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The Wizards rotation doesn’t add up

Washington Wizards v Atlanta Hawks
Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Washington Wizards 2021-22 season is over. It began with the team touting its depth, veteran talent and commitment to winning — team president Tommy Sheppard said it wasn’t enough to contend for the play-in anymore.

Eighty-two games later, and...well...Sheppard was correct: they didn’t contend for the play-in.

Click here to listen to the latest episode of the #SoWizards podcast, in which Kevin Broom and Ben Becker do a Wizards season post-mortem.

The Wizards had a hot 10-3 start, but couldn’t figure out a winning formula — even when Bradley Beal was in the lineup. They were just 25-44 over the remainder of the season, a 36.2% winning percentage. They finished the season 21st in offense, 25th in defense, and 23rd in strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin.

For all the early-season hullabaloo about the team’s depth, they turned out to be fragile — largely unable to respond to the kinds of injuries and illnesses that befall every NBA team throughout a long season. The “depth” was mediocre (and worse) players who didn’t excel with opportunity. The breakthrough performances they needed from youngsters never materialized.

The one kinda-sorta exception was Kyle Kuzma, who emerged as a mentor to Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, and created excitement with some good games. He had three impressive three-game streaks with a PPA north of 200. But, sustained production was elusive. He had a single four-game streak with average or better production. In the midst of his “hot streak,” he had three straight games at or below replacement level. And each of his final six games rated below average.

He also had some 20-game stretches where his PPA pushed as high as 151, which would be excellent if he could sustain that level over a full season.

The Wizards, given their optimistic media appearances — and supported by The Official Team Talking Points Mouthpieces — double-down next season unless Beal asks for a trade. Leaving aside whether this is a smart strategic decision for the organization, what are there chances of being good? The popular narrative (one being pushed by team) is that they’re a point guard away. Chris Miller on NBC Sports Washington summarized that sentiment in a segment where he wondered if the Wizards could acquire one of four PGs theoretically available this summer.

It would be nice for them if the “PG away” story was correct, but Wizards are further away than that. To illustrate, I used my PPA metric (full season results for the Wizards are below. Full league results are here.) and slotted each of the team’s rotation players against the league average for that slot.

Think of it like this: with a 208 PPA, Chris Paul was the Phoenix Suns most productive player. Second: Devin Booker with a 169. Third: DeAndre Ayton. Then Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, JaVale McGee, Jae Crowder, Cam Payne, Torrey Craig, and Landry Shamet — a 10-man rotation.

Here’s what the average PPA looks like for each production spot across the NBA:

  1. 175
  2. 150
  3. 130
  4. 120
  5. 110
  6. 100
  7. 95
  8. 85
  9. 80
  10. 70
  11. 65
  12. 55

Phoenix is literally better than average at each stop in the rotation. Paul’s 208 is significantly above average for a 1st man. Booker would be a slightly below-average 1, but he’s a terrific 2. Ayton — their 3rd man — is more productive than the average 2nd man. Bridges, at 139, outproduces the average 3rd man, and he’s their 4th. And so on.

This is where the Wizards players sit in the NBA’s production hierarchy:

  • Kristaps Porzingis — 172 PPA (with both Dallas and Washington) — a 1- or 2+.
  • Daniel Gafford — 139 — 3
  • Bradley Beal — 115 — 4/5
  • Tomas Satoransky (Wizards only) — 112 — 5 (for the full season, Satoransky’s PPA was 65, which is an 11th man)
  • Kyle Kuzma — 108 — 5/6
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — 101 — 6
  • Rui Hachimura — 97 — 7
  • Corey Kispert — 87 — 8
  • Ish Smith (Wizards only) — 86 — 8 (full season: 62 — 11/12)
  • Anthony Gill — 78 — 9
  • Deni Avdija — 69 — 10

Raul Neto finished with a 73 PPA — the level of a 10th man. Thomas Bryant scored an 84 — 8th man.

Gafford is productive when he gets minutes. This season, the Wizards viewed him as an 18-20 minutes per game player — more like an 8/9, though his production could change that for the future. It’s conceivable that he could find himself back in the starting lineup with Porzingis playing PF, as he did in Dallas. More likely, Gafford will come off the bench and play some minutes with Porzingis.

Looking forward, it’s at least semi-reasonable to think Beal will get back to at least a 140-150 level PPA. His career peak at this point is a 160 PPA in 2019-20. If he does, the Wizards would have two very good starters with him and Porzingis (assuming, of course that Porzingis can stay healthy).

