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The Numbers Crunch: Mavericks ride roughshod through Wizards wispy defense

Stats, analysis, commentary.

Dallas Mavericks v Washington Wizards
Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija
Photo by KeShawn Ennis/NBAE via Getty Images

If the veterans alleged to be team leaders are going to play like that, why not just turn things over to the kids?

Last night, the Wizards gave a disgraceful defensive effort while Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole stumblebummed their way to 7 turnovers and 8-30 shooting from the floor. During a game in which the Dallas Mavericks had an offensive rating of 126.5 (more than 13 points better than league average), Kuzma and Poole combined for an offensive rating of 88.

Kuzma’s usage rate was 35.4%. Poole’s was 30.5%. This is insanity.

Want more insanity? Rookie Bilal Coulibaly — a kid they prized so much they traded up a spot in the draft to make sure they got him — scored 10 points on 5 field goal attempts, grabbed 8 rebounds and produced a pair of assists. His usage rate was an anemic 7.5%.

But this is the Wizards, so there’s even more.

Johnny Davis, who struggled mightily as last year’s first round selection but may have figured out ways to at least compete at the NBA level, got just 7 minutes. Ryan Rollins, who might make a decent backup guard someday, played only the final two minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a simplistic they suck so they should play the kids argument. I’m saying that if the veterans they signed and acquired to lead the team, build a competitive culture, and demonstrate what it means to be professionals are going to so blatantly abdicate their responsibilities, there’s no point in playing them.

For the first few games, I was encouraged by Kuzma’s play. He was productive and efficient, and his penchant for taking preposterously bad shots was at least tempered. Against Dallas, his shot selection was like a tired old NBA joke about the guy just trying to get his number.

For example, below is a screenshot of Kuzma driving to the hoop. Notice four things:

  1. Coulibaly open in the strong side corner.
  2. Tyus Jones way wide open on the weakside.
  3. Kuzma surrounded by three Mavericks defenders, including athletic center Dereck Lively II.
  4. There are 14 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

This play resulted in a wild runner that missed badly.

In other words, he had two good passing options and plenty of time to get the team a better shot.

Could I do the same with some of Poole’s shot attempts? Of course. I’m still amazed by a play in the first quarter where he shook Grant Williams with a spin move, then spun right back into Williams to take a contested 17-foot turnaround fadeaway with 16 seconds still on the shot clock.

The deal with vets on a rebuilding team is that they play hard, show the way, and get rewarded with the freedom to produce gaudier stats than they could generate with a good team. But if the vets are going to half-ass on defense and break the team’s offense, they’re really not doing much more than taking opportunities from players who might be part of the team’s future.

Anyone can miss shots and commit turnovers. Those same possessions getting wasted by the team’s veterans could be invested in teachable opportunities for young players.

The challenge for Wes Unseld Jr. and his coaching staff is enforcing the deal with those veterans. Either they uphold their end of the bargain — by playing hard on both ends, executing the offense, and demonstrating what it means to prepare and compete at the NBA level — or curtail their playing time until they can be traded.

A few quick thoughts and observations:

  • Coulibaly was good again. He made shots, grabbed rebounds, and competed on defense. Whoever was assigned to defend Luka Doncic gave up switches at the slightest opportunity...except Coulibaly. His work slithering past or fighting over screens had me wondering if the team changed coverages when he entered the game. I doubt it, though. I think he just wanted to stay on Doncic, so he made the effort — an effort none of his older teammates were willing to make.
  • Deni Avdija was excellent. He made shots and tried to defend. He gave up switches off Doncic too easily for my taste, but at least gave us some defensive effort. On offense, he was effective in transition and driving to his right.
  • Tyus Jones shot 6-7 from the floor and had 2 assists to zero turnovers and managed a PPA of just 141. That’s because the team defense was staggeringly awful with him out there — a defensive rating (points allowed per possession x 100) of 144.1.

