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The first five games, plus: Are Wizards fans really just masochists?

Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards
Wizards guard Bradley Beal
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Five games into an NBA season is too soon to reach any conclusions. Individual and team performance can have wide swings during any given five-game stretch of an 82-game season. It’s not too early to note things that could become trends that affect how the team performs vs. expectations.

The Wizards are 3-2, which may sound better than it actually is. When I looked at the schedule shortly after it was released, I thought they could start 4-1...and finish 36-46.

Here’s where the Wizards stand in measures of relative team strength:

  • Strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin: 18th
  • Offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions): 19th
  • Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 10th

Four Factors Offense

  • Shooting: 7th
  • Turnovers: 28th
  • Offensive rebounding: 27th
  • Drawing fouls: 20th

Four Factors Defense

  • Shooting: 4th
  • Turnovers: 21st
  • Defensive rebounding: 12th
  • Fouling: 29th

The early shooting numbers at both ends of the court are potentially encouraging. Good defense in the NBA is mostly about making the other team miss and then grabbing the rebound. And while the defensive rebounding failed against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s been good enough through the first five games.

Another potentially good sign: their defensive shot profile is excellent. The Wizards are allowing the second fewest at-rim field goal attempts so far this season (trailing the Golden State Warriors) and the 11th fewest three-point attempts. They allow the most floater range shots, which is a good thing — they’re low percentage attempts — and the fewest corner threes. Even better, Washington has the league’s second best at-rim defensive field goal percentage thus far.

Overall, the numbers reflect their defensive principles: protect the rim and run shooters off the three-point line. When those run-off shooters drive, they’re being met at the rim with size. That’s a solid scheme that could yield an above average team defense.

On the other hand, it’s potentially worrying the team is fouling so much given that the opposing teams have been relatively weak. And, the team’s improvement in forcing turnovers from 30th to 21st (so far) was driven largely by Delon Wright, who could miss the next two months with a hamstring injury.

Offensively, their shooting has been good from all areas of the floor but they’ve been below average in the other important areas.

The anemic offensive rebounding is by design. Wes Unseld Jr. and the coaching staff are among the coaches who want their players to get back on defense rather than chase missed shots.

The turnovers are a fixable problem. So far, the main culprits have been Bradley Beal (5.1 tov per 100 possessions), Daniel “Illegal Screen” Gafford (4.1), Will Barton (3.6), Rui Hachimura (3.3), and Kristaps Porzingis (3.2).

A potential concern: the team’s shot profile is less than ideal despite facing relatively weak competition. They get the fourth fewest at-rim attempts, and they’re 25th in three-point attempt rate, which leaves them with a steady diet of floater-range and midrange jumpers. The paucity of at-rim attempts may help explain why they’ve been below average at getting to the free throw line.

We kicked around several of these topics on the latest episode of the #SoWizards podcast. We were joined by Ken Budd, who writes for an array of outlets, including Washington Post Magazine and The Atlantic. Writing for The Atlantic, Budd delved into why such thing as Wizards fans exist — complete with interviews of psychologists explaining why otherwise intelligent, accomplished people can’t stop rooting for perennial losers. We shared memories of Wizards/Bullets fandom and pondered whether we’re all just a bunch of masochists.

We also discussed the 3-2 Wizards, fresh off an embarrassing nationally broadcasted loss to the Indiana Pacers, and whether we’ve seen anything over the first five games to change our expectations for the team this year. And, we looked at what’s coming in the next five games when the schedule gets tougher.

Player Production Average

Below is a first look at individual performances using my Player Production Average metric. PPA 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). PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor. 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.

Wizards PPA — First 5 Games

Bradley Beal SG 5 35.0 185
Monte Morris PG 5 27.0 160
Delon Wright PG 4 22.8 147
Kristaps Porzi??is C 5 31.0 105
Kyle Kuzma PF 5 34.2 102
Will Barton SG 5 27.2 86
Deni Avdija SF 5 18.4 83
Daniel Gafford C 5 16.6 79
Rui Hachimura PF 5 24.0 48
Anthony Gill SF 5 9.4 26
Jordan Goodwin PG 1 2.0 309
Vernon Carey Jr. C 1 1.0 0
Jordan Schakel SF 1 1.0 0
Johnny Davis SG 2 5.0 -78
Isaiah Todd PF 2 2.0 -89
Taj Gibson PF 1 3.0 -120