They don’t really have third, fourth and fifth starters, though. Kuzma and KCP can start, but both would be in their best role coming off the bench. Figuring normal progress from their young players, the Wizards are loaded with tail-end of the rotation guys and short on starter-quality players.

The rotation would look something like:

  1. Porzingis
  2. Beal
  3. ???
  4. ???
  5. ???
  6. Kuzma, KCP
  7. Gafford, Hachimura
  8. Kispert
  9. Satoransky, Avdija

Kuzma and KCP are both at an age where significant improvement is unlikely. Gafford, Kispert, Hachimura and Avdija are all candidates to make a leap. Keep in mind: all but Kispert were candidates for the same in 2021-22, and they made incremental improvements. Hachimura’s PPA went up 22 points from last season, which is good...but his score this season was just 2 points higher than his rookie year.

Avdija’s PPA went up 21 points, which is just about the average for his age and experience. Want to make your stomach lurch? Click this link to see a comparison of the second seasons for Avdija and a former Wizards player. Most Wizards fans would say Avdija is better than this guy. Second season to second season, the numbers are eerily similar...except the other guy was better overall.

NBA Player Production Average

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating metric I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, play-making, defending) and debits them for things that hurt the cause (missed shots, turnovers, fouls, ineffective defense). PPA is similar to other linear weight rating metrics such as John Hollinger’s PER, David Berri’s Wins Produced, Kevin Pelton’s VORP, and the granddaddy of them all, Dave Heeren’s TENDEX.

PPA weighs a player’s performance per possession against that of his competitors season by season. While PPA falls into the category of a linear weight metric, the values for statistical categories float a bit season-to-season based on league performance.

PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. Beginning with the 2019-20 season, I added a position/role adjustment designed to reflect how roles and on-court positioning affect individual abilities to produce certain stats.

Inputs include:

  • points
  • rebounds (offensive and defensive weighed differently)
  • assists
  • steals
  • blocks
  • shot attempts
  • turnovers
  • personal fouls
  • starts
  • minutes
  • on-court team defensive rating

What PPA scores mean (with some exceptions):

  • 225+ — league Most Valuable Player candidate
  • 175+ — typically All-NBA level
  • 150+ — usually the minimum score for All-Star level
  • 100 — average
  • 75 — lower-end of the rotation (see below)
  • 45 and below — replacement level

Washington Wizards 2021-22 PPA Scores

Kristaps Porzingis C 17 28.2 171 172 172
Daniel Gafford C 72 20.1 142 139 139
Bradley Beal SG 40 36.0 115 115 115
Tomas Satoransky PG 22 18.9 105 112 65
Kyle Kuzma PF 66 33.4 107 108 108
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope SF 77 30.2 103 101 101
Rui Hachimura PF 42 22.5 100 97 97
Corey Kispert SG 77 23.4 83 87 87
Ish Smith PG 28 22.0 79 86 64
Anthony Gill PF 44 10.5 89 78 78
Deni Avdija SF 82 24.2 72 69 69
Non-Rotation/No Longer with Team
Brad Wanamaker PG 1 27.0 185 182 16
Montrezl Harrell C 46 24.3 130 129 121
Greg Monroe C 2 9.0 130 128 92
Spencer Dinwiddie PG 44 30.2 101 99 114
Thomas Bryant C 27 16.3 92 84 84
Raul Neto PG 70 19.6 74 73 73
Aaron Holiday PG 41 16.2 67 66 77
Craig Sword SG 3 6.3 60 60 60
Vernon Carey Jr. C 3 9.0 0 43 62
Davis Bertans PF 34 14.7 33 32 44
Alize Johnson PF 3 6.0 24 24 55
Tremont Waters PG 1 8.0 15 15 19
Joel Ayayi SG 7 2.9 10 10 10
Isaiah Todd PF 12 6.2 59 5 5
Jaime Echenique C 1 3.0 0 0 0
Cassius Winston PG 7 5.6 32 -15 -15
Jordan Schakel SF 4 7.5 -104 -30 -30
Jordan Goodwin SG 2 3.0 -211 -211 -211

In the table above, I’ve included each player’s full-season PPA. For players who appeared with other teams, I have both their PPA in Washington and for the full season.

Listen to the latest episode of the #SoWizards podcast (below), or by clicking here, or wherever you get your podcasts.