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Wizards ride defense to 4-game winning streak

Stats and analysis through the first 14 games

Memphis Grizzlies v Washington Wizards
Wizards guard Jordan Goodwin
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Riding a four-game win streak and with an 8-6 record, the Wizards are feeling strong. It’s a good time for a check-in on the numbers and trends that were showing early to see what was just small sample size weirdness and what bears continued scrutiny.

My last “how’s it going” article was five games into the season. Here’s where the Wizards stand in measures of relative team strength, through 5 games and 14 games:

  • Strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin: 18th/18th
  • Offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions:) 19th/24th
  • Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 10th/10th

I’d kinda expected a bigger difference because of the four-game win streak, but that’s probably just some recency bias. In the nine games since the last look at these measures, the Wizards lost four of their first five and then won four in a row.

Four Factors Offense

  • Shooting: 7th/19th
  • Turnovers: 28th/11th
  • Offensive rebounding: 27th/23rd
  • Drawing fouls: 20th/20th

Four Factors Defense

  • Shooting: 4th/6th
  • Turnovers: 21st/28th
  • Defensive rebounding: 12th/2nd
  • Fouling: 29th/5th

As is apparent in the numbers, the Wizards have corrected their turnover problem but have lost some of their shooting touch from the first five games. This offensive shot profile is worrisome. Their 28th in at-rim attempts and 26th in three-point attempts. They take the fourth most floater range shots and the third most mid-to-long range twos.

While they’re relatively proficient with this shot diet (except for long twos), these are the least efficient shots in the game. They’re the shots opposing defenses want to allow, and they’re from spots on the floor where opposing defenders don’t foul. So, the Wizards are taking inefficient shots that don’t get to them to free throw line.

Getting Bradley Beal back in the lineup may help get more at-rim attempts and perhaps with getting to the free throw line more regularly. On the other hand, his free throws nosedived when the league stopped rewarding offensive players for jumping into defenders, and he’s unlikely to help much with the three-point shooting — his long range accuracy has dipped precipitously, and his three-point rate is at a career low.

With the current roster, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. and the Wizards don’t seem to have many easy solutions. They could try to pick up the pace and get more attempts in transition, but they’re one of the slower-paced teams, and Unseld seems to prefer calling halfcourt plays to fast breaks.

They could seek more offensive rebounds to get additional shots, but they lack strong offensive rebounders, and the coaching staff emphasizes getting back and setting up defensively.

Ultimately, it’s probably going to come down simply to shooting better. And they do have some guys off to poor starts by their own established norms. It’s possible the Wizards could benefit from guys like Will Barton and Monte Morris shooting more like they have in the best (assuming, of course, they’re not merely suffering from not playing this season with Nikola Jokic).

On defense, the numbers continue to reflect their defensive principles: protect the rim and run shooters off the three-point line. Through 14 games, the Wizards allow the fewest at-rim attempts in the league while forcing the most floater range shots. They’re middle of the pack in allowing opponent three-point attempts but give up the fewest corner threes.

When opponents do get to the rim, they’re generally being met with long arms. The Wizards have the third best defensive at-rim FG%, and they’ve fixed the fouling issue from the first five games. They’re allowing the fifth fewest free throw attempts per 100 possessions (behind the San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers).

There are three areas for some concern:

  • They don’t force turnovers.
  • They have the fifth highest defensive three-point percentage.
  • They have the fifth highest defensive corner three-point percentage.

None of these should be major worries, however. Good NBA defenses are typically built on making the other team miss without fouling and then getting the rebound. That’s what their defensive system is trying to do, and the numbers suggest they’re having some success with it.

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 through 14 games

Jordan Goodwin PG 8 18.9 309 178
Kristaps Porzingis C 13 31.0 105 163
Bradley Beal SG 9 35.1 185 155
Corey Kispert G/F 6 24.2 148
Delon Wright PG 4 22.8 147 147
Monte Morris PG 14 27.6 160 120
Kyle Kuzma PF 14 32.9 102 99
Daniel Gafford C 14 14.7 79 84
Anthony Gill F/C 13 13.3 26 71
Will Barton G/F 14 23.9 86 57
Rui Hachimura PF 14 23.5 48 49
Deni Avdija SF 14 22.5 83 48
Jordan Schakel SF 2 3.0 0 189
Taj Gibson PF 6 4.5 -120 90
Vernon Carey Jr. C 2 2.0 0 -98
Isaiah Todd PF 3 3.0 -89 -28
Johnny Davis SG 5 6.0 -78 -57