Opening Statements: Wizards at 76ers, Game 59 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at 76ers, Game 59

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Updated: February 27, 2015

Washington Wizards vs Philadelphia 76ers

If you’ve never lived by the 3, are you already dead?

“Live by the 3, die by the 3” is a basketball adage that should now be considered as antiquated as the term from which it is derived: “live by the sword, die by the sword.” That was used in biblical times as a euphemism to the effect of, If you use violence, or other harsh means, against other people, you can expect to have those same means used against you.

The problem with that adage, in basketball terms, is that it insinuates that relying on the 3-point shot is hurting and not helping your team win. We have encountered this argument numerous times, and math wins, every time. Simply put, 3-pointers are 1.5 times more valuable than 2-pointers. Yeah, there is a lower percentage on 3-point shots, but the added point differential of 3-pointers having about double the per-shot variance in point outcomes as 2-pointers is well worth the risk. Smart basketball teams know this and use all of the little statistical bonuses to their advantage, because a low-percentage 3 (or shot in the paint) is worth more than an “open” look from 15 feet.

As crazy as it sounds, there is a very small cause for jealousy of tonight’s opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, because of where they stand on the Big Data debate. In ESPN’s latest feature piece, “The Great Analytics Rankings,” The Sixers are the number one franchise in sports when it comes to use of analytics. The Sixers went all-in on analytics in the summer of 2013 when they hired GM Sam Hinkie from the Houston Rockets. Hinkie was a disciple of Daryl Morey, who is known throughout the sports world as one of the innovators in the application of analytics. The Sixers may not have much talent to showcase on the floor on a nightly basis, but at least they play with space and, of course, shoot 3s.

The Wizards rank 27th in 3-point attempts (16.3, the fewest attempts per game since 2010-11) despite the fact that they rank fifth in 3-point percentage (.364). The lowly 76ers rank 28th in 3-point percentage (.316) but somehow rank 11th in 3-point attempts (24.4).

Because the product on the court has been so underwhelming for the Sixers, it’s hard for them to reap the rewards of sowing fields of information, or innovation. The Sixers haven’t hit it big in the lotto like the Wizards did with John Wall and Bradley Beal (two players who fell into their laps), but at the rate they keep rolling over their assets, it’s only a matter of time before they will, and that’s as smart a plan as any.

Meanwhile, it’s still stomach-churning to think about what could have been if the Wizards would have hired an analytics knowledgeable coach like Steve Kerr, Mike Budenholzer, or even a Brett Brown. The Wizards are stuck with Randy Wittman’s outdated basketball philosophy that allows for long 2-pointers to be taken freely, as he explained to the Washington Post before the season:

“If a team wants to give us midrange open shots, we’re going to take them. I’m going to tell a guy that has a wide-open 15-foot jumper to take three steps back and shoot a 3? I’m not going to do that.”

Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld may be the primary suspects in the near negligent homicide of the Wizards, but John Wall has turned from innocent bystander to full-blown accomplice during the Wizards losing streak. In the last five games Wall has hit a proverbial “wall” in his production, watching his stat line drop dramatically. Wall’s per game averages are at 17 points, 10.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.8 turnovers for the season but just 13.6 points, 9.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.4 turnovers in the last five games. Wall has been steadily losing confidence in his improved jump shot, and there isn’t enough space on the floor for him to operate like there was early in the season, when the now-injured Bradley Beal and declining Rasual Butler were hitting their 3s.

It’s not only the fact that the Wizards refuse to incorporate 3s into their own offense, but the way they defend 3-pointers, too. The Washington defense has given up 162 points from 3-pointers on 42 percent shooting during the five game losing streak, while the offense has sputtered from behind the arc shooting a pathetic 21-for-90 on 3s (23%).

[Steph Curry must have a scouting report on how easy it is to shoot from 3 against the Wiz.]

The other two major tenets of playing analytical offense are: getting to the rim and getting to the free throw line. The Wizards aren’t successful at either, ranking 21st in shots attempted within the restricted area (25.6 per game), which most certainly coincides with them only shooting 22.7 free throws per 100 possessions (20th in the NBA). This has been a problem for years (and may be attributed, in part, to all the pull-ups from 15-19 feet).

