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The Wizards offense has been worse with Spencer Dinwiddie on the floor. Here’s why.

Washington Wizards v San Antonio Spurs
Washington Wizards guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Wizards guard Spencer Dinwiddie is catching criticism for passive play, and it’s worth going beyond “eye test” and small sample size guesswork to analyze what’s happening out there and how the team might fix what could be going wrong.

Many have observed that the Wizards offense has been worse so far this season with Dinwiddie and Bradley Beal on the floor together than it has been with either on the floor without the other.

Here are the offensive numbers:

  • Beal and Dinwiddie ON — 103.2 points per 100 possessions
  • Beal ON, Dinwiddie OFF — 111.6
  • Dinwiddie ON, Beal OFF — 107.1
  • Both OFF — 109.9

So, what’s happening? The thing that jumps out in the numbers is that the team has shot worse with Dinwiddie on the floor. I’ve phrased that way intentionally because shooting efficiency has gone UP this season when Beal is on the floor without Dinwiddie. And while the overall offensive efficiency has been better with Dinwiddie and no Beal, the shooting numbers are about the same.

Beal & Dinwiddie WOWY Shooting

ON 2pt FG% 3pt FG%
ON 2pt FG% 3pt FG%
Beal 57.6% 33.3%
Beal & Dinwiddie 51.8% 30.5%
Dinwiddie 51.6% 30.9%
neither 53.2% 36.9%

Virtually everyone in the rotation is showing a similar effect:

  • Beal 41.7% efg with Dinwiddie; 53.0% without
  • Montrezl Harrell — 58.3% to 71.4%
  • Daniel Gafford — 62.0% to 75.8%
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — 52.0% to 60.3%
  • Kyle Kuzma — 46.6% to 56.2%

The question, of course, is what’s causing this — assuming it’s not just a small sample size fluke.

One possibility — at least when Dinwiddie is on the floor with Beal — is that the PG gets too passive. Dinwiddie’s usage rate this season is 22.6% so far this season, second highest on the team. But, when Beal is on the floor, Dinwiddie’s usage has been 17.3%. When Beal sits, Dinwiddie’s usage soars to 28.3%.

Dinwiddie’s usage drop with/without Beal is the team’s largest, though virtually everyone in the rotation sees their usage fall when Beal is out there. The backcourt leader in usage with Beal on the floor is Raul Neto at 18.4%, followed by Dinwiddie at 17.3% and Aaron Holiday at 17.0%.

It’s also possible that Dinwiddie isn’t driving as much. I don’t have access to play data at the player pair level, so it’s tough to say for sure. But NBA tracking data tells us Dinwiddie and Holiday drive at about the same rate (18.0 drives per 100 team possessions for Dinwiddie and 17.5 for Holiday). Given the ubiquity of observations that Dinwiddie gets passive, it’s plausible that he drives less frequently when Beal is on the floor.

Another possible reason for the team shooting worse when Dinwiddie is out there: shot quality. Despite leading the team in assists per possession, he’s had almost no impact on shot quality. That’s also true of Holiday. Shot quality has improved modestly when Neto is on the court.

The big driver of shot quality so far has been Beal. Everyone in the rotation (except Holiday) gets better shots when Beal is on the floor. The team has shot better with Beal out there, even though Beal has shot poorly and frequently himself.

With Dinwiddie, the lack of impact on shot quality is somewhat surprising. Although his overall performance has hovered around average, his Brooklyn Nets teammates saw better quality shots when he was on the floor than when he sat. Of course, that could be related to the precipitous drop in his drive frequency — at 18.0 drives per 100 team possessions, Dinwiddie is attacking 31% less often than he did in his last full season with the Nets.

While the sample sizes are still too small to reach definitive conclusions, the numbers are a flashing warning light, and there are interlocking data that provides a coherent and logical explanation for why the numbers are what they are.

What we know: The Wizards have been worse on offense when Dinwiddie has been in the game because the team shoots worse. We also know that shot quality is about the same when he’s in the game as it is when he sits, which we can compare with shot quality improving significantly when Beal is in the game.

We can posit that shot quality is unaffected because Dinwiddie is driving about as often as Neto and Holiday overall — and probably is driving much less often when on the floor with Beal. We can also observe that he’s driving 31% less than he did in his last healthy season in Brooklyn, where the team’s shot quality improved with him on the floor.