the team to trade assets for a starting center given the team’s disappointing record and performance.
Brooks should be looking for opportunities to get Garrison Mathews more playing time, and the Bryant injury creates the possibility of lineups where guys move up a position — Hachimura in the middle, Avdija at four, Beal and Mathews on the wing, and whichever of the point guards is going well. Or, let Beal run point and replace the point guard with Bertans.
Player Production Average
Below is the first full-season update of the Player Production Average (PPA). PPA is my overall production metric, which credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, play-making, defending) and dings them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, bad defense, fouls). PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor that rewards players for playing more difficult minutes. There’s also an accounting for role/position.
In PPA, 100 is average, higher is better, and replacement level is 45. It usually takes a score of 200 or higher to be part of the MVP conversation. All-NBA level scores typically start around 170.
Wizards PPA — 1st 10 Games
|Troy Brown Jr.||SF||21||7||17.6||27|
Why are the Wizards 2-8? Look again at the bottom of the PPA chart. Westbrook, Bertans, Smith, Lopez, Troy Brown Jr., and Robinson have played significant roles in the rotation and have ranged from bad to catastrophic. Brown and Robinson both rate below replacement level so far this season.
It’s reasonable to think Westbrook, Bertans, Smith and Brown will perform better as the season continues. I doubt the Wizards will see production surges from Lopez and Robinson.
Neto got off to a good start but has had some bad games recently that drag his score down. I’d be surprised if his rating remains above average much longer.