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Wizards self-grade is woefully incomplete

Stats, analysis, and commentary

Boston Celtics v Washington Wizards
Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Wizards’ 2022-23 that began with a goal of reaching the playoffs ended with the kind of fizzle fans have grown accustomed to over the past four decades. They were effectively eliminated from postseason contention with 10 games still on the schedule, whereupon they sat rotation players and entered an audition period for some of the youngsters.

Way back in the preseason, I forecasted the Wizards would win 35 games and finish 11th. The final record: 35 wins and a 12th-place finish.

As for the Wizards, despite not coming close to achieving their stated goal, they seem to regret little. In exit interviews, they exhibited some disappointment but mostly seemed annoyed that reporters asked questions about the team’s failure.

Team president Tommy Sheppard made some comments that were real doozies. The first was him laying a heavy portion of blame on Wes Unseld Jr. and the coaching staff.

“If you get to the end of a season and there’s still questions, still confusion or anything, then maybe you have to either simplify or really go back and say: ‘How much accountability [existed] throughout the year to get us to this point?” Sheppard said. “Are we still doing some of the same things?’ That’s a question for everybody. We all have to really dig in and say, ‘Oh, what can we do better?’ And one of the easiest things to say is, ‘We told them; they’re not listening.’ Well, that’s not the way it works in the NBA.”

For me, it raises a question. Based on context, I’m interpreting ‘we told them’ as coaches talking to players. If the coaching staff is unable to convey their strategies, plans and instructions in a manner that players will listen and implement, then why did the team move so quickly to announce Unseld would remain as head coach?

He’s had two off-seasons, two training camps and two full seasons to figure out how to communicate effectively with the players. That would seem to be a minimal requirement for a good coach. According to his boss, Unseld is failing. He’s also failing, according to Sheppard, in establishing a culture of accountability.

So, why’s he coming back for another year?

The second doozy was Sheppard saying the team deserved an “incomplete” grade. This is patently absurd. The season is over, their work is complete, and it’s fair to measure them a) against their competition, and b) against their own goals. Any fair or reasonable grade would be a D or an F.

Measured against the rest of the league, the Wizards finished 24th in the 30-team league. Of the six teams with a worse record, four were actively tanking (Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Charlotte Hornets), and one (Orlando Magic) was ramping up competitiveness a couple years after trading away top veterans.

Only the Portland Trail Blazers entered the season with playoffs dreams and finished with a worse record — and that was in part because they pulled the plug and started tanking sooner than Washington did. In other words, among teams that began the season saying they wanted to compete, the Wizards had the league’s second worst record. Call that a D-.

For their own goal, the Wizards get an F. They wanted to make the playoffs. They didn’t. They revised the goal to making the play-in. They missed that too.

A third doozy: In keeping with the long franchise tradition of blaming injuries for the team’s poor performance, Sheppard blamed injuries. To paraphrase, durn the luck, the team just had too many guys get hurt at just the wrong times and it prevented everyone from seeing what this team could really do.

I would call this what it is, but Albert keeps telling me this is a family website, and I have to watch my language. Let’s just say it rhymes with bullshit.

I’ll have more on injuries in the next week or two, but the Injury Excuse is nonsense. You might say the “oh those dang injuries” narrative is incomplete.

The good people at Spotrac publish an NBA injury tracker. They have three measures — total number of players who missed games due to injury or illness, total games missed due to injury or illness, and total salary paid to players missing games due to injury or illness.

This season, the Wizards had 10 players miss at least one game because of injury or illness. That was the second fewest in the NBA. These 10 players missed a total of 137 games, which includes the tanking games at the end of the season. That’s the 7th fewest games missed this season. Finally, Washington paid out $27.1 million in salary to players missing games for injury/illness. That ranked 16th — right at league average.

