Washington Wizards: Best-Shooting Mediocre Offense in the Modern NBA Era | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Washington Wizards: Best-Shooting Mediocre Offense in the Modern NBA Era

Updated: February 23, 2015


Thanks to cameras mounted in professional basketball arenas across the land, a shot is no longer merely hit or miss.

Teams have charted defensive, non-box score actions such as contested shot attempts for years (often a subjective exercise). But now, with cameras tracking every movement of every NBA player, and of the ball, we have a developing, consistent dataset. We have a better idea, for instance, how far away a defender was when a shot was attempted (although that can be independent of whether the defender had his hand in the air or not).

Pop Quiz: see you if you can match up the league-wide shooting percentages with defender distance below. (1)



1. “Very Tight”
(Defender within 0-2 feet).
a. 47.2%
2. “Tight”
(Defender within 2-4 feet).
b. 45.6%
3. “Open”
(Defender within 4-6 feet).
c. 44.4%
4. “Wide Open”
(Defender 6+ feet away).
d. 43.2%


[via NBA.com/stats]


The answers might surprise you, and they can be seen by hovering your mouse over this footnote: 2 [Or by scrolling to the bottom of this post.]

The sample size (3) is significant but still limited.

This specific data regarding distance of the defender is not layered with other telling analytics, for example: how many dribbles happened before the shot; how long did the shooter have the ball before the attempt; when in the shot clock did the attempt occur; was it a catch-and-shoot or a pull-up; did the defender actually contest or was he just close. Such combined data toward the big picture is probably something NBA teams have access to at the drop of a hat, whether it be directly via the SportVU system or via their own systems.

Whatever the case, what’s revealed about defender proximity is surprising, at face value. NBA teams generally hit closely defended shots more often than they do wide open shots.

Combining some of the data above, when a defender is within four feet of a shooter (“tight” or “very tight”) the average shooter’s field goal percentage is 46.7 percent.

When there’s not a defender within four feet, the shot is made 43.7 percent of the time. A 3 percent difference seems fairly significant. Or maybe just a margin of statistical tracking error.

To get a better idea of which NBA playoff contenders, East and West, have hit open shots (y-axis) versus defended shots (x-axis), a pretty chart with logos:


[click to enlarge]

Golden State is Golden State, of course. The Wizards, bunched up top with the Hawks, Clippers, and Bucks, have the third-best “open” plus “wide-open” field goal percentage amongst the 22 teams in the set at 46.1 percent. For “tightly” or “very tightly” defended shots, Washington shoots sixth-best at 47.9 percent. So, yes, the Wizards shoot 1.8 percent better when defended. Some of this, however, is related to post play, in which there often will be a defender within four feet. Washington ranks eighth in the NBA in frequency of post-up plays (11.1%).

The surprising part is that for the Wizards, it’s perhaps less about the ‘players got to make shots’ cliché. Wizards shooters are making shots no matter how close the nearest defender is. The part that is not surprising is that such data further points to the issue that Washington is not attempting the right type of shots: 3-pointers.

No further explanation is really needed. Even if it is amazingly baffling that the Wizards make open and contested shots better than teams like Houston, Portland and Toronto. In fact, Washington currently has the third-best field-goal percentage in the entire NBA (47%). Yet, when it comes to offensive efficiency, the Wizards rank 14th (105.0 OffRtg)—mostly because they take less 3-pointers. Over one-third of NBA teams attempt 50 percent more 3-pointers than the Wizards do on a game-by-game basis. (They also attempt just 21.6 free throws per game, ranked 21st in the league.)

Over the prior 20 NBA seasons and including 2014-15, only one other NBA team, aside from these Wizards, has made 47 percent or more of its field goal attempts while scoring 105 or fewer points per 100 possessions (OffRtg). The answer would be the 2006-07 Orlando Magic, which shot 47.2 percent from the field but had an OffRtg of 104.9 and finished the season 40-42. Orlando attempted the third-fewest 3s in the league that season and fielded the 11th-worst 3-point percentage. (4)

At least the 2014-15 Washington Wizards are a better 3-point shooting team, which still would give them the nod for the best shooting mediocre offense of the modern NBA era.

Considering Washington’s 2015 struggles, here’s proof, nonetheless, that in addition to team scheme issues at the 3-point line, something is currently in the Wizards’ head like a Cranberries song from 1994.

From November to December of 2014 to January to February (so far) of 2015, the Wizards’ ability to hit shots when there was defender within four feet has been pretty consistent. Rather, it’s Washington’s inability to make open (and wide-open) shots as the calendar has changed which is glaring.

