When Flip Saunders was still calling plays and running practices in D.C., he had some pretty good ideas for changing the team’s culture. One idea in particular stood out, one which science said was “subconsciously driving players toward team behavior through deeply rooted psychological mechanisms.”
Remember? From my story in February 2012:
Peer-reviewed science says there is an incentive for Wizards players to compete like winners. Before this 2011-12 season, the Wizards secured a new whiteboard to the far-right corner of the Wizards locker room: the Charge Board. Players who draw charges in both practice and official NBA games are celebrated on the chart, now crowded with red and blue basketballs (like buckeye leaf stickers on a chrome football helmet), the new standard by which respect and status is measured in D.C.’s pro hoops franchise.
The motivational tool known as the Charge Board was Flip’s “constant reminder of the little things that matter.”
The Wizards under Randy Wittman have added two new categories to the board: “Deflections” and “Contest%.” Tip your hat to team management, because those little added incentives to play team ball are exactly what the Wizards needed.
And here’s why. They were built to run. No doubt about it, especially since Team President Ernie Grunfeld, the man holding all the player personnel cards, thinks that the super-fast John Wall is a franchise player, a guy with “all the tools to be a star-quality player.” And Grunfeld has brought in players to complement Wall’s impressive (albeit still limited) skill set.
The numbers seem to suggest that “The Plan” is working. For starters, the Wizards are 9-7 with John Wall (and a healthy roster), after going 5-28 without him. And take a look at some of the team’s advanced stats, put together by Rachel Stern of ESPN Stats & Information:
The Wizards’ offensive efficiency, or points per 100 possessions, is 99.8 in the 15 games with Wall, compared to 93.1 in the 33 games without him. Their defensive efficiency, or points allowed per 100 possessions, is also down considerably since Wall’s return [Ed. note: From 101.9 to 96.2.].
In the 33 games without Wall, the Wizards spent 12.5 percent of their plays in transition and averaged 15.6 transition points per game. Since Wall’s return, the team is in transition on 16.6 percent of their plays, averaging 18.6 points per game.
Though Wall is averaging about two fewer points this season than in his first two seasons in the league, he is sharing the ball more. Wall has assisted on 42.4 percent of his teammates’ field goals when he is on the court. That assist percentage is the highest of his career, and is the fifth highest percentage this season among players who have logged at least 250 minutes.
To run, to get out in transition where Wall and his teammates are most effective, you need to play defense. And the Wizards have done that—they’ve been a top half defensive team all season long. Deflecting passes leads to turnovers, and contesting jump shots leads to defensive rebounds, which then turn into Wizards fast breaks … and easy buckets. Over the last three games (all wins), the Wizards rank eighth in transition points per game (16). On the season they average 13.5 fast break points (FBPs) per 48 minutes. With Wall on the court for 450 total minutes, 19.6; with him off the court for 1937 minutes, just 12.0 FBPs.
Another snapshot: In games 21-30 (1-9 record over that span), the Wizards were allowing an opponent eFG% of .480 and posted an opponent team turnover ratio of 14.2 percent. More recently, with Wall in games 41-49, the Wiz are allowing an season-best opponent eFG% of .460 and have increased their opponent team turnover ratio to 15.8 percent. Over those last nine, the Wizards have a season-high eFG% of .498 and a winning record.
After Friday night’s 89-74 win over the Brooklyn Nets, I took a look at which players were leading the way the two new categories. In Contest%, it was Jan Vesely (87%), Garrett Temple (85%) and Bradley Beal (83%). John Wall (69%) and Jordan Crawford (64%) were bringing up the rear. As for Deflections, Emeka Okafor was running away from the competition with 197. Behind him were Trevor Ariza (134), Kevin Seraphin (125), Beal (121), Nene (114) and Vesely (102). Wall, playing in 16 games this season, is already at 59.
“It’s kind of a competitive thing for us,” Cartier Martin told me after the game. “We look at it, try to see what guys are taking the most charges, who has the most deflections. It’s something we try to get better at every game. We’re shooting to see who comes up with the most charges, deflections and all that at the end of the year.”
I asked if trash talk was a part of the game, given that the Charge Board is subconsciously linked to the fight for the Alpha. “Not really trash talk, it’s just more of a ‘we know what we need to do.’ We take a look at it and make sure that we stay on top of our game.”
“It definitely is a motivational tool.”
Defensive Effort vs. Brooklyn
Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA Today Sports