Philosophy & Terrible Wizardry: The Numbers Behind Washington’s Good and Bad | Truth About

Philosophy & Terrible Wizardry: The Numbers Behind Washington’s Good and Bad

Updated: January 13, 2012

[Kramer Middle School, Anacostia, DC - photo: K. Weidie]

The Wizards have been bad, and for the most part, that’s okay, even somewhat expected. Even those who contribute so-called “wicked pixels” understand that the rebuild will take time. After all, some of us, such as this person typing, have been ardent followers of the franchise since years before current team owner Ted Leonsis even started his now since long ended career at AOL (1993), or even before the current franchise poster boy, John Wall, was born (September 6, 1990). So when the valid message of patience is preached, it shouldn’t so much be seen as a defensively pious sermon by Leonsis, but rather a navigation through rough waters by the current moderator of a public trust — a team which is the property of the community, not of the current proprietors who aim to make money and promote positive influences though said team.

Proprietors of wicked pixels, depending on the source, can be the equivalent of a guy manning the Crow’s Nest of the ship sending a message to those in the galley about how rough the waters are. Not exactly helpful… they know it’s rough in the galley, they can feel the waves. Still, the perspective of outside insight is always a necessity. Thus, there exceptions to being bad in a rebuild. The main one being actually looking bad in being bad. Sure, against the Bulls the Wizards scored a franchise-low 64 points. Sure, they fell apart at the very end as the team has been wont to do. But the key is that they didn’t look unexpectedly bad. New starters Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton displayed infectious toughness. The team fought against a very solid Bulls team, even without M.V.P. Derrick Rose. Yes, bad decision-making and lack of focus hurt in the game-determining stretch, but the Wizards didn’t lose, for the most part, because they played like they didn’t care. They lost because they lacked talent. Lack of capability leading to failure in a rebuild is OK, lack of wherewithal is not.

Beyond development, beyond patience, beyond hope, the Wizards franchise can ill-afford to not adjust standards according to the current job auditions, or rather, continued poor performance when it comes to the simple desire of player to earn his pay. Navigating rebuild voyages also comes with sensitive lines amongst influences of culture. It’s a long trip across rough seas, and no matter how great someone might be at being a deckhand, if they have a negative influence on the rest of the crew, throw him off the ship. Else an unwilling and unknowing mutiny could form to wash the nautical charts away in an unexpected wave of trouble, leaving the vessel in a continued, directionless state.

All of this nonsense aside, let’s get into another aspect of being bad: measurables. Below is a chart with data courtesy of “PPP” stands for Points Per Possession, a possession being defined by Synergy as a play that ends in a field-goal attempt, a turnover, or free-throws. The chart reflects the various types of plays tracked by Synergy on both offense and defense. The comparison is between the Wizards of 2010-11 and the Wizards through this current season’s first 10 games. Percent (%) Time reflects how often the Wizards run said play type on offense/how often they see them on defense.

OFFENSE PPP 2010-11 PPP 10-11 % Time 2011-12 PPP 10-12 % Time Change Percent Change
Overall 0.89 100% 0.8 100% -0.09 -10.11%
Isolation 0.78 15.50% 0.64 11.60% -0.14 -17.95%
P&R Ball Handler 0.76 12.40% 0.64 11.70% -0.12 -15.79%
Post-Up 0.78 8.10% 0.7 14% -0.08 -10.26%
P&R Roll Man 0.94 4.80% 0.77 3.80% -0.17 -18.09%
Spot-Up 0.94 18.30% 0.79 17.10% -0.15 -15.96%
Off Screen 0.77 5.50% 0.68 6.30% -0.09 -11.69%
Hand Off 0.69 0.80% 0.88 0.80% 0.19 27.54%
Cut 1.21 6.40% 1.15 5.80% -0.06 -4.96%
Offensive Rebound 1.03 7.10% 1.03 5.80% 0 0.00%
Transition 1.12 14.60% 1.14 16.80% 0.02 1.79%
All Other Plays 0.41 6.60% 0.37 6.60% -0.04 -9.76%
DEFENSIVE PPP 2010-11 PPP 10-11 % Time 2011-12 PPP 10-12 % Time Change Percent Change
Overall 0.91 100% 0.83 100% -0.08 8.79%
Isolation 0.84 9.80% 0.49 7% -0.35 41.67%
P&R Ball Handler 0.85 11.30% 0.8 11.10% -0.05 5.88%
Post-Up 0.92 8.30% 0.8 6.60% -0.12 13.04%
P&R Roll Man 1.06 4.50% 0.9 4.60% -0.16 15.09%
Spot-Up 1 18.30% 1.02 20.90% 0.02 -2.00%
Off Screen 0.95 4.80% 0.9 7.20% -0.05 5.26%
Hand Off 0.89 2.50% 0.82 2.50% -0.07 7.87%
Cut 1.19 8.80% 1.33 8.40% 0.14 -11.76%
Offensive Rebound 1.07 6.10% 1.02 5.80% -0.05 4.67%
Transition 1.16 13.30% 1.04 12.10% -0.12 10.34%
All Other Plays 0.42 7.80% 0.26 6.40% -0.16 38.10%


