Those Offensive Wizards By The Numbers: Marriage to the Midrange
That’s been Randy Wittman’s unrelenting mantra from the regular season into the playoffs—the same unrelenting mantra that has Bulls fans ready to fire Tom Thibodeau. Of course, Wittman, whether by forced hand or not, has practiced more discretion with player minutes than Thibodeau. And Randy had the deeper bench.
Wittman is respectably staunch, part of his tight-lipped focus in these playoffs. His game plan is to wash, rinse, and repeat. With a fully healthy team, why change? Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. He hugs it like a security blanket. But if anything has really changed (the postseason is all about matchups and adjustments, right?), Wittman won’t reveal. Playoff basketball.
During the regular season, the Wizards shot an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 50.6, tied with the New York Knicks for 11th-best in the NBA and ranked 10th amongst playoff teams in the regular season. (Phoenix, essentially a playoff team, fielded the league’s seventh-best regular season eFG%.)
In five playoff games against the Bulls, the Wizards’ eFG% dropped to 47.9 percent, ranked 12th amongst the 16 playoff teams. Not a significant drop-off, especially considering the caliber of defensive opponent in Chicago.
It’s worth comparing the shot charts from the playoffs to the regular season—those you see below. Against the Bulls in the postseason, Washington didn’t pound the ball inside to a better percentage (shot 5.2% worse at the basket), fielded almost the exact same 3-point percentage overall (0.3% better in the playoffs), and attempted less corner 3s (down from 6.5 per game in the regular season to 3.6 per game in the first round).
Wizards Shot Chart vs. Bulls in Playoffs
Wizards 2013-14 Regular Season Shot ChartIt’s the midrange where there was game. During the regular season, the Wizards attempted a league-high 26.8 midrange shots per game and were the 10th-worst at making them (38.1%). In five games against Chicago, the Wizards actually upped their midrange attempts to 29.2 per game, second only to the Dallas Mavericks (30.8) for most in the postseason. And while the Wizards have upped their ability to make these shots by 2.3 percent to 40.4 percent, that still ranks more toward the middle of the pack (6th), which isn’t terrible, all things considered. Remember: Chicago’s defense, more so than most NBA defenses, tends to allow for midrange looks; they gave up the second-most attempts per game on the season (26.2) and allowed the fifth-lowest field goal percentage (37.8%).
In a series where the average point differential per game was 5.8 points, a 2.6 percent bump in midrange shooting percentage for the Wizards over what the Bulls allowed during the regular season could provide an extra 1.5 points per game (a meaningful 25% of the scoring difference).
Two shot distribution shot charts are below: versus the Bulls in the play0ffs, and overall for the Wizards during the regular season. Nine percent of all Washington’s field goal attempts against Chicago came at the right elbow (47.2 FG%), up from 6.8 percent during the regular season (and 39.1 FG%). John Wall continued to display that the right elbow is his sweet spot (6-13 FGs), but Nene led the way from that area against the Bulls (7-10 FGs).
Wizards Shot Distribution vs. Bulls in Playoffs
Wizards 2013-14 Regular Season Shot ChartAnother way of looking at it: The Wizards shooting 38.1 percent on 26.8 midrange attempts per game got them 20.4 points per game during the regular season. Against Chicago, the increase in attempts and percentage got them 23.6 points per game. Yes, midrange 2s are still inefficient shots, but when they are available against a team like the Bulls—and you’re making them at a better rate than at any other point in the season—you take them.
Chicago’s opponents also scored 15.6 points per game off their turnovers during the regular season, the Wizards scored 17.4 points per game off Bull turnovers in the playoffs. It all adds up…
Nothing changes…. Consistency.
One thing the Wizards have been fortunate enough to have this season is consistency. The same seven players who led the team in minutes during the regular season are the same seven players who have led the Wizards in the playoffs. For those seven players, we will take a look at their overall contribution on the score and the impact they have on the statistics that compile a game in the regular season versus the playoffs.