The Wizards aren’t getting easy shots in the paint or at the line, and they definitely aren’t gaining any competitive advantage from taking 3s. It’s almost a miracle what they have been able to accomplish as the “Best Shooting Mediocre Offense in the Modern NBA Era.”

Circumstances are much different from when the Wizards demolished the Sixers 111-76 on Martin Luther King Day. This Wizards team needs a win by any means necessary Friday night in Philadelphia. Another loss would be a shot of blunt-force trauma to an already withering body. Apparently you can, in fact, survive if you’ve never lived by the 3. In the Wizards current state, which is beginning to feel like a medically induced coma, is that any way to live?

Stopping by Truth About It today is Wesley Share, assistant editor of the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate Hoop76.com.


Teams: Wizards @ 76ers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA|
Television: CSN+
Radio: WNEW 99.1 FM / WFED 1500 AM
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 10


 

Q1. In ESPN.com’s most recent feature piece, “The Great Analytics Rankings,” there is a drastic difference between the 76ers, who were listed as “all-in” on analytics, and the Wizards who are “skeptics.”

Does it bring Sixers fans any solace in knowing that the franchise has done their proper due diligence to have the most educated re-building process possible, as opposed to a franchise like the Wizards, who are content with living in the basketball Dark Ages?

@wshareNBA: Since analytics are essentially just information, I’d say yes, the fact that the front office applies as much information as possible when making decisions does bring Sixers fans solace. I don’t know much about the dynamics in Washington’s front office when it comes to analytics, but it’s not even a debate to me—why wouldn’t you want as much information as possible available to your team when making decisions? Any team that resists adapting to the new landscape is simply at a disadvantage.

Q2. One of the more interesting and underrated trades on NBA deadline day was the Sixers/Rockets trade that sent rookie K.J. McDaniels to the Rockets for Isaiah Canaan and a second-round draft pick.

Do you feel as though the Sixers may have given up on a valuable young asset such as McDaniels too abruptly, and if his impending restricted free-agency and potential pay-off from gambling on his own prospectus was the deciding factor in the transaction?

@wshareNBA: The K.J. trade was super underwhelming, but I understand the logic. Getting major minutes with the Sixers and finding himself on highlight reels constantly, he was bound to get overpaid by someone this summer. The Sixers chose to get value for him while they still could rather than either overpay him or lose him for nothing. He’s going to be a very fun and useful 3-and-D player one day, but given his production, he’s just not worth the payday he’ll get in July.

Q3. Despite the lack of talent on the floor, the Sixers are playing with exceptional pace and getting good shots. Where does the fan base stand on second-year head coach Brett Brown?

@wshareNBA: The team is actually seeing 3.5 less possessions per game this season (101.6 down to 98.1), in part because they lost a couple so-called ball handlers in Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes at the deadline last year. As for Brown, we have reasons to be encouraged, but the jury’s still mostly out. Don’t get me wrong, he and his developmental staff have worked some wonders over the past year and a half—they taught Jerami Grant how to shoot 3s at the NBA level when he made zero at Syracuse last year, and coached a group of mostly D-League players to defend at a league-average level, to cite a couple examples. But it’s unclear whether he can coach an actual NBA offense because … well, he simply hasn’t had the opportunity to even try yet. I think it’ll be a little while before we can accurately and educatedly evaluate his head-coaching abilities.

Q4. Now that 2014 rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams is out of the picture, do you consider any players on the current roster who might actually be considered cornerstones for the future of the franchise (e.g. Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid)?

@wshareNBA: Embiid is the only player currently on the roster that I would be legitimately stunned to see moved. He’s a cornerstone to me and, if healthy, potentially a generational talent. I think they’d listen on him if a team came calling—it’d be irresponsible for a team at their stage to take anyone off the table, really—but he’s the only player currently on the roster with the potential to be transcendent.

Q5. As Wizards fans know far too well, JaVale McGee can be an interesting character. So far he has said all of the right things in his short tenure as a 76er.

Do you think he can become the latest NBA reclamation project?

@wshareNBA: Reclamation project? Maybe. Here long-term? Doubt it. Hinkie even admitted that the team really only acquired him for the pick. He’s more likely to be a valuable expiring used for salary-matching purposes in a trade than anything else.

 

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.