If there’s a bright side to finishing 12th in the East last season, it might be that the Wizards have lots of areas to improve.
In 2021-22, they finished 21st in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), 25th in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), and 23rd in strength of schedule adjusted scoring differential.
On the defensive end, the team was about average defending opponent shots and rebounding the misses, but they were worst in the league at forcing turnovers and 24th in the free throws part of the four factors that determine who wins and loses in basketball. Interestingly, Washington ranked 10th in not fouling. Unfortunately, they committed the 6th most shooting fouls last season, ranking behind the Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers.
One positive — the Wizards were 11th in contested shots per game, according to NBA tracking data. The other teams ranking high in shooting fouls committed also ranked at the bottom when it came to challenging opponent field goal attempts.
Looping back to the lack of forced turnovers last season, the Wizards were also at the bottom in deflections. In other words, their effort went mostly into defending field goal attempts and getting defensive rebounds.
In general, this is correct prioritization. Effective NBA defense is mostly about making the other team miss. Last season, more than 80% of the variation in overall team defense could be explained by opponent effective field goal percentage. For years, defensive rebounding was the second most important factor, but that may be shifting. Last season, rebounding was fourth among the four factors — fouling and turnovers showed up as slightly more valuable.
On offense, the Wizards had an average efg, ranked 12th in turnovers, were 26th in offensive rebounding, and about average getting to the free throw lines. Tommy Sheppard’s roster construction, and Wes Unseld Jr.’s offensive system could not be plausibly accused of being in step with the modern NBA. They were 29th in three-point attempts, 26th in three-point percentage, and dead last in made threes.
They were fifth in at-rim field goal percentage but just 20th in at-rim attempts. That means a fairly high share of their field goal attempts came from the midrange. And while they converted those shots at a relatively high percentage compared to the league, they lost ground because those shots are inefficient by their nature.
It’s possible to have a strong offense that’s heavy on non-paint twos — just look at the Phoenix Suns. Still, the league’s best offenses in recent years have been teams that take a high number of threes.
That’s all the past, though. The Wizards will have a somewhat different look. Bradley Beal will be back after missing half the season with a wrist injury. This will be Kristaps Porzingis first full season in Washington. Rui Hachimura will likely play a full schedule. And the team traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Monte Morris and Will Barton. In free agency, they signed Delon Wright.
The question for 2022-23 is how the returning players and the new acquisitions can remedy the deficiencies of 2021-22. Here’s a quick look at each:
- Bradley Beal — If he’s really back, and if he can stay healthy, Beal’s a definite boost to the offense. While his defense has been much maligned, he’s capable of adequacy at that end when he’s focused.
- Kristaps Porzingis — While he’s a colossal 7-3, Porzingis has never been a prolific shot blocker, and his rim protection is unimpressive. He’ll probably provide a boost to the offense, though his offensive efficiency hasn’t been unicorn-like.
- Rui Hachimura — In theory, Hachimura could help the offense. Last season, even shooting 44.7% on threes, his overall efficiency was only about average. His defensive awareness has been atrocious. Consider: the 6-8 Hachimura, a guy who’s frequently been compared physically to Kawhi Leonard, has just 24 total blocks in 147 career games. Last season, the 6-0, 36-year-old Chris Paul had 20 blocks in 65 games.
- Monte Morris — In keeping with the first three, Morris should help on the offensive end. He’s a good shooter (career 39.4% from three) and decent playmaker who avoids turnovers. He’s not much of a defender, however.
- Will Barton — Like everyone else, Barton is probably a modest help on offense. He’s a decent long-range shooter who likes to attack the paint with dribble drives. And he’s a willing passer. On defense? He’ll fit right in with the rest of his defensively challenged teammates.
- Delon Wright — Busting the trend, Wright is a plus defender who probably won’t help much on offense.
In totality, the personnel changes from last season are mostly upgrades — at least on the offensive end. They’re likely to continue being defensively challenged this season, unless Unseld and the coaching staff can cobble together a workable scheme and get across the board buy-in from the players.