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A quick look back at the Wizards 2020-21 regular season

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Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards - Play-In Tournament Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

With an extra day off before the Wizards tip off their first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, let’s take a quick look back at some of the numbers from the regular season. We’ll surely go deeper on each player when Washington’s post-season romp concludes, but here are a few quick observations.

Daniel Gafford

Gafford improved when he got to Washington, but the improvement was more subtle than fans may realize. Here’s a comparison (per 100 team possessions) for Gafford with the Bulls vs. Gafford with the Wizards this season:

Gafford vs. Gafford

MPG 12.4 17.7
Ortg 128 134
Usg 15.6% 19.4%
efg .690 .681
ft% .659 .672
fga 11.0 15.7
fta 5.2 7.6
orb 5.6 5.7
drb 7.5 8.9
reb 13.0 14.5
ast 2.2 1.4
stl 1.4 1.7
blk 4.3 4.7
tov 2.8 2.2
pf 6.8 5.0
pts 18.6 26.5

As shown in the table above, Gafford’s shooting efficiency from the floor was about the same, his offensive rebounding was nearly identical, and his steals, blocks and defensive rebounds were similar with small upticks in Washington.

What are the differences? In Washington, Gafford got more offensive opportunity, likely thanks to playing with Russell Westbrook at PG instead of Coby White and Tomas Satoransky. He committed fewer turnovers — with the Wizards he was basically asked to catch-and-finish — and he fouled less and got fouled more.

He also rated a bit better defensively in Washington due to fouling less and those small improvements in blocks, steals, fouls and defensive boards.

Gafford, by the way, was the only Wizards center this season to rate better than average in the defense part of PPA, and he had the highest PPA of any Wizards’ center this season (including Thomas Bryant).

Raul Neto — Career Year

Raul Neto, who entered the year with a career mid-60s PPA, had easily the best season of his career. He started 22 games, shots 39.0% from three-point range, and contributed pesky defense, flopping and steals. He turned out to be a much better acquisition than I’d anticipated.

The Unrelentingly Weird Robin Lopez

Tommy Sheppard’s theory in using most of the Mid-Level Exception to sign Robin Lopez last offseason was basically wrong. Sheppard and the Wizards’ front office thought Lopez would help with defensive rebounding (he was among the league leaders the previous season in defensive box outs) and rim protection.

Lopez’s biggest contributions? Hook shots and offensive rebounds. Captain Hook posted an offensive rating 12 points per 100 individual possessions better than league average, and he was the ONLY player in the NBA with more than 29 minutes total playing time to grab more offensive than defensive boards.

The Triple-Double Crew

Westbrook averaged a per game triple-double for the fourth time in his career this season. Eight players averaged a triple-double per 100 possessions. Here’s the group (sorted by PPA for the season):

That would make a NICE rotation.

Box Creation

Based on his extensive hand-tracking of NBA games, Ben Taylor (author of Thinking Basketball, also check out his podcast, YouTube channel, or give him a follow on Twitter) invented Box Creation, which does a better job than assists in measuring playmaking. What it tells us about Westbrook this season is that he’s among the league’s elite playmakers. Here’s the top 10 per 100 team possessions (scale is basically the same as assists):

  1. Luke Doncic, DAL 16.4
  2. Trae Young, ATL 16.1
  3. James Harden, HOU/BRK 16.0
  4. Nikola Jokic, DEN 15.2
  5. LeBraon James, LAL 14.3
  6. Damian Lillard, POR 13.9
  7. Russell Westbrook, WAS 13.2
  8. Stephen Curry, GSW 12.9
  9. Chris Paul, PHO 12.8
  10. Kevin Durant, BRK 12.6

Westbrook’s Rebounding

Westbrook isn’t just the NBA’s top rebounding guard. He’s the top rebounding guard by a mile. Here’s the top 5 guards in rebounds per 100 team possessions (minimum 500 minutes):

  1. Russell Westbrook, WAS 14.5
  2. Bruce Brown, BRK 12.0
  3. Luka Doncic, DAL 11.5
  4. Dejounte Murray, SAS 10.8
  5. Ben Simmons, PHI 10.7

By the way, Westbrook remains atop the rankings even if I add SFs to the mix.

A Weakness to Address

The Wizards have to address small forward in the offseason. I ran PPA scores for the Wizards by position (as assigned by Basketball-Reference) and here’s the breakdown (in PPA, 100 is average, higher is better, and replacement level is 45):

  • SG: 113
  • PG: 108
  • C: 98
  • PF: 75
  • SF: 33

The SF group was Deni Avdija, Chandler Hutchison, Troy Brown Jr., and Isaac Bonga. B-R classifies Garrison Mathews as a SG. Making him a SF boosts the position’s PPA to 43. Brown’s PPA in Chicago: 75.

“Addressing” the position should include a serious offseason development plan for Avdija. It should also include bringing in some help that’s not currently on the roster.

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 guys for 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 200 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 this season in terms of doing things that help teams win NBA games.

Wizards 2020-21 PPA

Bradley Beal 59 35.8 160 156
Daniel Gafford 20 17.7 142 133
Russell Westbrook 62 36.3 119 129
Thomas Bryant 10 27.1 126 124
Alex Len 54 16.0 101 104
Raul Neto 63 21.8 87 93
Robin Lopez 68 19.2 86 86
Anthony Gill 24 7.9 89 82
Rui Hachimura 54 31.4 73 76
Dāvis Bertāns 54 25.4 81 74
Garrison Mathews 61 16.3 67 66
Ish Smith 41 20.5 66 66
Cassius Winston 21 4.6 71 50
Deni Avdija 54 23.3 49 48
Jordan Bell 5 13.4 40 40
Chandler Hutchison 15 15.7 8 38
Isaac Bonga 40 10.8 10 4
Moritz Wagner 25 15.0 81 81
Troy Brown Jr. 21 13.7 18 18
Jerome Robinson 17 17.9 -7 -7
Anžejs Pasečņiks 1 6.0 -347 -347

Former Wizards (in order of PPA):

  • Bobby Portis, MIL 115
  • Trevor Ariza, MIA 111
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, UTA 109
  • Otto Porter, CHI/ORL 102
  • Kelly Oubre, GSW 102
  • Tomas Satoransky, CHI 101
  • John Wall, HOU 90
  • Dwight Howard, PHI 85
  • Jeff Green, BRK 79
  • Troy Brown Jr., CHI 75
  • Jabari Parker, BOS/SAC 73
  • Austin Rivers, DEN/NYK 63
  • Chris Chiozza, BRK 62
  • JaVale McGee, DEN/CLE 62
  • Trey Burke, DAL 62
  • Markieff Morris, LAL 57
  • Garrett Temple, CHI 51
  • Mike Scott, PHI 39
  • Moritz Wagner, ORL/BOS 37
  • Jared Dudley, LAL 25