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Coulibaly shines in Wizards’ preseason win against the Hornets

Let’s review the game.

Charlotte Hornets v Washington Wizards
Bilal Coulibaly hits a driving layup for the Washington Wizards.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The Charlotte Hornets came to DC to join the Washington Wizards in putting on a classic NBA preseason game. The teams combined for 121 missed field goal attempts, 38 turnovers, and even had one of those exhibition fourth quarter comebacks that was actually kind of entertaining — at least for Wizards fans.

Because the outcome is meaningless, I’m going to skip any attempt to recap and share a few thoughts on the individual players.

PPA is my Player Production Average, which credits players for things they do to help the team win and dings them for things that hurt — each in proper proportion. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better.

Game Score translates total production into points on the scoreboard. The scale is the same as points.

Bilal Coulibaly — PPA: 241. Game Score: 30.3. About as good an NBA preseason debut as the Wizards could have hoped. He was excellent defensively — both on ball against his own man, and off ball as a help defender and rover. The four steals and one block don’t begin to tell the story about how the French Deflection disrupted Charlotte’s offense.

In the third quarter, Wes Unseld Jr. gave him some on-ball reps on the offensive end, and it was mostly good. My only quibble with his decision making was the grenade he tossed to Johnny Davis at the end of the third quarter. He should have taken that last-second shot instead of dumping it to Davis with about two seconds on the clock. Easily correctible.

He got double-teamed on a side pick-and-roll, and he handled it with calm perfection — a quick pass to a teammate, who swung the ball to the other side of the floor, where the Wizards immediately had a numbers advantage. That’s encouraging stuff from a 19-year-old.

The final box score line was nice: 28 minutes, 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover, 3 fouls. He shot 5-9 from the floor and 2-3 from three-point range. One worry point: his usage rate for the game was just 13.2%.

Johnny Davis — PPA: 201. Game Score: 23.1. Offense is still a work in progress for Davis, but he rebounded (two offensive boards, four defensive), defended and worked in a little playmaking (three assists). I worry about the form on his shot.

Daniel Gafford — PPA: 19. Game Score: 2.0. Had trouble with Charlotte’s bigs, missed several boxouts that gave the Hornets easy offensive rebounds (Mark Williams had four), committed four fouls in just 24 minutes. He did get three blocks and an impressive lob dunk. He needs to execute fundamentals like keeping opponents away from the offensive glass to have a future as Washington’s center.

Corey Kispert — PPA: -27. Game Score: 0.0. Kispert launched 10 threes in just 19 minutes, which is great. It doesn’t bother me a bit that he hit just two — if he’s hunting threes to this degree, there will be nights when he hits seven, and the opposing coach calls rage timeouts. He even got three each of rebounds and assists — lofty stuff from him. A quibble: his attempts to attack closeouts went poorly.

I’ll do Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma together because they were terrible in similar ways. (Their PPA scores were -32 and -39, by the way.) The duo threw away possessions with atrocious decision-making and shot selection.

Poole had at least three attempts that seemed primarily to be about the fact that it had been a few minutes since he’d last shot the ball. In the third quarter, he launched a 20-foot runner with 16 seconds still on the shot clock.

Kuzma shot poorly (8-16 from the floor and 1-6 from deep) and produced six turnovers in just 24 minutes.

The Wizards have to be hoping this kind of performance was some preseason experimentation or rust-shedding, and not something that will carry into the regular season. Kuzma’s usage rate was an astronomical 38.7%. Poole’s was 30.8%. The only other player with a usage rate above 20% was Kispert (28.4%).

The two combined for an offensive rating (points produced per possession x 100) of 76, which is a) atrocious for an NBA game, and b) bad even for this game. Washington’s ortg for the game was 89. A bit of math shows that the rest of the team produced an offensive rating of 96.

By the way, the most efficient starter: Coulibaly with an ortg of 118.

I understand the desire to have players around to take pressure off youngsters like Coulibaly. But possessions are valuable, and good teams don’t waste them. Letting Kuzma and Poole guzzle possessions with subpar efficiency is doing exactly that. Will Dawkins and Michael Winger say they’re focused on player development. That should apply to how they’re investing possessions this season.

If Kuzma and Poole persist with high usage, bad efficiency, and decision-making that looks like last night, they won’t be easing pressure, they’ll be setting a bad example and taking opportunities from their younger teammates. The team’s leadership needs to have the courage to recognize this and act on it sooner rather than later.