The Expected All-Star Break State of the Washington Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Expected All-Star Break State of the Washington Wizards

By
Updated: February 18, 2015

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Sometimes expectations are the goal.

With a record of 33-21 and ranked fourth in the East after 54 games, the Washington Wizards are—wait for it—where everyone figured they’d be. The oddsmakers at Bovada put the Wizards’ over/under on wins at 50 back in early-October, and they are on pace for just that. Let the balancing act between hopeless potential and escaping reality begin.

Washington is one win better than their expected win-loss record at this point (32-22), as predicted by “the basketball adaptation of Bill James’ Pythagorean theorem of baseball.”(1) You can probably thank a road win for the one-game difference, either Jan. 14 in Chicago or Dec. 29 in Houston. Those were the wins in which Washington was the biggest underdog.(2) So far the Wizards are 5-11 when pegged as the underdog by Las Vegas; two of those wins came at home versus Cleveland and the Clippers early in the season.

The sadness of forecasting and lonely statistics are correct, as usual. Why even watch, according to none.

Then again, the Atlanta Hawks (43-11) were given an over/under of 41 wins—they have already surpassed that count by two with 28 games left. The Cleveland Cavaliers must go 26-1 after the All-Star break to exceed their league-high over/under of 58.5 wins to start the season. (Not happening.)

Washington, if anything, is reliable, if not down trending after a 19-6 start, matching a franchise-best record after 25 games.

Improvement of sparse, but leading youth; improvement of ‘veteran-ness’; improvement of following a continually tweaked plan/process; improvement of continuity under the trustworthy and affordable upstart coach, old timer Randy Wittman—despite it all, sometimes teams are just what an overall environmental assessment predicts. But were all the details expected?

Washington has a 14th-ranked NBA offense (nestled between Houston and Utah) and a fifth-ranked defense. Fairly predictable.(3) The unexpected part of the Wizards’ middling offense: they are fourth in the NBA in both overall field goal percentage and 3-point percentage (but 20th in free throw percentage). The Wizards rank in the bottom fourth of the NBA in turnovers, free throws made, and 3-pointers made (and attempted) per game. Kind of a drag, no? Turnovers are mostly player-driven, 3-pointers we’ll say more coach-driven, and free throws both—roster inefficiencies perhaps being a convenient scapegoat for all.

Not all is broken (or incomplete). The Wizards are fourth amongst the top five NBA teams with the highest rate of assisted field goals, including, in order of best, the Hawks, Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers. Pretty good company. The Wizards are ninth in the NBA in fastbreak points per game (but almost seven points behind the league-leading Warriors), and they allow opponents to score the seventh-fewest fastbreak points per game. They are good at defensive rebounding (ranked ninth), and not so good at offensive rebounding (ranked 21st), something clearly sacrificed in the spirit of defense, particularly transition defense. Also important: the Wizards keep opponents from scoring at the basket, as they allow the fifth-fewest attempts at the rim per game; opponents make those shots 50.5 percent of the time, tied for seventh-lowest in the NBA. Of course, Washington only scores 11 points per game from drives to the hoop, tied for third-lowest with the Lakers.

The Wizards do a lot of things just OK, and that’s OK.

Like a Flavia single-cup brewing machine at work—free, trustworthy, available in different flavors. No, not morning coffee crafted by an overly-friendly barista, but a lot better than the complimentary hot water that was served for years. But caffeine shouldn’t determine the course of your day, and neither should Randy Wittman’s java. The oft-maligned coach could ultimately lead the team to a ceiling (similar to Mark Jackson’s tenure in Golden State), but in the present, it’s more about Washington’s talent holding itself back—coaching strategy and roster composition are of course accompaniments, however.

Players got to make shots cliché? Washington’s eFG% of 50.8 percent ranks 10th in the NBA. Their eFG% for “open” shots(4( dips slightly to 50.6 percent. Of the top 10 teams, only the Suns, Raptors, and Bucks (slightly)(5), in addition to the Wizards, shoot a worse eFG% than their overall rates when considered open. Wittman needs to help his team manufacture more 3s, and yes, players need to make moreshots (and yes, Ernie Grunfeld needs to provide players who can make more shots).

Washington has played the second easiest schedule to date … after the Golden State Warriors. And lest we not pity the Wizards for the ease of their opponents, the Bucks, Hawks, Raptors, and Cavaliers are next in order for ease of schedule pre-All-Star break.(6) According to PlayoffStatus.com, Washington’s remaining opponents have a win percentage of 49 percent, tying them with four other teams for third-hardest remaining schedule in the East. That 49 percent, however, would be tied for the third-easiest remaining schedule in the West.

Washington’s overall chances to make noise down the homestretch and into the playoffs are more murky than they are promising. The Hawks are all but running away with the East and the Raptors are close to having a comfortable distance from the pack at the 2-seed; the Cavaliers remain hot. All three of those franchises are seemingly more active in trying to make roster tweaks leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline. The Wizards, perhaps overly resting laurels on presumed depth, and the Bulls, actually a deep team when fully healthy, are not as active on the hot stove.(7) The two teams seem destined for another first-round meeting as the 4-5 matchup.

Odds are that team brass is A-OK with this, not merely from the perspective that the Bulls would be the ideal opponent (although perhaps not in the first round), but because mere playoff consistency placates the grind of rebuilding a franchise on numerous levels.

On one hand, there might never be a better chance than now. It’s a philosophy that rings so true in sports because that which cannot be controlled (injuries, for example) can change dynamics swiftly and authoritatively. It’s also a philosophy that has gotten many a franchise in trouble for taking the wrong risk.(8) Are the Wizards confident enough in their ability to calculate the right risk and execute it? Or will ownership-driven frugality and the pestering but noble desire to be patient be prohibitive to success?

Team management has a trick up its sleeve, via an open roster spot, that’s currently worth the same amount as giving up on Glen Rice Jr.’s development—he was MVP of the 2014 NBA Summer League; yet, no other team has shown interest since he was waived on Jan. 7. Whatever the case, better make that trick count.

Something, someone will look to improve the Wizards, somehow, but that will still beg the question: Why do they seem so comfortable meeting the low-set expectations of statistical forecasting? Meeting expectations is, by definition, expected. Surpassing expectations, however, is what defines special franchises and championship runs.


 

  1. Via ESPN.com.
  2. Washington was a 5.5-point dog to the Bulls and a 3.5-point dog to the Rockets, according to VegasInsider.com.
  3. The Wizards finished tied for 17th in OffRtg and 9th in DefRtg during the 2013-14 regular season. Improvement!
  4. Per NBA.com player tracking stats, “open” is when the closest defender is 4-to-6-feet away.
  5. Difference in “open” eFG% versus overall eFG%: Warriors (+0.8%), Hawks (+2.1%), Clippers (+3.4%), Mavericks (+0.7%), Suns (-2.0%), Cavaliers (+1.6%), Raptors (-1.5%), Bucks (-0.1%), Rockets (+1.0%), Wizards (-0.2%).
  6. ESPN.com’s SOS listing is slightly different from Basketball-Reference.com; the Warriors and Wizards are first and second easiest in both.
  7. Although, per report of the Washington Post, the Wizards have apparently brought their 2015 first round pick to the table …  “for the right piece.”
  8. Do people have to be reminded how the wrong risk in Milwaukee—Grunfeld’s commitment to Anthony Mason—destroyed a once-promising Bucks squad? Ray Allen, then a Buck, called it “one of our worst moves” in April 2013 as a member of the Miami Heat.
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.