[Looking above for help in the clutch]
The Washington Wizards have been involved in 12 games out of 50 which have been decided by five points or less. Their record in those games is 7-5, with wins coming against Philadelphia (twice), Boston, Memphis, Sacramento, Toronto and Portland; the losses have come against Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami. Only two of the games have come on the road, the losses to the Pistons and the Hawks.
So, Washington has fared better in close games in comparison to their 13-37 record on the season overall. But the glaring problem, especially in the midst of an 0-25 road record, is that Flip Saunders does not have a player with the ability to step up as a clutch performer and truly put the team on their back when big buckets need to be scored, or when a defensive stop needs to be made.
Well, some players have the ability, it’s just that they either shy away from that role in crunch time or they become a magnified epitome of their usual inefficiencies. Whatever the case may be, no one is getting it done, especially franchise savior and No. 1 NBA Draft pick John Wall. And that’s okay. Wall will learn and develop, and hopefully the team will with him. But for now, let’s take a quick look at how some individual Wizards have fared in clutch time.
82games.com defines “clutch” time as: 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points. Also worth noting that as great a NBA statistical site that 82games.com is, they are usually behind on their stats. The numbers below only cover Wizards games one through 40.
We’re also only going to look at five Wizards — those who have been with the team all season and rank 1-5 in minutes played: Andray Blatche, Nick Young, John Wall, Kirk Hinrich and JaVale McGee.
In the “entire game” column, you’ll see the amount of team points produced per 100 possessions when each of those respective players are on the floor, cumulative for the entire game. In the third column, you’ll see how the Wizards’ offense performs with each of those players on the floor during what’s defined by 82games as “clutch time.” The last column shows the difference.
As you can see, Young’s offensive influence on the team takes the largest dip in the waning moments of close games … as it also makes sense that the veteran Kirk Hinrich changes the least (even though he technically gets “worse” in clutch time, you also have to consider Hinrich’s surroundings).
Now, let’s take a look at clutch time defense.
Wizards guards are getting blasted on defense when it counts. Is Nick Young really causing his team to give up 21.8 more points per 100 possessions in clutch time over his regular floor time? It looks like it.
And what about Blatche and McGee? Blatche’s difference is rather negligible and McGee actually improves his team’s defense when on the floor during clutch time. However, as you know, statistics can be maneuvered to shine light on any dog’s ass. Anyone who watches the Wizards knows that their bigs constantly find new ways to screw up defensive help, usually on screening action. None of this, however, is to absolve the guards of defensive responsibility. Terrible defense is a team effort.
For a reference point, let’s take a look at Dirk Nowitzki, one of the most clutch scorers in the NBA. Dirk averages 50.5 points per 48 minutes of clutch time. His eFG% (a number which takes into account that three-pointers are worth more than two-pointers), jumps from .576 over the course of the entire game to .614 in clutch time.
Furthermore, when Nowitzki is on the court during the game, his Mavericks score 115.2 points per 100 possessions and allow 102 points per 100 possessions. When he’s on the floor in clutch time, the Mavericks produce 127.3 points and allow 84.1 points. That’s quite a difference on both ends of the floor for the former MVP.
The Wizards have no clutch scorers. They have no defensive stoppers. They have a long way to go before they can even turn losses in abundance into closer games and ultimately wins.
The final realization is that while Wall is great, while he can be an all-time great, it’s an illusion to think that a franchise can be built around him alone. Either the Wizards get lucky in the draft again (and at this point, count on that not happening, as Wizards fans should thank their lucky stars that they got Wall in the first place), or they build up some pieces around Wall from scratch and at some point, spend some money on another star through free-agency or a trade.
The Lakers don’t win titles without signing Shaq, the Heat don’t win without trading for Shaq, the Celtics don’t win without trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Pistons probably fall short without trading for Rasheed Wallace. Teams are built through the draft and brilliant maneuvers, but they are finished by ultimately ponying up money and/or resources.
The Wizards have taken the right steps, but have an unforeseeable amount of time to go, money to gamble and luck to hope for.