Back when my daughter was going through driver's education, us parents got pulled into an assembly for a lecture from the driver's ed instructor. He explained that parents and teens had different definitions of what it means to be a skilled driver.
To parents, “skilled” means being cautious and prudent. It’s about slowing down when you don’t understand a situation or there’s a potential hazard. It’s about staying out of trouble and avoiding accidents.
To teens, “skilled” means being able to maneuver the vehicle in tight spaces at high speeds. That truck changing lanes and rapidly narrowing the gap you’re trying to use to pass? Gun it and squeak through!
I feel like this is the perfect description of watching Jordan Poole play basketball. To a curmudgeon like me, “skill” is exhibited by making shots and creating for teammates while avoiding turnovers.
To Poole, “skill” is exhibited by flashy ball handling, lightning spins, taking tough shots, and threading the needle to teammates for possible baskets.
To me, a skilled basketball player is one who’s able to leverage his skills and physical advantages to shift the odds in his favor. To Poole, skill is about accomplishing the improbable — converting on that pass through traffic, hitting a difficult shot over a seven footer or from 32 feet, or dribbling through an array of defenders with flash and style.
Unfortunately for Poole and the Wizards, his brand of skill isn’t compatible with winning games, at least with him in a leading role. In a more limited role, in an ecosystem of stars who make the “right” play repeatedly, he had some value. With the defense prepped specifically for him? Not so much.
None of the forgoing is reason to write him off. He has genuine basketball skills, and he’s still fairly early in his career. He’s just 24 years old, and he’s at 7,290 career minutes so far.
That’s not to excuse his performance so far this season either. By now — especially with the experience of playing (and winning a championship) with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors — he should have an idea of what it takes to play winning basketball. But he clearly has some learning to do in that area.
To the extent that he’s humbled by his first 10 games with the Wizards and becomes willing to work on making better decisions and applying those skills to being meaningfully productive, he still has an opportunity to make a leap. He seems to want the Wizards to be his team. That’s still possible, if he’s willing to change his approach to the game.
As befits their 2-8 record, the Wizards remain at or near the bottom in just about every measure of team strength. Here’s where they rank (where they ranked at the last check-up is parentheses):
- strength of schedule adjusted efficiency differential: 24th (30th)
- offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions): 23rd (20th)
- defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 26th (29th)
They remain first in pace, which says nothing about who wins or loses in the NBA.
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. set a team goal of launching 40+ threes per game. So far this season, they rank 12th in three-point attempts per game at 35.6. Adjusting for pace (and we should always adjust for pace), they rank 16th at 34.0 three point attempts per 100 possessions.
The defensive struggles are profound. If your eyes told you Wizards games resemble a layup line, they’re correct. Opponents are shooting 75.1% on at-rim attempts so far this season — only the Dallas Mavericks have allowed a worse percentage. They’ve also allowed the seventh most at-rim attempts.
What’s a bit scary about the team’s overall defensive performance is they’ve been a bit lucky when it comes to opponent three-point shooting. The Wizards have the league’s 11th in defensive three-point percentage. This is not because they’re doing something amazing on defense — they’re about average in contesting three-point attempts. It’s just a little luck.
Here’s a look where they rank in The Four Factors.
Four Factors Offense
- efg% — 10th (13th)
- tov% — 16th (11th)
- oreb% — 28th (29th)
- ft/fga — 24th (24th)
Four Factors Defense
- efg% — 26th (30th)
- tov% — 5th (2nd)
- dreb% — 30th (21st)
- ft/fga — 8th (3rd)
On offense, they’re shooting decently and...not a lot else. They have the fourth most at-rim field goal attempts, and they do a reasonably good job of avoiding two-point jumpers. No one on the team stresses defenses enough to draw fouls at a high (or even middling) rate.
Defensively, they’re terrible at what matters most in defending well — making opponents miss shots and getting defensive rebounds. Opponent turnovers remain high, but as I wrote after the first five games, it’s probably an artifact of team’s playing sloppy because they have a big lead or are confident they’ll win.
Player Production Average
Here’s a first look at individual performance 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.
I’m including some other stats, including usage, offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions used), relative offensive rating (offensive rating - league average offensive rating, box creation (a measure of how often a player “creates” scoring opportunities for teammates — scale is like assists, and offensive load — what percentage of team possessions a player is participating in the final outcome). For reference, I’m also including league average at the bottom of the table.
I’ve sorted the PPA table by minutes per game because it does a better job of illustrating why the Wizards have a 1-4 record despite a few players getting off to pretty good starts.
Stats & Metrics: Wizards first 10 games
|Patrick Baldwin Jr.||SF||2||4.5||8.9%||36||-77.4||-1.0||13%||-68||-68|
Quick on thoughts on a few players:
- Deni Avdija’s strong start waned over the last five games. His shooting is drifting downward, and his overall defensive impact isn’t what it used to be. His assists are up and turnovers down — at least so far — though teams have begun trying to force him left, which is a weakness. Only Daniel Gafford gets more defensive rebounds per 100 possessions.
- Kuzma’s hot start has cooled. If the season ended today, his efficiency would be a career high...and still nearly three points below league average. If the last five games (and his career to this point) are any guide, the efficiency will continue to dip.
- Poole is seventh from the bottom in my +points metric, which compares a player’s points produced in his possessions used to league average in the same number of possessions. According to this metric, he’s cost the Wizards more than 28 points so far this season. The NBA’s top five in +pts: 1. Tyrese Haliburton, 2. Tyrese Maxey, 3. Nikola Jokic, 4. Kristaps Porzingis, 5. Stephen Curry.