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What’s wrong with the Wizards is on the players and the front office that picked them

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards
What’s wrong with the Washington Wizards is on the players.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The curious thing about the public push to fire Scott Brooks is how many of the critiques are off the mark.

He’s often blamed for an inability to improve the team’s defense. Yet, the Wizards have been doing many things well defensively. What they’re not doing well is likely either bad luck or a failure of the players.

So far this season, the Wizards are number one in defensive shot profile. They allow the fewest at-rim attempts. They’re 12th in defensive three-point attempts. A whopping 46.6% of opponent field goal attempts are two-pointers from more than three feet. Second best is the Utah Jazz at 40.7%.

The problem has been that the team allows a high shooting percentage from all distances and they foul too much. The excessive fouling is typically symptomatic of an overmatched player giving effort.

Per NBA tracking data, the Wizards are fifth in shots contested per 48 minutes. Here’s where they rank in terms of how closely they contest:

  • Very tight (closest defender within two feet): 13
  • Tight (2-4 feet): 7
  • Open (4-6 feet): 10
  • Wide-open (6+ feet): 20

That wide-open ranking is somewhat misleading because the Wizards are twice as close to the first place Nuggets as they are to the last place Charlotte Hornets.

When it comes to very tightly contested and open shots, the Wizards are middle of the pack in opponent effective field goal percentage. But, they’re third worst in tightly contested, and dead last in wide-open attempts.

There isn’t any reason to think opponents having an efg of 65.3% on wide-open shots is anything other than bad luck.

Fans are hailing the defensive turnaround of the New York Knicks (seventh in defensive rating so far this season), but the Knicks allow twice as many at-rim attempts and the fourth most three-pointers. They allow more wide-open attempts than the Wizards but have gotten lucky — opponents are shooting a league worst 50.0% efg on those wide-open looks.

All of this is a long way of getting to this point: the team’s defensive scheme is putting the Wizards in position to be solid defensively. The fouling is likely a result of effort. The data indicates the team is contesting shots at an above average level. Other data shows the team is above average in corralling loose balls on the defensive — yet another sign of a group that’s playing hard and giving effort. And they’re 8th in defensive rebounding percentage, still another sign of effort and execution.

The inability to lower opponent shooting efficiency could simply be bad luck (that’s almost surely what it is on wide-open attempts), or it could be a sign (in combination with fouls) they lack the size and athleticism to defend.

In other words, what’s wrong with the defense appears mostly to be on the players, and by extension the front office. Brooks has a voice in who the team acquires, but final personnel decisions rest with Tommy Sheppard, Ted Leonsis and the front office.

I won’t rehash my last look at the offense except to say that the criticism that the team has no system and is too reliant on isos is incorrect. In the Wizards offense, the ball moves and the team attacks in a variety of ways. They’re 9th in touches per game and have the third smallest average seconds per touch.

They’re 12th in passes per game, 10th in assists, 5th in secondary assists, and 7th in potential assists. While the team relies heavily on Bradley Beal for scoring and offensive production, they do it within a system that allows multiple players opportunities to handle the ball and make plays.

If anything, the data suggests the team should be more reliant on Beal. He’s second on the team with 0.451 points per touch behind Garrison Mathews’ 0.491. Third place: Davis Bertans at 0.332.

Among players with at least 10 games played and 12 minutes per game, Beal’s points per touch is 6th best in the NBA. The five ahead of him:

  1. Wayne Ellington, Detroit Pistons — 26.9 touches per game
  2. Bryn Forbes, Milwaukee Bucks — 15.3
  3. Gary Trent Jr., Portland Trail Blazers — 25.8
  4. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics — 58.3
  5. Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz — 39.7
  6. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards — 76.9

Stop complaining about Beal and point criticisms of the team at the right targets:

  • the non-Beal players
  • the front office
  • ownership
  • Brooks and the coaching staff.

In critiquing Brooks, the focus should be on who he chooses to play and the lineups he deploys, and much (much) less on the offensive system and the defensive structure.

Four Factors

Below are the four factors that decide who wins and loses in basketball — shooting (efg), rebounding (offensive rebounds), ball handling (turnovers), fouling (free throws made).

I’ve decided to simplify them a bit. While the factors are usually presented as percentages, that’s more useful over a full season. In a single game, the raw numbers in each category are easier to understand.

Four Factors: Hawks at Wizards

FOUR FACTORS HAWKS WIZARDS
FOUR FACTORS HAWKS WIZARDS
EFG 0.517 0.406
OREB 12 13
TOV 13 13
FTM 26 31
PACE 101 101
ORTG 115 99

Player Production Average

Below are Player Production Average (PPA) results from last night’s game. 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 a per possession stat that includes accounting for defense. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better.

PPA is a per possession stat. The table below is sorted by each player’s total contributions for the game.

PPA echoes what the eyes saw: last night’s game was crappy basketball. The Hawks team PPA for the game was below average and they still won by 16 because the Wizards team PPA was below replacement level. Yike.

Wizards PPA

WIZARDS MIN PPA +/-
WIZARDS MIN PPA +/-
Russell Westbrook 27 151 -9
Alex Len 17 189 -11
Garrison Mathews 21 167 4
Bradley Beal 32 43 -17
Cassius Winston 2 372 0
Robin Lopez 20 26 -7
Raul Neto 20 23 -1
Rui Hachimura 24 17 -8
Isaac Bonga 16 10 -11
Anthony Gill 2 81 0
Moritz Wagner 10 -30 5
Jerome Robinson 24 -106 -12
Davis Bertans 25 -127 -13

Hawks PPA

HAWKS MIN PPA +/-
HAWKS MIN PPA +/-
Trae Young 34 373 12
Clint Capela 30 155 15
John Collins 30 122 17
Rajon Rondo 15 170 4
De'Andre Hunter 12 157 7
Onyeka Okongwu 11 92 0
Brandon Goodwin 1 0 0
Bruno Fernando 1 0 0
Danilo Gallinari 18 -19 -3
Solomon Hill 20 -57 4
Kevin Huerter 30 -39 21
Tony Snell 6 -295 -5
Cam Reddish 32 -67 10