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Wizards struggle through first five games

Stats, analysis, commentary.

Washington Wizards v Atlanta Hawks
Washington Wizards leading producer, Eugene Omoruyi.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Five games into the Washington Wizards planned rebuild, the team is right where any reasonable observer could expect — a 1-4 record with the lone victory coming against an injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies, who were on the second night of a back-to-back and playing their third game in four days.

The Wizards are at or near the bottom in just about every measure of team strength. Here’s a quick tour of where they rank:

  • strength of schedule adjusted efficiency differential: 30th
  • offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions): 20th
  • defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 29th

They’re first in pace, which earns them a Homer Simpson style, “Hey how ‘bout that?”

Despite the coaching emphasis on taking more threes this season, they’re 17th in three-point attempt rate.

That’s not to say they’re doing everything badly. So far this season, they’re second behind the Charlotte Hornets in at-rim field goal attempts. For Washington, 31.0% of their shots have come within three feet of the rim. They’re converting well too — ninth best at 71.8%.

Here’s a look at where they rank in The Four Factors.

Four Factors Offense

  • efg% — 13th
  • tov% — 11th
  • oreb% — 29th
  • ft/fga — 24th

Four Factors Defense

  • efg% — 30th
  • tov% — 2nd
  • dreb% — 21st
  • ft/fga — 3rd

On offense, the Wizards shoot okay (though not from three-point range), avoid turnovers, get few offensive rebounds, and don’t get to the free throw line much. These numbers make sense. Daniel Gafford is the only player on the roster with a history of getting offensive boards, and he’s only okay at it.

As for the free throws, it’s likely a signal of the overall lack of talent. Players draw fouls when they’re difficult to defend. Washington doesn’t really have a guy like that, nor do they have a grifter like James Harden to con the refs into a few free throws. They have a couple guys who try, but their attempts basically amount to lunging into defenders — not maneuvering them into a bad position and forcing contact.

Plus, the Wizards have been so far behind in their four losses, no opponent has needed to dial up defensive intensity for an extended stretch. There’s no demand for defensive heroics when it’s been so easy score on the Wizards’ defense.

The defensive summary: they force turnovers and keep opponents off the free throw line. Unfortunately, forcing turnovers usually isn’t a sign of a good defense. In Washington’s case, a fair number of defensive turnovers stem from opponents getting sloppy when they have a big lead, and the number are getting accumulated during garbage time.

Here’s a sampling of defensive turnover percentages:

  • Kyle Kuzma — 16.5%
  • Jordan Poole — 15.4%
  • Tyus Jones — 16.0%
  • Bilal Coulibaly — 19.3%
  • Deni Avdija — 17.0%
  • Delon Wright — 14.0%
  • Corey Kispert — 11.8%
  • Danilo Gallinari — 14.3%
  • Daniel Gafford — 14.9%
  • Johnny Davis — 26.1%
  • Eugene Omoruyi — 25.7%
  • Ryan Rollins — 30.0%
  • Anthony Gill — 31.4%

I’m open to the idea that Omoruyi, Rollins, and Gill are better defensively than Washington’s main rotation guys. I’m doubtful they could continue to force turnovers on 25+% of opponent possessions with increased minutes. This isn’t an argument to continue limiting them to garbage time, by the way.

Back to the Wizards defense, the key factor is the first one: shooting from the floor (defensive efg). NBA defense is mostly about making the other team miss — defensive efg correlates strongly with overall defensive efficiency — and then getting the defensive rebound.

This makes sense. The Wizards are second best in defensive turnover rate at 15.1% so far this season. That means opponent offenses are getting field goal or free throw attempts on 84.9% of possessions against Washington so far this season. In other words, it’s extremely difficult to build a good NBA defense around forcing turnovers.

For example, the Orlando Magic are number one in defensive turnover percentage so far this season, and they’re number two in overall defensive rating. Forcing turnovers on 15.6% of opponent possessions is helping, but the Magic are also 10th in defensive efg, fifth in defensive rebounding percentage, and 14th in FT/FGA.

