If you’ve followed the Washington Wizards for a few years, you’re probably accustomed to enjoying good basketball when it comes while fretting about what’s about to go wrong. I know I know I do.
So far, things are looking good for the Wizards. They’re 5-1 to start a season for just the third time in franchise history. They’re 12th in offense, 8th in defense, and 7th in strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin.
But...well...I’m not saying fans should worry, but if you want to bring some angst in tonight’s rematch with the Atlanta Hawks, if you want to gnash teeth and crack knuckles about the season going off the rails, there are some reasons.
Like, the last two times the Wizards started 5-1, they ended up 42-40 and swept the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, and they finished 31-51 to miss the playoffs completely. I’m not saying this should worry fans — most teams that start 5-1 make the playoffs and win in the first round. Plus, those previous teams have nothing to do with this one. The history blows, but it’s just that — history.
There are a few data points from this season that could be a concern if they continue. So let’s get worried.
The Wizards lead the league in non-restricted area field goal attempts in the paint. Why could this be a problem? On average, teams shoot below 40% in this area. Generally, these are contested shots that result from drives that don’t get to the rim because of good defense. So far this season, the Wizards are shooting 36.6% on these attempts.
Bright side: the Wizards defense has forced the most opponent non-restricted area field goal attempts. They’re also number one in defensive mid-range FGA. Yes, Washington is getting a lot of crappy shots on offense, but so are their opponents. In addition, the Wizards have allowed the third fewest corner threes (corner threes are an offensive prize because they convert at a higher rate than above-the-break three-point attempts).
But, we’re here to worry, so let’s get to it. As I’ve written a gazillion times, most of good defense in the NBA is lowering opponent effective field goal percentage (efg). Washington currently has the league’s 5th best defensive efg and the 3rd best defensive three-point percentage. But, according to NBA tracking data, they’re 27th in contested shots and dead last — 30th out of 30 — in contested three-point attempts.
On the offensive end, the Wizards are taking the third most shots that the NBA records as “very tight” defense (defender within two feet). That’s okay so far because they have the 4th best efg on these attempts, but it’s unlikely the continue shooting 60+% on them.
They also have the 5th most tightly defended field goal attempts (50.0% efg on those). Altogether, more than half their field goal attempts this season fall into the “tight” or “very tight” defense category.
The corollary to these data points is that their offense isn’t producing open shots. They’re dead last in wide-open FGA and last in wide-open three-point attempts. Some of this could be because they’re number one in drives, but they’re just 27th in at-rim attempts — an indicator they’re not getting separation from defenders. On the other hand, they’ve done a good job drawing fouls — tied for first in free throw attempts per 100 possessions.
As I wrote in my benchmarks and indicators article, these stats are all small sample size theater. They can — and will — change over the remaining 76 games of the regular season. At this point, they’re benchmarks and indicators. The Wizards are winning, but their way of doing it raises questions about sustainability.
Again, I’m not saying fans should be worried. The team is 5-1 and...so far, so good, right? But if you want worry, there are a few reasons.