The first metric: Net Rating (NetRtg - points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions when on the floor). The regular season NetRtg of those seven Wizards would rank as follows:
- Marcin Gortat +4.8
- Trevor Ariza +3.5
- Nene +3.4
- John Wall +2.9
- Bradley Beal + 2.0
- Martell Webster -0.5
- Trevor Booker -1.3
And in the playoffs vs. the Bulls (change from the regular season in parentheses):
- Ariza +13.3 (+9.8)
- Gortat +9.4 (+4.6)
- Wall +8.4 (+5.5)
- Beal +4.3 (+2.3)
- Booker +3.8 (+5.1)
- Nene -1.6 (-5.0)
- Webster -14.2 (-13.7)
Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza continue to have the most significant impact on the game’s outcome. John Wall and Bradley Beal, as the young guards, appropriately fall in the middle of both lists. Martell Webster we know is having a down-ish type of year. Nene, although a pillar in the playoffs via his excellent jump shooting, was not able to positively influence the point spread during his court time, but that doesn’t mean his presence didn’t add value in closely-fought games. It did.
ESPN.com’s David Thorpe (on Insider) ranked Nene third in his playoffs MVP rankings (published on May 2) after LeBron (2nd) and LaMarcus Aldridge (1st). Thorpe:
“Nene made 29 of his 47 shots in the three wins that he played in, and in the closeout game he went 10-for-17 from the field while the rest of his team combined to shoot just 20-for-57. His finishing ability made it tough on Chicago’s Joakim Noah to play the type of incredible help defense we’re accustomed to seeing from him. And when Noah did provide good help, it almost always seemed like Nene and the Wizards made him pay.”
That brings us to Trevor Booker. His NetRtg went from the negative to the positive in the playoffs (and showed the third-highest boost from the regular season, plus-5.1, after Ariza and Wall). Booker’s playoff performance against Chicago passed the eye test—he made them pay by hitting 5 of 8 jumper attempts from midrange
“Just taking them when I’m open. Working on it after practice, I feel very confident, and I’m going to continue to shoot it if I’m open.” –Booker on his improving jumper
The second metric: PIE (Player Impact Estimate) measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in (full equation found at the bottom of this post).
PIE %, Regular season:
- Nene – 52.9%
- Gortat – 52.6%
- Ariza – 51.5%
- Wall – 51.4%
- Beal – 51.0%
- Webster – 49.7%
- Booker – 48.3%
PIE %, Playoffs, Round 1 vs Bulls (change from the regular season in parentheses):
- Ariza – 60.3% (+8.8)
- Gortat – 57.3% (+4.7)
- Wall – 56.7% (+5.3)
- Beal – 54.1% (+3.1)
- Booker – 53.2% (+4.9)
- Nene – 49.1% (-3.8)
- Webster – 41.3% (-8.4)
Much of the contributions and improvement is a similar reflection to the NetRtg data. It also drives home the point that the three free agents to-be (Ariza, Gortat and Booker, the latter of whom will be restricted) are having a great impact on this playoff run. The side effect is that such performances ultimately makes it more difficult to keep the (roster) consistency that is preached. The possibility of over-paying and over-committing is as real as it is uncertain. Because while the Wizards have been impressed by the play of Ariza, Gortat, and Booker, too, they’re not the only ones. Teams, the media, and fans across the NBA landscape have seen their contributions to the game and their skill sets will be in demand this offseason. Tough choices ahead.
Success this year will help Ted Leonsis’ bottom line and season ticket sales, but whether that means the Wizards will become regular playoff participants but consistent underachievers like the Washington Capitals remains to be seen. Regardless of how the numbers stack up in the past and in the future, hopefully the Wizards can continue to ride the Ariza chillwave and pound the Polish Hammer in the now.
Only the Pacers allowed opponents to attempt more midrange shots per game than the Bulls during the regular season (26.4), and the 39.2 percent shooting Indiana allowed from that area ranked 13th-lowest in the NBA. But if the Wizards can keep finding success with the much-maligned midrange shot, there’s no telling how far they can go in this postseason. Given future personnel management savvier than fancy stats and math basketball, playoff runs like this can mean a more enduring change in the direction of the Washington franchise. Nothing changes? Maybe it does.
PIE is calculated based on player and game statistics only when a player is on the floor. (PTS + FGM + FTM – FGA – FTA + DREB + (.5 * OREB) + AST + STL + (.5 * BLK) – PF – TO) / (GmPTS + GmFGM + GmFTM – GmFGA – GmFTA + GmDREB + (.5 * GmOREB) + GmAST + GmSTL + (.5 * GmBLK) – GmPF – GmTO)