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 five games

Kyle Kuzma PF 5 28.6 29.2% 111 -0.4 5.1 42% 133
Jordan Poole SG 5 27.2 28.9% 94 -17.7 4.9 41% 66
Tyus Jones PG 5 25.8 17.1% 124 12.4 5.8 30% 133
Bilal Coulibaly SF 5 23.8 13.2% 81 -31.2 0.3 18% 34
Deni Avdija SF 5 23.6 20.3% 124 12.4 4.9 30% 158
Corey Kispert SF 4 23.5 17.3% 105 -6.9 0.5 22% 50
Daniel Gafford C 3 23.0 10.5% 137 24.9 -0.3 11% 66
Delon Wright PG 5 19.2 12.5% 108 -3.6 2.3 22% 110
Danilo Gallinari SF 5 13.8 18.7% 132 19.8 2.6 26% 151
Mike Muscala C 4 13.5 12.6% 95 -16.4 0.2 17% 23
Johnny Davis SG 3 13.0 17.4% 124 12.7 -0.1 21% 133
Landry Shamet SG 2 13.0 11.0% 137 24.8 1.8 19% 91
Eugene Omoruyi SF 4 8.5 26.5% 142 29.8 8.0 39% 282
Ryan Rollins PG 4 8.0 27.1% 127 15.7 13.3 45% 194
Anthony Gill PF 3 7.7 21.7% 125 13.1 2.0 29% 101
Jared Butler SG 2 4.5 21.6% 68 -43.7 2.2 31% -51
Patrick Baldwin Jr. SF 2 4.5 8.9% 35 -76.3 -1.0 13% -68
League Average 20.0% 111.7 3.2 29% 100

Quick thoughts on a few players:

  • Deni Avdija is playing well. So far this season, he’s been efficient while taking on an increased offensive workload. The offseason work on his game shows. — he’s hitting stepbacks and pullups that weren’t in his repertoire his first three years in the NBA. His defense has been fine this season, though it’s clear to me his impact on that end has declined since the 2021-22 season. Also, tap the brakes on proclaiming him arrived. His shooting through five games is wildly better than he’s ever shot before, which generally means a painful reversion to something closer to previously established percentages.
  • Kyle Kuzma has played better than I expected so far this season. He was scoring and playmaking at better than average efficiency through the first four games, and then had one of those painful reversions in the fifth game. Still, league average efficiency on 29% usage is just the kind of play that could make him valuable to other teams in trade talks.
  • Jordan Poole has played abysmally so far, and it’s not just terrible defense, poor shooting, and abundant turnovers. It’s the array of what the hell was thinking?! trying to attack Bam Adebayo one-on-one (it failed). He has seemingly every skill and every move, but it’s disconcerting how infrequently his “bag” doesn’t lead to a good shot.
  • Tyus Jones has been an adequate replacement for the departed Monte Morris.

By the way, I’m toying with a new offensive impact metric that I’m oh-so creatively calling “offensive impact” (OIMP for short) that combines individual efficiency, team efficiency with the player on the court, and the load stat I included in the table above. I’m also working on a defensive version. That’ll take more time. Everything’s harder with defense.

Think of it as points added to an average team’s offensive efficiency per 100 possessions when that player is on the floor. In other words, if a player is +10.0 in this stat, a league average offense would go from 111.7 to 121.7 with this player on the floor.

Here’s the top 10 so far this season (keep in mind this is ALL Small Sample Size Theater even with the 100-minute cutoff):

  1. Stephen Curry, GSW — +15.0
  2. Derrick White, BOS — +14.6
  3. Tyrese Haliburton, IND — +14.1
  4. Paul George, LAC — +13.6
  5. Nikola Jokic, DEN — +12.8

Jokic was around +15 last season. Others near the top: Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Tyrese Maxey.

The bottom five:

  1. Scoot Henderson, POR — -15.0
  2. Julius Randle, NYK — -13.2
  3. Cade Cunningham, DET — -11.3
  4. Gary Trent Jr., TOR — -9.7
  5. Jordan Poole, WAS — -8.4

And the Wizards:

  1. Eugene Omoruyi — +10.6
  2. Ryan Rollins — +5.9
  3. Danilo Gallinari — +4.5
  4. Landry Shamet — +4.2
  5. Anthony Gill — +3.0
  6. Deni Avdija — +3.0
  7. Tyus Jones — +2.9
  8. Daniel Gafford — +2.4
  9. Johnny Davis — +2.2
  10. Kyle Kuzma — -1.8
  11. Delon Wright — -1.4
  12. Corey Kispert — -2.1
  13. Mike Muscala — -3.2
  14. Bilal Coulibaly — -5.9
  15. Jordan Poole — -8.4
  16. Patrick Baldwin Jr. — -10.4
  17. Jared Butler — -14.2