To recap in bullet form, here’s where the Wizards ranked in three publicly available indicators of relative team health:

  • Individual players missing games: 2nd
  • Total games missed: 7th
  • Total salary paid to players missing games: 16th

In other words, the Wizards are blaming injuries for their record when they actually had relatively good luck on that front. At worst, their team health was average. And teams that had worse health situations — such as the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls — won more games and at least made play-in.

By the way, none of the forgoing should be read as specifically indicting their build from the middle strategy. While it’s not the course I would have taken, the line between the team’s success and failure is slim. One or two different decisions in the draft could have dramatically changed the team’s fortunes.

That’s one of the challenges of building from the middle — it’s a bet that you can hit on the talented and productive players who always show up outside the top three picks and others miss. Over the past four years, Sheppard and the Wizards have lost that bet.

That’s enough kvetching for one article. As is the norm with the Wizards, we have a whole summer ahead for that. So let’s get to the final numbers. Here’s where the Wizards ranked this season in key measures of relative team strength:

  • Record: 24th
  • Strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin: 23rd
  • Offensive rating: 22nd
  • Defensive rating: 21st

Offensive Four Factors

  • eFG%: 13th
  • TOV%: 16th
  • oREB%: 23rd
  • FTM/FGA: 20th

Defensive Four Factors

  • eFG%: 10th
  • TOV%: 27th
  • dREB%: 17th
  • FTM/FGA: 4th

After finishing with a sub-.500 record for a fifth straight season, many (most?) NBA teams would be considering new leadership, new coaching, new players. Not the Wizards, though. The front office and coach will stay on. Every public comment indicates their plan is to retain Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma. They want to see more of what they can do together.

At +3.9 points per 100 possessions, that trio ranks as the {checks notes} 626th best three-man lineup in the NBA this season.

Player Production Average

Here’s a final 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), average PPA Game Score, and ON/OFF. For reference, I’m also including league average at the bottom of the table.

Stats & Metrics — FINAL

Kristaps Porzingis C 65 32.6 27.0% 122 +7.2 23.6 +6.2 148 153
Bradley Beal SG 50 33.5 29.5% 114 -0.9 23.0 +3.6 155 145
Delon Wright PG 50 24.4 14.4% 127 +12.6 16.0 +5.3 140 139
Monte Morris PG 62 27.3 16.6% 126 +11.0 17.4 +2.4 133 134
Daniel Gafford C 78 20.6 16.4% 136 +21.5 12.7 -1.4 132 130
Corey Kispert SG 74 28.3 13.3% 127 +12.3 12.8 -4.5 93 95
Kyle Kuzma PF 64 35.0 27.0% 102 -12.5 15.8 +3.4 96 95
Jordan Goodwin PG 62 17.8 18.2% 113 -2.1 7.9 -4.8 89 94
Deni Avdija SF 76 26.6 17.2% 105 -10.0 9.6 +1.3 77 76
Kendrick Nunn SG 31 14.1 23.9% 106 -8.7 4.8 -1.0 61 73
Anthony Gill F/C 59 10.6 13.0% 126 +11.7 2.9 +1.7 64 59
Taj Gibson C 49 9.8 16.2% 113 -1.5 1.8 -0.4 42 38
Johnny Davis SG 28 15.1 18.8% 90 -24.3 1.1 -6.3 -19 15
Jay Huff C 7 13.6 18.0% 151 +35.9 7.1 -3.3 -310 111
Xavier Cooks F/C 10 12.6 15.2% 111 -3.9 5.4 +6.2 91
Quenton Jackson SG 9 15.0 18.0% 116 +1.1 3.7 -7.5 166 52
Devon Dotson PG 6 8.8 13.0% 78 -36.7 0.8 -0.5 20 19
Isaiah Todd PF 6 10.2 14.4% 62 -52.9 -1.5 -5.7 -45 -31
Jamaree Bouyea PG 1 6.0 6.1% 0 -114.8 -2.2 +37.7 -78 -76
Lg. Avg. 20.0% 114.8 0.0 10.9 0.0 100 100