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Wizards Heartbeat: Performance EKGs for Harrell, Dinwiddie, Bertans and Gafford

Washington Wizards v Sacramento Kings
Wizards center Daniel Gafford.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

With more players entering the NBA’s health and safety protocol because of exposure or positive tests, and the NHL suspending play for a few weeks, I’m now worried about putting out too much content too quickly. If the NBA follows suit, I might be writing about the players’ fashion and jewelry choices (much to the consternation of my podcast partner).

The Wizards are currently scheduled to play again Thursday night against the New York Knicks. Stay tuned — that’s an eternity in Covid time.

Yesterday, I presented performance EKGs for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Deni Avdija and Bradley Beal. This morning we learned that KCP tested positive for the virus. Reportedly, he’s vaccinated, and his case is asymptomatic. Hopefully he’s back on the court soon.

Performance EKGs are fancy-schmancy line graphs showing the ups and downs of each player’s performance over the course of the season.

The EKGs use my Player Production Average metric, which rewards players for things that help a team win and dings them for things that hurt — each in proportion to how much/little it helps or hurts. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a degree of difficulty factor, as well as a position/role adjustment. In PPA, 100 is average, higher is better, and 45 is replacement level.

In the charts below, the red line is each player’s season average PPA after each game, and the blue line is the player’s 10-game rolling average. The red line will be flatter with smaller fluctuations as the season wears on because it’s a progressively larger sample. The blue line will have more variation. So, when reading the charts, think of the red line as the player’s baseline performance and the blue line as a measure of how he performed over a recent stretch of games.

Today’s randomly selected players:

  • Montrezl Harrell
  • Spencer Dinwiddie
  • Davis Bertans
  • Daniel Gafford

Montrezl Harrell

Harrell started the season strong, and DC fans actually started chanting “MVP” at him when he went to the free throw line. That died away quick, and for good reason. From November 3-22, Harrell posted 10 consecutive games with a PPA of 100 (average) or better, including three elite performances. His PPA for the stretch: 189, which would put him in contention for All-NBA honors if he could maintain it over the full season.

That’s a big “if,” of course. There’s a reason he’s best coming off the bench. In the 14 games since, he’s been average or better just 6 times and his overall PPA has fallen to 137 — its lowest point since the first week of the season.

Here’s how PPA sees his season so far:

  • 200+ — 23%
  • 150+ — 29%
  • 100+ — 61%
  • below 100 — 39%
  • below 45 — 10%
  • negative — 3%

Spencer Dinwiddie

The graph above is an image of a player falling apart. After a torrid start to the season, Dinwiddie’s production has cratered. Whether it’s him not being 100% healthy after a torn ACL last season, or being uncomfortable in the team’s offensive system, or some other third thing that’s super important, the Wizards need much more from their starting point guard.

I’ve pointed out since the team acquired Dinwiddie that they weren’t getting a star, a star-to-be, or even a borderline star. He’s 28 years old, in his 8th season, and this is the first time he’s been a full-time starter. He’s rated average or better in PPA just twice. His career PPA: 95. But all that’s really irrelevant to what’s going on with him this season with the Wizards.

Dinwiddie’s average PPA for the most recent 10 games: -18. He’s registered a negative PPA in each of his past four games, six of the past seven. Even if we accept that he’s basically average, this level of ineptitude is stunning. The most likely explanation is that he’s playing hurt. It seems improbable that he’s simply “lost it” at age 28, though stranger things have happened.

  • 200+ — 23%
  • 150+ — 35%
  • 100+ — 46%
  • below 100 — 54%
  • below 45 — 42%
  • negative — 9%

Davis Bertans

Speaking of 28-year-olds who have suddenly lost the ability to play basketball logically brings me to Davis Bertans.

Editor's Note: The players and their order was chosen at random.

That flat line represents the 10 games Bertans missed with an ankle injury. The “Latvian Laser,” whose one NBA level skill has been shooting is hitting 29.9% from three-point range.

He has yet to sustain anything resembling good production. At no point this season has his 10-game average gotten past replacement level. He hasn’t put together back-to-back games that rated average or better. Reminder: Harrell had 10 consecutive games with a 100 or better PPA.

Luckily, he’s under contract for only three more seasons after this one.

  • 200+ — 3%
  • 150+ — 13%
  • 100+ — 16%
  • below 100 — 84%
  • below 45 — 65%
  • negative — 29%

Daniel Gafford

A curious trend has emerged with Gafford. He’s been the team’s most productive player per possession, and yet they’ve outscored the opponent during his minutes on the floor just 6 times in the 28 games he’s played. During his minutes, they’re 6-22.

The problem is probably Spencer Dinwiddie. During their 358 minutes on the floor together (almost 60% of Gafford’s minutes this season), the team has a -13.6 net rating, scoring just 99.6 points per 100 possessions (league average is 109.2) and allowing 113.2.

With Gafford on the floor without Dinwiddie, the net rating goes +0.2 points per 100 possessions (offense: 118.0; defense: 117.8). Not great, but at least breaking even.

But here’s where things get curiouser: with Dinwiddie on the floor without Gafford, the team’s net rating is +2.1 (offense: 109.5; defense: 107.4). My first guess was that Gafford missed a couple games early in the season when Dinwiddie was playing well. That doesn’t work because Dinwiddie also missed one of those games, and his PPA in the other was 107.

My next thought is a two-parter. First, it could be that Dinwiddie’s torpor gets covered better by Montrezl Harrell’s aggressive offensive style. And second, minutes with Dinwiddie and Gafford come mostly against starters while Dinwiddie-Harrell minutes come mostly against bench lineups.

In other words, it’s unlikely the 6-22 record during Gafford’s minutes is because something’s wrong with Gafford. Signs point to Dinwiddie.

  • 200+ — 46% (!)
  • 150+ — 50%
  • 100+ — 64%
  • below 100 — 36%
  • below 45 — 21%
  • negative — 11%

UP NEXT: Raul Neto, Aaron Holiday, Corey Kispert, Kyle Kuzma.