Injuries hampered the Washington Wizards throughout the season, contributed to them missing the playoffs, and made it impossible for the front office to properly evaluate the roster. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Wizards.
Or their pals in the media.
Or a swath of fans who believe the team’s success is coming next year almost as much as the front office does.
“Health hurt us,” Kyle Kuzma said during exit interviews. “Not saying that’s an excuse because if you look at a team like the Pelicans, they’ve been just as hurt as us and somehow they’re 42-39 and looking really positive going into [the postseason].”
Team president Tommy Sheppard said the team deserves an “incomplete” grade because injuries prevented them from developing chemistry. He cited the 10-4 record (a 58-win pace) before the All-Star break as indicative of what the team can do.
“The consistency of the availability, I think, affects a lot of things,” Sheppard told reporters. “People may not always put this together, but for players to play together, to become a cohesive unit, I think is important.”
Sheppard’s point is okay, as far as it goes. The team did suffer injuries. They did lose games. The question, of course, isn’t just whether the Wizards suffered injuries and lost games, it’s how the degree to which injuries affected them compares to the rest of the league. In other words, did player health unusually affect the Wizards this season?
A few times this season, I mentioned the Spotrac injury tracker and questioned The Official Injuries Are Ruining the Wizards Season narrative. Here’s what I wrote recently:
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.
With the regular season complete, it’s worth moving beyond crude measures of health impacts and connecting injuries directly to record. To do this, I used my Player Production Average rating system to translate each player’s production into wins, connected that with individual missed games data (with a few minor corrections) from Spotrac and created a “missed wins” metric.
The way it works is simple — I multiply each player’s estimated wins per game by games missed due to injury or illness. For example, I estimate that this season, Bradley Beal produced 4.1 wins for the Wizards in the 50 games he played. So, 4.1 divided by 50 x 32 (the number of games he missed) is 2.6 Missed Wins. That mark was highest on the Wizards, and was 27th most for an individual player this season.
I used PPA but the approach would work with other measures of player effectiveness. For example, Five Thirty Eight’s RAPTOR estimated Beal was worth 3.4 wins above replacement this season. According to my approach, RAPTOR says Beal’s absences resulted in 2.2 Missed Wins.
By my accounting, the Wizards sustained 9.5 missed wins this season. Tack those on to their 35 actual wins, and it’s a 44 or 45 win team. That would push them from 12th in the Eastern Conference to 6th or 7th — playoffs or the top play-in spot at worst.
So are Sheppard and Kuzma and all the rest blaming injuries for another failed season correct? Do us skeptics owe them an apology?
Well, it depends on whether we perform the same analysis on the rest of the league.
Which I did.
And once I got over the weirdness of realizing eight different players named Jalen missed games due to injury or illness, I found that Washington’s 9.5 missed wins were 17th most in the NBA this season. Average missed wins was 9.8. The Eastern Conference average was 10.8. Out West: 8.9.
In other words, Washington’s overall health — and the resulting impact on their record — was slightly better than the NBA average. Yes, injuries suck. Yes, they hurt the Wizards. Just not as much as they hurt most of Washington’s competition.
The teams most affected by injuries and illness this season:
- Phoenix Suns — 16.3 missed wins
- Boston Celtics — 16.1
- Milwaukee Bucks — 15.3
- New Orleans Pelicans — 13.9
- Memphis Grizzlies — 13.3
- Los Angeles Lakers — 12.7
- Golden State Warriors — 12.3
- Los Angeles Clippers — 12.0
- Chicago Bulls — 11.8
- Orlando Magic — 11.3
And the healthiest teams:
- Sacramento Kings — 2.6 missed wins
- Houston Rockets — 2.9
- New York Knicks — 5.8
- Atlanta Hawks — 6.2
- Dallas Mavericks — 6.8
- Utah Jazz — 6.8
- San Antonio Spurs — 6.9
- Detroit Pistons — 7.2
- Indiana Pacers — 7.3
- Oklahoma City Thunder — 7.6
Note that Milwaukee and Boston had the league’s best and second-best record while also accumulating the second and third most missed wins. Other teams widely considered strong candidates to win this year’s championship land in the top 10, including Phoenix, Golden State, and both Los Angeles teams.
If I remake the standings by adding each team’s missed wins, the Wizards blast from 12th in the East to...well...they’re still 12th. Their “new” record is about two wins better than Indiana’s “new” record, but the Orlando Magic leapfrog them for 11th.
Here’s the redrawn Eastern Conference Standings (by adding in Missed Wins) and their finish in the real standings:
- Milwaukee Bucks 73.3 (actual wins + missed wins) — 1st
- Boston Celtics 73.1 — 2nd
- Philadelpia 76ers 65.1 — 3rd
- Cleveland Cavaliers 60.3 — 4th
- Miami Heat 55.0 — 7th
- Brooklyn Nets 53.4 — 6th
- New York Knicks 52.8 — 5th
- Chicago Bulls 51.8 — 10th
- Toronto Raptors 50.2 — 9th
- Atlanta Hawks 47.2 — 8th
- Orlando Magic 45.3 — 13th
- Washington Wizards 44.5 — 12th
- Indiana Pacers 42.3 — 11th
- Charlotte Hornets 37.3 — 14th
- Detroit Pistons 24.2 — 15th
And for the Western Conference
- Memphis Grizzlies 64.3 — 2nd
- Denver Nuggets 62.8 — 1st
- Phoenix Suns 61.3 — 4th
- Golden State Warriors 56.3 — 6th
- Los Angeles Clippers 56.0 — 5th
- New Orleans Pelicans 55.9 — 9th
- Los Angeles Lakers 55.7 — 7th
- Minnesota Timberwolves 52.3 — 8th
- Sacramento Kings 50.6 — 3rd
- Oklahoma City Thunder 47.6 — 10th
- Dallas Mavericks 44.8 — 12th
- Utah Jazz 43.8 — 11th
- Portland Trail Blazers 43.6 — 13th
- San Antonio Spurs 28.9 — 15th
- Houston Rockets 24.9 — 14th
The biggest mover was this year’s feel-good story, the Sacramento Kings. In a “full health” for every team scenario, they might have finished as low as 9th in the West instead of 3rd. The Pelicans might have jumped from 9th to 6th and avoided the play-in.
In both conferences, all 10 teams that reach postseason play (including the play-in) stayed the same. The order shuffled a bit — that’s all. In the East, adding these missed wins yielded the same top four in the same order. The Heat and Knicks switched places at five and seven, which would have put New York in the play-in.
In the West, Sacramento went from homecourt advantage in the first round to a play-in game, and New Orleans moved up and avoided the play-in altogether.
My view based on my analysis of the data is that this season, the Wizards’ health and the overall impact of injuries on their season was about average. The only way the Wizards could improve their relative standing through better health is if we assume they’re the only team getting healthier. If we grant every team the same grace as the Wizards want, they stay right where they finished in real life — near the bottom.
Injuries aren’t the cause of Washington’s losing record. It’s a roster deficient in talent and unable to overcome the same kind of health-related adversity that every team faces.
The bright side of this is that the team’s record is not the result of some health fairy that just happens to despise the Wizards. It’s not bad luck or misfortune, and the fix isn’t just to run it back and hope The Fates smile upon them. The solution is to be tougher, smarter, more athletic, more skilled. From ownership down, plan to get better, not luckier,