Four Factors

Below are the four factors that decide wins and losses in basketball — shooting (efg), rebounding (offensive rebounds), ball handling (turnovers), fouling (free throws made).

Four Factors: Mavericks at Wizards

EFG 0.614 0.551
OREB 9 8
TOV 10 12
FTM 17 19
PACE 103
ORTG 126 114

Stats & Metrics

Below are a few performance metrics, including the Player Production Average (PPA) Game Score. PPA is my overall production metric, which 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).

Game Score (GmSC) converts individual production into points on the scoreboard. The scale is the same as points and reflects each player’s total contributions for the game. The lowest possible GmSC is zero.

PPA is a per possession metric designed for larger data sets. In small sample sizes, the numbers can get weird. Reminder: in PPA, 100 is average, higher is better and replacement level is 45. For a single game, replacement level isn’t much use, and I reiterate the caution about small samples sometimes producing weird results.

POSS is the number of possessions each player was on the floor in this game.

ORTG = offensive rating, which is points produced per individual possessions x 100. League average last season was 114.8. Points produced is not the same as points scored. It includes the value of assists and offensive rebounds, as well as sharing credit when receiving an assist.

USG = offensive usage rate. Average is 20%.

ORTG and USG are versions of stats created by Wizards assistant coach Dean Oliver and modified by me. ORTG is an efficiency measure that accounts for the value of shooting, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers. USG includes shooting from the floor and free throw line, offensive rebounds, assists and turnovers.

+PTS = “Plus Points” is a measure of the points gained or lost by each player based on their efficiency in this game compared to league average efficiency on the same number of possessions. A player with an offensive rating (points produced per possession x 100) of 100 who uses 20 possessions would produce 20 points. If the league average efficiency is 114, the league — on average — would produced 22.8 points in the same 20 possessions. So, the player in this hypothetical would have a +PTS score of -2.8.

Stats & Metrics: Wizards

Deni Avdija 24 51 220 13.8% 7.6 318 29.2 1
Bilal Coulibaly 28 60 202 7.5% 4.0 178 19.0 -8
Tyus Jones 22 48 174 12.8% 3.7 141 12.0 -20
Daniel Gafford 24 51 164 12.5% 3.2 126 11.4 -16
Corey Kispert 26 55 138 17.0% 2.3 104 10.2 2
Kyle Kuzma 30 64 101 35.4% -2.8 62 7.1 -24
Danilo Gallinari 18 39 113 24.8% 0.0 98 6.8 -8
Johnny Davis 7 14 141 18.7% 0.8 207 5.3 11
Ryan Rollins 2 4 196 20.9% 0.7 309 2.1 5
Patrick Baldwin Jr. 2 4 0.0% 0.0 -81 0.0 5
Anthony Gill 5 11 0 28.3% -3.7 -191 0.0 9
Jordan Poole 32 69 75 30.5% -8.0 -32 0.0 -10
Landry Shamet 21 45 38 22.0% -7.4 -139 0.0 -12

Stats & Metrics: Mavericks

Tim Hardaway Jr. 27 57 137 33.3% 4.6 327 33.6 17
Derrick Jones Jr. 26 56 140 21.9% 3.3 266 26.6 5
Dereck Lively II 24 51 177 19.6% 6.3 274 24.8 16
Seth Curry 20 43 237 12.9% 6.8 312 23.7 -3
Luka Doncic 32 69 117 35.7% 1.0 163 20.2 12
Grant Williams 36 76 102 17.2% -1.5 67 9.1 14
Dwight Powell 7 14 220 8.8% 1.4 131 3.4 2
Dante Exum 19 40 97 15.5% -1.0 25 1.8 0
Olivier-Maxence Prosper 7 16 81 16.7% -0.9 22 0.6 -2
Jaden Hardy 4 9 51 31.8% -1.8 -35 0.0 -3
Josh Green 37 79 36 4.5% -2.7 -8 0.0 12
Richaun Holmes 2 4 0 46.4% -2.0 -494 0.0 -5