  •  The Wizards are much worse on offense across the board. PPP in Transition has improved slightly, as the Wizards are also running more. PPP from Offensive Rebounds is about the same, although the Wizards are rebounding on offense less. PPP from Hand Off offensive plays has increased 27.5-percent, but worth noting that in both the last two seasons, Hand Off plays only account for 0.8-percent of the offense.
  • The Wizards have regressed the most in P&R Roll Man plays, PPP on offense decreasing 18-percent, followed by Isolation plays (18-percent PPP decrease), Spot-Up plays (16-percent PPP decrease), and P&R Ball Handler plays (15.8-percent PPP decrease). But also notice that each of those four aforementioned play types have decreased in the percent of the time that the Wizards run them.
  • Post-Up plays have increased from 8.1-percent of the offense to 14-percent, but just like most other aspects, PPP produced on Post-Ups have decreased by 10.3-percent (0.78 PPP to 0.70).
  • Contrary to those with assumptions, the Wizards have improved on defense. In fact, their overall 0.83 PPP allowed is ranked seventh in the NBA by Synergy. Last season their 0.91 PPP allowed ranked 17th in the league. The defense would probably look even better if the Wizards’ offense wasn’t so bad.
  • The Wizards have 0bviously gotten less effective in defending Spot-Up and Cut plays. This could be for a myriad of reasons, but from my observations, perimeter players need to improve their ability to stay in front of ball handlers across the board, Jordan Crawford leading the way in futility.
  • The Wizards have made the most improvement, however, in defending against Isolations, decreasing their PPP allowed by a whopping 41.7-percent (0.84 PPP allowed last season to 0.49 this season, which is ranked first in the NBA). This could simply be a reflection of many of the Wizards being capable one-on-one defenders, but generally less-than-aware team defenders.
  • Flip Saunders, early in the season/training camp, announced that his team had not worked as much on pick-and-roll defense as he would’ve liked. The coach also often observes, or rather, places blame on the big men for lacking P&R defense. And he’s right, most of it is usually on the bigs and their ability to communicate, but the Wizards guards could also stand to improve a lot in their P&R defensive decision-making — it doesn’t seem like Saunders acknowledges that enough, but he’s also a very experienced NBA coach. I am not.
  • That being said, the Wizards have decreased the PPP allowed by the P&R Ball Handler by 5.9-percent (0.85 PPP to 0.80, ranked 15th in the NBA), and have decreased the PPP allowed by the P&R Roll Man by 15-percent (1.06 PPP to 0.90, ranked 10th in the NBA).


If the Wizards simply become smarter on offense, take better shots and limit unforced turnovers, the overall turnaround could be noticeable, if not drastic. Although, with the current personnel, that’s asking a lot. Still, Washington’s turnover percentage (TOV% via is .138, tied with the Charlotte Bobcats for 11th lowest in the NBA — meaning, the Wizards turn the ball over about 13.8 times per 100 plays. Portland is tops in the league, only turning the ball over around 12.3 times per 100 plays; Detroit is the worst, giving the ball away about 16.7 times per 100 plays. The League average is 14.3.

Saunders admittedly spent much more time on defense in training camp than offense. The coach also, essentially admittedly, thinks his players don’t pay as much attention as they need to be when it comes to scouting reports, likely both what the other teams does and what his team is supposed to be doing, offensively speaking. But ultimately it comes down to discipline. Can Saunders instill team-wide discipline when a couple of bad eggs are more than capable of contaminating the whole batch? (Lack of offensive talent be damned, because the coach’s experienced and knowledgeable offensive system should still be producing better in spite of what’s available.)

In all likelihood, unless it gets really, really bad (I know, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘Isn’t it pretty bad already?’), Saunders likely has a full slate of 56 more games to see what progress his team can make offensively. Because another ‘in all likelihood’ … Ted Leonsis would rather respond to pixels about 30-cent tickets all day instead of paying Saunders not to coach over the remainder of a four-year, $18 million contract that extends through the 2012-13 season.