Via the table below, a dip to 36.4 percent in February when a defender is within 4-to-6 feet is a drastic drop-off—27.5 percent of Washington’s field goal attempts come with a defender in this range. The Wizards hit better than 50 percent of their wide-open shots (no defender within 6 feet) in November and December—that has dipped in 2015 as one would expect, given the results in the win/loss column.

Wizards Team Field Goal Percentage

Defender Range  Nov.   Dec.   Jan.   Feb. 
0-2 Feet  52.6%  49.0%  53.3%  49.6%
2-4 Feet  43.5%  45.5%  49.1%  46.0%
4-6 Feet  42.4%  49.6%  45.5%  36.4%
6+ Feet  50.6%  50.0%  45.2%  47.5%


But who is missing all the open shots? This table shows the shooting percentage of Washington’s wing players when there’s a defender within four feet versus outside of four feet, and over November and December of 2014 versus January and February of 2015 (5).

0-4 Feet (Nov-Dec) 0-4 Feet (Jan-Feb) 4+ Feet (Nov-Dec) 4+ Feet (Jan-Feb) Defended Shots
FG% Diff.
FG% Diff.
John Wall 47.1% 47.8% 44.3% 43.9% 0.7% -0.4%
Bradley Beal 37.9% 43.1% 47.3% 40.9% 5.1% -6.3%
Paul Pierce 43.2% 41.7% 45.6% 49.4% -1.5% 3.8%
Rasual Butler 45.2% 40.0% 59.5% 33.3% -5.2% -26.2%
Otto Porter 47.5% 51.2% 47.1% 37.3% 3.7% -9.7%
Garrett Temple 30.8% 45.5% 34.1% 53.3% 14.7% 19.2%


John Wall has been the most consistent and is only shooting slightly worse when open in 2015. Paul Pierce, you could say, has been the next-most consistent. He’s even making open shots at better rate than contested shots in 2015 (3.8% increase), and after Garrett Temple, Pierce is Washington’s best “open” shot maker.

Rasual Butler … oh, Rasual Butler. The eyes do not deceive: he is shooting 26.2 percent worse on open shots over January and February compared to November and December. Talk about regression. Talk about legs. Talk about the temporary reward, but the ever-present risk of signing 35-year-old players for an 82-game season.

Bradley Beal (-6.3%) and Otto Porter (-9.7%) are also struggling to hit open shots more in 2015. Temple has actually improved over limited action and attempts, but he’s still an overall minus whenever he plays (6) Martell Webster’s sample size was rather small and almost too bad to mention, but we will, anyway. In 2015 Webster has made 18.8 percent of his attempts with a defender within four feet and just 34.6 percent of his shot attempts when there’s not a defender within four feet.

The ‘players got to make shots’ cliché makes its return. What’s more true is having players capable of making shots. The Wizards don’t, really. In essence they “lost” two long-range bombers from last season—Trevor Ariza and Webster—and have gained only half of a Rasual Butler. This is on top of Bradley Beal, currently injured, not progressing as most would have hoped (i.e., as a 3-point shooter with the ability to slash as well). Surrounding John Wall with at least one “3-point specialist” (like a Kyle Korver or Anthony Morrow or J.J. Redick or Channing Frye or Mike Dunleavy) has been curiously absent from the team-building philosophy, which is also amazingly baffling.

No franchise can afford to eat dust in this modern NBA. Washington was behind the times for most of its league life. A change in ownership has helped move the team into modern times (7), especially off the court with zero-gravity treadmills and investments in player amenities and personal development. But the product on the court remains a relic, even with the fastest point guard in the NBA. Forward-thinking philosophies from the coaching staff especially, but also the front office, must be accelerated.

Instead, the Wizards are left with stubbornness, a lack of shooting, and an insistence on pounding the rock into big men who don’t always want to play big. The more things change, the more they stay the same, except when you don’t adapt to the game around you. That’s when you just get left behind.

  1. Through last Saturday’s games for the 2014-15 season; does not include 2013-14 data, when player SportVU tracking cameras were first installed in all NBA arenas.
  2. #1 = b.; #2 = a.; #3 = d.; #4 = c.
  3. Generally 51-57 games for the 22 NBA teams in either conference that have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
  4. Via Basketball-Reference.com
  5. Stats through Sunday’s game versus Detroit.
  6. Temple is minus-12.1 per 48 minutes in 2015, a team-worst amongst Wizards playing 200-plus minutes during the time period.
  7. “President Obama ought to be happy that we’re doing all these analytics with all the jobs we’re creating,” said Randy Wittman recently. So modern.
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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 currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.