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How much are the Wizards youngsters improving?

And a PPA update.

Dallas Mavericks v Washington Wizards
Wizards forward Rui Hachimura.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Winners of two in a row and four of their last five, Wizards fans are feeling relatively good about the team. The last time Washington won four of five was in January.

There’s lots of talk about the improvement of the team’s young players, which usually means Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert.

How much these young players are “improved” is likely dependent on how folks want to define the term. Let’s take a look at some relevant data...

Rui Hachimura is clearly improved as a scorer. He’s shooting 47.1% from three-point range, and while the sample this season isn’t huge (just 102 attempts so far), he would need to miss 54 consecutive threes to get back to his previous career average of 30.8%. If he shoots 0-18 from deep over the last five games, he’ll still finish the season as a 40% three-point shooter.

Hachimura is converting 83.6% on at-rim attempts (a career-best mark), though he’s getting to the rim less often. As a rookie, 34.3% of his FGA were at-rim. Last season, it was 22.1%. This season: 19.3%.

Hachimura’s overall offensive efficiency hasn’t gotten quite the boost from improved three-point shooting, in part because of the low at-rim attempt rate, and in part because he’s not shooting his well on two-point jumpers. He’s been about 1.3 points per 100 possessions more efficient than league average. That’s pretty good. His usage has also climbed to about 21%.

The question about whether he’s improved calls for additional questions. At what? Since when? His three-point shooting is better. His scoring game is better. The non-scoring stuff is basically unchanged — rebounding, assists, turnovers, defensive effectiveness — all are about the same as his previously established levels.

As you’ll see in the table below, his season average PPA (my overall production metric — in PPA, 100 is average and higher is better) shot up 10 points over the last five games to 100 — exactly average.

His performance has rated above average in each of the last three games. He posted a 239 PPA in blowing out the Dallas Mavericks, which would put him in the MVP conversation if he played like that over the course of a full season.

A sign of improvement? Well, he had four straight average or better games in mid-March. He followed that run with below average performances in six of the next seven. Before the three straight above average games, his previous three were right around replacement level. He’s had multiple 5- and 10-game stretches this season that have rated as better than his recent play.

His 100 PPA would be the best mark of his career. He had a 95 in his rookie year and a 75 last season. I think it’s safe to say he’s improved as a scorer. At best, the evidence for overall improvement is inconclusive.

It’s safe to say that Deni Avdija has improved overall from his rookie season, at least on the defensive end. He’s trimmed his fouling a bit and has found his footing as at worst a top 20% defender in the league. He’s also slightly upped his rebounding, playmaking, free throw shooting and offensive aggressiveness.

His in-game shooting is about the same. Don’t get excited about him going from 31.5% from three to 32.2% this season. The difference is two made shots the entire season.

This season, his relative offensive efficiency has improved, though he still has a ways to go. He’s been 4.3 points per 100 possessions less efficient than league average; last season, he was 9.5 points per 100 possessions below average.

The uptick in several categories, as well as the progress in offensive efficiency shows up in the overall numbers. This season, his PPA is 72, up from a near-replacement level 48 as a rookie.

Like Hachimura, the evidence for Avdija’s recent play being an improvement is inconclusive. On one hand, 8 of his last 11 games have rated average or better. But, it immediately followed a seven-game stretch where he provided net negative production in four, and was better than average once.

His PPA over those 11 games was 92. That’s better than his season average, but he’s had several 5-, 10- and 20-game stretches this season that rate as good or better than his recent performance. Over the course of that 11-game stretch, his full season PPA inched up from 69 to 72. Plot his production on a graph (which I’ve done), and it looks a lot like a sound wave.

Red = rolling full season PPA after each game. Blue = 10-game rolling average. Grey = 5-game rolling average. Yellow = 20-game rolling average.

With Corey Kispert, the question is strictly about improvement this season. In a sense, it’s even easier than that because he offers shooting and effort on defense...and not much else.

His overall production has picked up since early in the season because he’s started making threes. On January 1, he shot 0-2 from three-point range in a loss to the Chicago Bulls, which dropped his three-point percentage to 28.2% (on 78 attempts) and his PPA to 62.

Since then, he’s shot 78-213 for a respectable 36.6%, and he’s boosted his PPA to 83. That’s been about his level, even after entering the starting lineup on February 10th. Since becoming the starting SG, he’s shooting 36.9% from three and his PPA is 85.

Kispert went on something of a binge in March. Over a 10-game span, his PPA cracked 100 seven times, including four in a row. In the five games since that four-game streak: four have been replacement level and two were net negative.

Player Production Average

Player Production Average (PPA) metric credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, playmaking, defending) and dings them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, bad defense, fouls), each in proper proportion to how much it contributes to winning or losing.

PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor that rewards playing more difficult minutes. 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.

The PPA score is not saying one player is “better” than another in terms of skill, ability, athleticism, or replaceability (if players hypothetically switched teams or were placed on a hypothetical average team). Rather, PPA shows production so far this season in terms of doing things that help teams win NBA games.

Wizards PPA through 77 games

Kristaps Porzingis 14 28.1 185 171
Daniel Gafford 67 19.9 144 142
Bradley Beal 40 36.0 116 115
Kyle Kuzma 66 33.4 107 107
Tomas Satoransky 17 18.2 97 105
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 74 30.4 97 103
Rui Hachimura 37 21.3 90 100
Anthony Gill 40 9.8 74 89
Corey Kispert 72 23.0 82 83
Ish Smith 23 21.8 80 79
Deni Avdija 77 23.8 70 72
Non-Rotation/No Longer with Team
Brad Wanamaker 1 27.0 186 185
Montrezl Harrell 46 24.3 130 130
Greg Monroe 2 9.0 129 130
Spencer Dinwiddie 44 30.2 101 101
Thomas Bryant 24 16.7 94 92
Raul Neto 66 20.0 74 74
Aaron Holiday 41 16.2 67 67
Craig Sword 3 6.3 60 60
Isaiah Todd 10 4.1 59 59
Davis Bertans 34 14.7 32 33
Cassius Winston 5 5.4 32 32
Alize Johnson 3 6.0 24 24
Tremont Waters 1 8.0 15 15
Joel Ayayi 7 2.9 10 10
Jaime Echenique 1 3.0 0 0
Vernon Carey Jr. 1 1.0 0 0
Jordan Schakel 2 7.0 -104 -104
Jordan Goodwin 2 3.0 -212 -211