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Mid-point Checkup: Wizards are who we thought they were

Orlando Magic v Washington Wizards
Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

One game past the halfway point in the season, the Washington Wizards are 22-20 — two games over .500 — with the season kinda dividing into three segments.

First, the 10-3 start that lasted just long enough for fans to wonder if it was sustainable.

Next, a 5-12 stretch that took them from the top of the standings to below 50% odds of making the play-in tournament.

They followed that by going 7-5 as Covid rampaged through the league, including the Wizards themselves. Currently, Bradley Beal is back in for a second time this season, and the team announced today that head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has entered the regime.

While the Wizards are a couple games over .500, their overall performance continues to indicate weakness. Here’s where they stand:

  • Offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions): 16th
  • Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 23rd
  • Strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin: 23rd

The Four Factors

OFFENSE

  • 15th in effective field goal percentage
  • 9th in turnover percentage
  • 26th in offensive rebounding percentage
  • 7th in free throws made / field goal attempts

DEFENSE

  • 9th in defg
  • 29th in dtov%
  • 15th in dreb%
  • 26th in dftm/dfga

More simply: on offense they’re an average shooting team that does a decent job avoiding turnovers, gets to the FT line but does little on the offensive glass. On defense, they’re slipping in opponent shooting percentage (they were 7th after 35 games) but foul too much and don’t force turnovers.

My prediction machine forecasts the Wizards will finish the season with 38 or 39 wins, and that they have about a 1-in-5 chance of reaching the playoffs. That assumes they’ll continue to play in the second half as they already have, and that their competition will more or less do the same.

Injuries, trades, and marked changes in form could change things. For example, as Osman Baig, Matt Modderno and I discussed on the #SoWizards podcast, Kyle Kuzma has been on something of a tear the past 8-10 games. If he’s genuinely making a leap from about average to All-Star level production, the Wizards could improve significantly in the second half of the season.

While not completely unprecedented, such a leap is relatively rare. After five-plus seasons of mediocre play, and at age 26, players usually are what they’ve been. In Kuzma’s case, he’s had stretches of 6 or 7 games with high level play, and then he’s slipped back to previous levels.

Over the past 10 games, Kuzma’s PPA is 165. For comparison, Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins’ PPA for the season is 166. Last season, players in that production range included Collins, Tobias Harris, Domantas Sabonis, and Jayson Tatum. Kuzma’s career-best season was last year, and his PPA was 98. (In PPA, average is 100 and higher is better.)

It’s also reasonable think Bradley Beal could play better in the second half of the season than he has in the first.

The Wizards need Kuzma’s recent play to be more than an ephemeral hot streak because after the game with Portland, the schedule will be challenging. Over the next 11 games, I have the Wizards favored in just one, and in that one — against the Los Angeles Clippers — they’re coinflip favorites. The next time Washington has better than coinflip odds is February 12 against the Sacramento Kings.

That doesn’t mean they’re likely to lose 10 of the next 12, though that is possible. They’re basically coinflip underdogs in five of the next 12, and it’s realistic to think they could win 2-3 of those. Making it through the next 12 at .500 (meaning a 5-7 record) would be an achievement. Here’s how the odds currently look, according to my prediction machine (and their record after each, IF the prediction is correct):

Over the next 12, their opponents collectively are about the level of a 47-win team — more than 9 games better than the Wizards have been.

Player Production Average

Player Production Average (PPA) metric 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), 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 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.

Washington Wizards PPA through 42 Games

PLAYER GMS MPG PREV PPA
PLAYER GMS MPG PREV PPA
Daniel Gafford 39 22.7 149 158
Montrezl Harrell 35 25.2 139 141
Bradley Beal 34 36.0 118 122
Spencer Dinwiddie 33 30.3 105 116
Kyle Kuzma 40 33.4 94 107
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 39 29.7 104 97
Deni Avdija 42 22.9 81 71
Corey Kispert 37 17.6 56 66
Aaron Holiday 33 16.7 63 64
Raul Neto 36 20.4 49 46
Dāvis Bertāns 29 15.7 37 42
Non-Rotation
Brad Wanamaker 1 27.0 206 206
Greg Monroe 2 9.0 135
Thomas Bryant 1 12.0 112
Anthony Gill 16 6.8 127 106
Isaiah Todd 9 3.9 78 89
Craig Sword 3 6.3 108 64
Alize Johnson 3 6.0 45 24
Tremont Waters 1 8.0 16
Joel Ayayi 7 2.9 10 10
Jaime Echenique 1 3.0 0 0
Cassius Winston 2 3.5 -42 -42
Jordan Schakel 2 7.0 -110 -110
Jordan Goodwin 2 3.0 -232 -232