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In Wizards loss to the Raptors, it’s still the defense

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal had his best game of the season in the Washington Wizards 109-100 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The predominant complaint coming from fans in the aftermath of the Wizards’ 109-100 loss to the Toronto Raptors was about the offense. It’s stagnant. Too much iso. Poor shooting, again.

And I get it — most of those critiques are valid. On offense the Wizards had an offensive rating (points per possession x 100) of just 106. That’s about a point below league average. Not terrible, but not good either.

But while their offense was meh, the bigger issue was at the other end of the floor. This season’s narrative of improved defense is collecting some bumps and dings.

The Wizards are in the bottom third in contesting shots and deflections, and at the absolute bottom in contesting threes. Some of that could be a pack-it-in strategy to wall off the rim. But, good defense in the NBA is mostly about lowering opponent shooting percentage, and much of that is about maintaining position and contesting shots.

And, a pack-it-in strategy shouldn’t stop players from challenging shots. The Milwaukee Bucks have played this kind of scheme for several seasons, but they lead the league in contesting shots and are near the top in challenging threes.

This isn’t an ironclad Law of Basketball, though. The Golden State Warriors have edged past the Miami Heat for best defense so far, and they’re third in contesting shots. The Heat are number two while contesting even fewer shots per game than the Wizards. On the other hand, Miami is 5th in challenging threes — the Wizards are 30th.

There were some good defensive moments against the Raptors. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bradley Beal were solid. Deni Avdija seemed to do a creditable job on Toronto guard Fred VanVleet, though the Raptors had success attacking him overall. Kyle Kuzma’s defense wasn’t bad before he left with a wrist injury.

Montrezl Harrell was good as well with three blocks and 9 defensive rebounds.

Still, overall the defense was ineffective. The Raptors had an ortg of 116 — 9 points above their season average entering, and 9 points worse than league average. Once again, the Wizards allowed lots of open shots. For the game, Toronto had 15 deflections. The Wizards had 7. The poor defensive outing dropped Washington to 16th in defense so far this season.

Quick observations:

  • This was Bradley Beal’s best game of the season. He dialed back the usage a bit and scored 25 efficient points, hit 2-5 from three-point range, got 7 boards and 7 assists to just 2 turnovers. That’s excellent work.
  • Raul Neto was superb, scoring a hyper-efficient 14 points and notching 4 assists.
  • Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford continue to form an effective tag-team in the middle. The two combined for 24 points on 9 field goal attempts, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. The even kept fouls to a minimum — just 3 between them. The only real negative: 4 turnovers.
  • Avdija’s defense and offensive floor game was pretty good. He undermined his good shooting and more aggressiveness with the ball (22.0% usage) by shooting just 2-6 from the free throw line and committing 2 turnovers and 3 fouls.

It may be a little premature, but I broke out my prognostication spreadsheet. Based on how teams have played so far this season, the Wizards are at least slight favorites in each of the next five games. Estimated chance of winning:

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 simplified 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.

PACE is possessions per 48 minutes.

Four Factors: Raptors 109 at Wizards 100

EFG 0.523 0.487
OREB 10 10
TOV 10 13
FTM 17 24
ORTG 116 106

Key Stats

Below are a few performance metrics, including the Player Production Average (PPA) Game Score (very similar to the one I used to call Scoreboard Impact Rating). PPA is my overall production metric, which credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, playmaking, defending) and dings them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, bad defense, fouls).

Game Score (GmSC) converts individual production into points on the scoreboard in this game. The scale is the same as points and reflects each player’s total contributions for the game. The lowest possible GmSC is zero.

PPA is a per possession metric designed for larger data sets. In small sample sizes, the numbers can get weird. But, some readers prefer it so I’m including PPA scores as well. Reminder: in PPA, 100 is average, higher is better and replacement level is 45. For a single game, replacement level isn’t much use, and I reiterate the caution about small samples producing weird results.

Now numbers.

POSS is the number of possessions each player was on the floor in this game.

PTS = points scored

ORTG = offensive rating, which is points produced per individual possessions x 100. League average last season was 112.3.

USG = offensive usage rate. Average is 20%.

ORTG and USG are slightly modified versions of stats created by Wizards assistant coach Dean Oliver and modified slightly by me. ORTG is an efficiency measure that accounts for the value of shooting, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers. USG includes shooting from the floor and free throw line, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers.

Wizards: Key Stats

Bradley Beal 39 76 25 125 27.9% 239 34.6 -6
Raul Neto 22 42 14 171 18.8% 292 23.7 0
Montrezl Harrell 27 54 15 141 21.5% 157 16.2 12
Daniel Gafford 21 40 9 144 14.3% 163 12.6 -18
Deni Avdija 26 50 11 103 22.0% 79 7.6 5
Spencer Dinwiddie 30 59 12 101 20.2% 24 2.8 -9
Corey Kispert 16 31 4 105 10.3% 43 2.5 0
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 34 66 8 60 16.8% -9 0.0 -8
Aaron Holiday 5 10 0 0 15.0% -244 0.0 -8
Kyle Kuzma 21 42 2 27 18.7% -168 0.0 -13

Raptors: Key Stats

Fred VanVleet 43 84 33 143 25.9% 287 45.8 15
OG Anunoby 40 78 21 102 22.4% 100 14.8 5
Svi Mykhailiuk 35 68 15 128 16.2% 116 14.9 0
Gary Trent Jr. 34 67 15 99 21.4% 100 12.6 -3
Khem Birch 22 43 9 149 17.6% 92 7.5 10
Dalana Banton 17 34 5 125 10.1% 104 6.7 5
Chris Boucher 17 34 5 118 14.0% 51 3.2 5
Malachi Flynn 3 5 0 258 5.0% 251 2.4 5
Precious Achiuwa 26 51 6 86 22.4% 10 1.0 -1
Justin Champagnie 3 7 0 0.0% -129 0.0 4