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20 games in, the Wizards are better than expected with room to improve

Charlotte Hornets v Washington Wizards
Center Montrezl Harrell has been the Washington Wizards’ most productive player through its first 20 games.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Wizards went 3-2 since the last PPA update with a good win against the Miami Heat, a couple bad losses (to the Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans), a close win over a terrible Oklahoma City Thunder, and a solid win against the Dallas Mavericks.

Overall, the most recent five games suggested the Wizards aren’t as good as their record (at least not yet), but they’re better than most preseason forecasts, and likely to finish a little above my preseason forecast of 39 wins.

In the various measures of team strength, the Wizards receded towards the pack. The blowout loss to the Pelicans balanced the ledger from Washington’s previous stomping of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Here’s where the Wizards currently stand in some of the key stats:

  • Strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin: 15th
  • Strength of schedule: 18th
  • Offensive rating (points per 100 possessions): 19th
  • Defensive rating: 12th

FOUR FACTORS OFFENSE

  • efg: 15th
  • turnover percentage: 19th
  • offensive rebounding percentage: 23rd
  • Free throws / field goal attempts: 4th

FOUR FACTORS DEFENSE

  • efg: 3rd
  • tov%: 30th
  • dreb%: 8th
  • FT/FGA: 25th

Relative to league performance, the Wizards have been 1.9 points per 100 possessions better than average on defense, and 1.5 points worse on offense.

The Wizards slid in a couple measures I created and track. My “prediction machine” reruns a forecast of the team’s final record after each game based on the performance of the entire league so far. At the start of this latest five-game stretch, this approach had the Wizards finishing with 46.3 expected wins. After beating the Mavericks, the prediction fell to 42.5.

A lot of that drop was from the 25-point loss to the Pelicans. Resist the urge to apply a mental discount to that result...unless you’re also going to apply a similar discount to their blowout win against the Grizzlies.

Plus, stomp games matter. Research by one of the eggheads at Basketball-Reference found that a team’s record in blowouts was more predictive of playoffs success than a team’s record in close games.

The narrow win against Oklahoma City actually lowered the team’s forecast by 0.3 wins.

The other “proprietary” measure of team strength is a translation of my PPA metric into wins, which forecasts them at 42.0 wins. While 42-40 as a final record might disappoint some after the hot start, keep in mind that the Vegas over/under for wins this season was 34.5. My preseason forecast had them at 39 wins.

My internal metrics could be a bit pessimistic, though. An average team would be expected to go 31-31 in their remaining 62 games. That would bring them into the playoffs with 44 wins.

And, of course, there’s room for improvement. On offense, the low-hanging fruit is making open shots and cutting turnovers. On defense, they’re doing well in the two most important factors (opponent shooting and defensive rebounding), but they could force a few more turnovers and reduce fouling.

Player Production Average

Player Production Average (PPA) metric 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), each in proper proportion to how much it contributes to winning or losing.

PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor that rewards 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 225 or higher to be part of the MVP conversation.

The PPA score is not saying one player is “better” than another in terms of skill, ability, athleticism, or replaceability (if the players hypothetically switched teams or were placed on a hypothetical average team). Rather, PPA shows production so far this season in terms of doing things that help teams win NBA games.

Wizards PPA through games played Nov 27

PLAYER GMS MPG PREV PPA
PLAYER GMS MPG PREV PPA
Montrezl Harrell 20 27.3 162 165
Daniel Gafford 17 20.7 163 159
Spencer Dinwiddie 17 29.6 155 141
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 20 29.7 83 115
Bradley Beal 17 35.9 110 111
Kyle Kuzma 20 32.9 96 93
Deni Avdija 20 21.9 89 79
Raul Neto 19 20.1 41 46
Aaron Holiday 20 17.8 38 27
Corey Kispert 18 12.6 69 20
Dāvis Bertāns 10 16.7 21 -8
Non-Rotation
Isaiah Todd 3 2.3 250 250
Anthony Gill 5 6.2 69 138
Joel Ayayi 3 2.0 117 118

Below is a performance EKG for Spencer Dinwiddie. The red line is his full season average PPA after each game. The blue line is his 10-game rolling average. The point isn’t to highlight Dinwiddie’s “decline,” although that’s evident.

Washington Wizards guard Spencer Dinwiddie’s performance ekg.
Kevin Broom

To me, this image shows what regression to the mean looks like. Dinwiddie opened the season with some excellent games. Game two against the Pacers was outlandish— 34 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists with 13-24 shooting from the floor, 6-9 from three-point range and just 1 turnover.

Nine games into the season, his PPA was 178 — a number good enough to be in contention for All-NBA teams if posted over the full season. But, Dinwiddie’s best full-season PPA was 117 back in 2017-18. His PPA was 109 in the last full season before his ACL injury.

In other words, his established performance level was a little better than average. The likelihood of significant improvement from a 28-year-old coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss most of the preceding season was small.

After that hot start, the most likely thing to happen was a tapering down of his production, which is exactly what’s been happening.

The bright side of regression for the Wizards may be Bradley Beal. He has a slightly above average 111 PPA so far this season, but his career peak (so far) is 160, and he’s been around a 150 PPA over the past five seasons combined. While this could be a down year for Beal, or could be a new performance level based on changes to the league’s officiating, it’s more probable that Beal will regress towards his previous performance level over the final 62 games of the season.

The Next Five

The schedule, which had gotten a bit more challenging the past couple weeks, gets somewhat easier over the next five games. The most likely record: 3-2. Current Wizards’ chance of winning, according to the prediction machine: