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Check-up: Is the Wizards defense reason for hope?

Stats and analysis through 19 games

Washington Wizards v Miami Heat
Is the Wizards defense reason for hope?
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

At the last check-up, the Wizards were 8-6 and on a four-game win streak. In the five games since, they’re 2-3, including a last-second loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, an overtime win against Kyle Lowry and some Miami Heat G-Leaguers, a victory against the depleted Charlotte Hornets, and consecutive losses to the somewhat depleted Heat.

Not exactly the stuff to build a dream on.

Here’s where the Wizards stand in measures of team strength through the last check-up and their latest loss to Miami:

  • Strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin: 18th/19th
  • Offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions:) 24th/26th
  • Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 10th/7th

Here’s where they stood/stand in the four factors that determine winning and losing:

Four Factors Offense

  • Shooting: 19th/20th
  • Turnovers: 11th/13th
  • Offensive rebounding: 23rd/22nd
  • Drawing fouls: 20th/26th

Four Factors Defense

  • Shooting: 6th/2nd
  • Turnovers: 28th/30th
  • Defensive rebounding: 2nd/6th
  • Fouling: 5th/6th

The Wizards’ solid defense reflects an emphasis on the areas that matter most. They’re lowering opponent shooting efficiency without fouling and doing a good job of collecting those missed shots. Even better, they’re limiting the number of higher value shots. Currently, they’re fourth best at preventing at-rim field goal attempts and number one in forcing floater range attempts.

The numbers indicate they’re preventing those at-rim attempts without giving up an inordinate number of threes. They’re 12th in opponent three point attempt rate (a little better than average) and sixth best in preventing corner threes. Opponents are shooting slightly better than average from three-point range against Washington, though the number has been feathering down throughout the season.

How are they doing it? Contesting shots (more on this in a moment), closing out hard enough to chase shooters off the three-point line, and not fouling.

NBA tracking provides an array of data that illustrates Washington’s defensive performance. Why are they at the bottom in forcing turnovers? They’re 26th in deflections and 26th in percentage of defensive loose balls recovered.

Why are they near the top in defensive rebounding? NBA tracking says they’re sixth in defensive box out percentage and fifth in contested defensive rebound percentage. They’re third in the number of contested defensive rebounds per game.

Let’s get back to opponent shooting. Per NBA stats, the Wizards contest the sixth most shots per game. This is something of an understatement of how frequently they challenge opponent field goal attempts because they’re 20th in pace factor. Number one in this stat is the Golden State Warriors, which plays at the league’s fastest pace.

The league also tracks shots by closest defender. Here’s where they rank by defender distance and effectiveness:

  • Very Tight (0-2 feet) — 6th most FGA/8th lowest opponent efg
  • Tight (2-4 feet) — 2nd/3rd
  • Open (4-6 feet) — 15th/12th
  • Wide Open (6+ feet) — 3rd (fewest)/23rd

In other words, the Wizards are near the top in making opponents shoot with a defender within four feet, and among the best in preventing wide open shots. So far, the Wizards are even suffering from a little bad luck — opponents are shooting 40.6% on wide open threes. League average is about 38.5%.

If there’s reason to hope the Wizards might actually be good this season, it’s that they’ve been effectively executing a solid defensive scheme. Of course, they’ve had extraordinary luck with opponents missing key players, which could play into their success thus far. But at least to this point in the season, their approach is solid and the results are positive.

If there’s reason to doubt the team might actually be good this season, it’s their offense. They continue to have a poor shot profile — heavy on floater range and mid-to-long two-point jumpers. They’re second to last in drives per game. They’re 21st in transition possessions and 22nd in transition efficiency.

The only play types where they’re better than average is in feeding the roll man in pack and roll (which they rarely do) and in putbacks (and they eschew offensive rebounds to get back on defense).

Player Production Average

Below is a 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 19 games

Bradley Beal SG 13 36.9 155 167
Kristaps Porzingis C 18 32.3 163 133
Jordan Goodwin PG 12 20.4 178 130
Corey Kispert G/F 11 27.4 148 130
Monte Morris PG 16 27.4 120 122
Kyle Kuzma PF 19 34.6 99 107
Daniel Gafford C 19 12.7 84 79
Anthony Gill F/C 15 13.2 71 72
Rui Hachimura PF 16 23.5 49 67
Deni Avdija SF 19 24.3 48 60
Will Barton G/F 19 22.3 57 53
Jordan Schakel SF 2 3.0 189 189
Delon Wright PG 4 22.8 147 141
Taj Gibson PF 9 6.0 90 61
Isaiah Todd PF 3 3.0 -28 -28
Johnny Davis SG 7 5.9 -57 -49
Vernon Carey Jr. C 2 2.0 -98 -98