2009-10 Wizards: Better at Defense Than You Thought, Still Took Bad Shots
[Editor’s note: Below is third piece Arish Narayen has written for TAI. He first broke down the Wizards’ small forward situation in early July, and then wrote about the Wizards’ third summer league game against the Mavericks. -Kyle]
If you haven’t had a chance to read this study linked on TrueHoop Monday, check it out. In the piece, Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.com analyzes how NBA players performed against above and below average defenses in 2009-10.
Paine begins by ranking each team’s defense by using a defensive version of the Simple Rating System, taking into account margin of victory, strength of schedule, and home-court effects. Taken from the article, here are the relevant bits about the Wizards:
First, the good news. Last season, the Washington Wizards’ defense ranked 20th in the NBA using Paine’s DSRS metric. Take that, New Orleans and Phoenix.
[side note: for a team that lost 16 games in a row a couple weeks after the organization finished gutting the entire front-court, the ‘new look’ Wizards showed a lot of resiliency on defense to finish the season ranked 20th. The team’s offense wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire during this time, so mailing it in like certain former Wiz players, Caron Butler for example, was an easy way out.]
The not-so-good news — Gilbert Arenas produced just 95.8 points per 100 possessions (ORtg) against above-average defenses, fourth lowest among players who had a possession% > 23%. (For an explanation of possession%, see Ken Pomeroy’s definition of ‘Percentage of Possessions Used’)
Arenas’ possession% against above-average defenses was 32.6%, second only to Lebron James’ 35.1% among the top and bottom ten players based on ORtg listed in the study. In contrast to Arenas, James produced 117.3 points per 100 possessions vs above-average Ds.
Obviously, there is a small sample size issue with Gilbert: he played in only 32 games. However, there is no such issue with the player who became the focal point of the Wizards’ offense after all the deals were done. It was a wonderful time of year — the word ‘Rebuild’ was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and Andray Blatche was getting his touches.
Per Paine’s rankings, Andray Blatche was only slightly more efficient than Arenas last season, producing 97.5 points per 100 possessions vs above-average defenses. Blatche’s possession% of 25.9% was middle-of-the-road when compared to Arenas’.
The mildly encouraging part — according to the study, Arenas excelled versus below-average defenses, ranking 7th in the League with a 6.56 OSPM. Intuitively, I think Wizards fans knew already that Gil loves him some subpar defenses. However, Paine does a nice job quantifying this effect with a statistic that could possibly cause your head to explode if you try and grasp it too quickly — basically, Arenas had one of the 20 best offensive games last year among those who played 40 or more minutes and according to statistical +/-.
Interesting notes on some former/future Wizards players: Shaun Livingston was really good vs below-average defenses last year, producing an ORtg of 127.1 on a 16.5 possession%. Meanwhile, in limited minutes, DeShawn Stevenson was terrible against everyone, accumulating a 79.2 ORtg against above-average defenses and a 77.7 ORtg against below-average defenses. Josh Howard had mediocre numbers as well given his high usage rate, producing a 96.9 ORtg against above-average defenses (6th worst among players with possession% > 23) and a 101.5 ORtg against below-average defenses (9th worst among players with possession % > 23). Yi Jianlian performed poorly against below-average defenses, producing an ORtg of 94 with a 20.3 possession%. Even James Singleton struggled offensively, producing an 87.4 ORtg against below-average Ds.
It is not my contention that last season’s inefficient offense or close-to-league-average-defense will carry over to 2010-11. There are far too many different variables at work (John Wall, Arenas’ knee, Blatche’s broken foot, the development of JaVale McGee, the additions of Kirk Hinrich and Yi Jianlian, to name a few) for anyone to reasonably say they know how the Wizards are going to perform in 2010-11.
But in the vein of “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” less settling for jump shots, more aggressiveness, and more shots closer to the basket might go a long way for both Arenas and Blatche. According to Hoopdata.com, last season, Arenas averaged 6.4 shot attempts from 16-23 feet per game, converting on 41% of those tries. Conversely, Arenas averaged 3.9 attempts at the rim per game, converting on 51.6% of those chances. Arenas was decent from behind the arc (eFG 52.2%), but only about half (50.8%) of his attempts were assisted.
My hope for the upcoming season: now that the Wizards have a true point guard in Wall, Arenas will not have to expend nearly as much energy creating his own shot. As John Wall learns to live in the lane off the pick & roll action, the number of assisted shots that Arenas takes should go up, and thus Gil’s shooting efficiency should ostensibly increase. (Note: this all assumes that the demons of Eddie Jordan have been exorcised, and Arenas wants to share the ball).
However, Blatche could benefit immensely from more attempts closer to the basket. Last season, Andray Blatche averaged 3.8 shot attempts from 16-23 feet per game, converting on only 39% of those shots. In fact, the closer Blatche got to the basket, the more efficient he was: from 10-15 feet, he shot 40.1%; from less than 10 feet, he shot 45.8%; and at the rim, he shot 62.2%. The positive part: because Blatche is the only Wizards player that can score in the post, (Big Daddy Wookie alleyoops and putbacks aside) ideally, Blatche should get more opportunities closer to the basket in 2010-11. The more opportunities he gets inside, the more efficient the Wizards offense becomes.