Wizards Struggle to Clutch Late-Game Situations | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Struggle to Clutch Late-Game Situations

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Updated: April 3, 2015

[via @recordANDradio]

[via @recordANDradio]

It’s Pick on the Washington Wizards week. Or month. Or 2015. Or early-1980s to whatever time period floats your boat. Ted Leonsis, team owner and pro bono blogger, has expressed blunt feelings in pixel form about his team’s struggles as of late—part venting, part appeasement, part because he’s established the expectation that he provide an opinion on such.

In a post titled “Tale of Two Cities” after Sunday’s loss to the Rockets, he wrote:

“In DC, on national television, the Wizards continued to slide and rung up another loss in a very winnable game. We just don’t seem to have as much energy as we did earlier in the season, and we are making the game harder than it is by turning the ball over and missing lay ups and dunks. I counted 5 close in lay up like shots that were missed and then the player complained that he was fouled, while the other team ran up the court.

[…]

“Houston though won the game from the 3 point line, shooting 9 for 29. The Wizards shot 4 of 15. There is a 15 point swing in an 8 point loss.”

It’s not the first time he’s dabbled in 3-point discrepancies. And on Monday, after the Wizards, without even playing a game, officially clinched a playoff berth for the second year in a row (an inevitable which serves as a low-hanging cue for perspective), Leonsis wrote in sober keystrokes:

“…there isn’t a cause for celebration as our expectations aren’t being met as to our on court performance of late.”

BUT, but. After beating Philadelphia by 13 points on Wednesday, Leonsis wrote:

“Rest key players. Win for momentum building into playoffs. That is what the last two weeks of the season is all about.

“The Wizards notch a win against the Sixers last night and were able to accomplish both goals, we generated a 34 point lead, we coasted to a 106 – 93 win.”

We’ve already said too much. The intention of this post was to serve a reprieve (or balance) from the day-to-day grind of watching Washington lose basketball games (but sometimes beating the 76ers) by button-mashing the #MathBasketball calculator. Yes, stats such-and-such can be used to relay the same depressing narrative (while interjecting objectivity, as they say, even though numbers can be selectively presented to one’s own liking). But where would we be without insight into the mistakes the Wizards may be repeating past suck-it-up-and-get-in-the-cold-tub effort?

Today, we look at Washington in close games and how players fare with their effort and focus and ability to be patient, execute, and make good shots in the clutch. First, the team and one definition of clutch.

The NBA.com default settings for “clutch” statistics are within the last five minutes of a game (regulation or overtime) and with neither team leading by more than five points. The Washington Wizards have played the fifth-most clutch minutes on the season at 177 (as of Thursday’s NBA games).

The Wizards have had 40 games where this definition of clutch time has come into play. The NBA average is 37.7; Orlando leads with 46 clutch-involved contests (.413 W%); the Warriors have played in the fewest at 26 (.731 W%); and the Wizards’ 40 games ties Memphis (.700 W%), Brooklyn (.575 W%), and Milwaukee (.500 W%). Close games can happen to anyone.

The Wizards field a record of 21-19 in these clutch situations, a .525 winning percentage that ranks 12th in the league, which seems about right, considering the Wizards are currently tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 12th-best overall winning percentage in the NBA (.560).

What’s slightly odd is that the Wizards are minus-11.7 per 48 minutes of clutch time, ranked fifth-worst in the NBA—even if this oddity isn’t wholly surprising. The average margin of victory for their 21 clutch wins is 4.9 points; the Wizards have lost 19 clutch games by an average of 5.9 points, per NBA.com/stats.

And thus the Wizards are 20-14 when not dealing with clutch situations. We could say the Wizards are more like Jerry Seinfeld in the “Even Steven” episode, but let’s be honest: the Wizards are George Constanza. Of course, in that particular episode George decided to do everything the opposite of how he’d always done and ends up with a job working for the New York Yankees. Elaine Benes ends up being in the shoes normally reserved for George’s character by the end of the episode. Life lessons in “Seinfeld,” man.

Let’s take a further look at the 40 close games (out of 76, and as defined by the default definition of clutch time) in which the Wizards have battled.

Washington is 10-11 in close away games, 11-8 in close home games. Keep reading below the table (also available here via Google Docs).


ROAD CLUTCH.

The Wizards have beaten these 9 teams on the road:
BKN, DEN, HOU, IND, LAL, MIA, NOP, ORL (2x), UTH — only the Rockets and maybe the Pelicans and Jazz could be considered quality wins.

They have lost to these 11 teams on the road:
BOS, CHA, CHI, MIA, MIL, OKC, PHI, PHO, POR, SAS, TOR — all mostly understandable, aside from the 76ers loss, which could perhaps be debated now that they are relatively decent (by their standards).

HOME CLUTCH.

The Wizards have beaten these 10 teams in close games at home:
BOS, CHA, DET (2x), IND, LAL, MIA, NOP, ORL, POR, SAS — not exactly helping themselves.

They have lost to these 8 teams at home:
ATL, CHA, CHI, DAL, IND, GSW, OKC, TOR — you can infer your own things here.

The Wizards.

  • Avg. Win% of Opponents in Clutch Games: .492
  • Avg. Win% of Opponents in Clutch Wins: .438
  • Avg. Win% of Opponents in Clutch Losses: .551

Notice that the Wiz, on a typical night, only beat sub-.500 teams in close games.

Further clutch time sadness, or badness, or ‘wicked pixels’:

The Wizards score 94.7 points per 100 possessions in the clutch, ranked fourth-worst in the NBA (the Thunder and Knicks are tied for fifth-worst at 94.8, for what it’s worth). This OffRtg is 7.1 points worse than the Wizards’ general OffRtg of 101.9, tied with the Sacramento Kings for 16th-best in the NBA.

The Wizards shoot an eFG% of 42.8 percent in the clutch, tied with the Thunder for an NBA ranking of 18. They normally shoot an eFG% of 49.9 percent, 13th-best in the league.

Who’s to blame? Why, Randy Wittman, Ernie Grunfeld, Ted Leonsis, G-Wiz, Susan O’Malley, and Earl Boykins, of course. But also: players gotta make shots.

Here’s a capture of Washington’s top six clutch-time players (minutes-wise), and how their eFG%, field goal attempts, and plus/minus compares during that time to their overall play (also available here via Google Docs; overall player stats from before Wednesday’s game versus Philadelphia).


The quick observation: John Wall sure hogs a lot of clutch shot attempts (5.9 more FGAs per 48 minutes than his overall season rates), but he and Marcin Gortat are the only two in this set whose eFG% does not decrease in the clutch. Bradley Beal’s eFG% is almost 25 percent worse in the clutch. And yet, due to a few big shots in close games against the New York Knicks last season, some think this Panda has ice water in his veins.

You’ll note that Wall’s turnovers per 48 go up in the clutch (from 4.9 to 6.0) and his assists per 48 dip significantly (from 13.1 to 9.3)—to be relatively expected when he’s the only one taking the shots.

Big picture: It’s certainly hard for the Wizards to come through in the clutch, offensively, with the sub par offensive system in place. The presence of Paul Pierce has helped—his eFG% hasn’t dropped off too much in clutch minutes this season—but now, his age has never been more evident.

The Wizards have a lot of problems, but if you could point to one potential solution it’s the development of Bradley Beal. One could also point to this season’s continued injury woes as a hindrance. But in general, even when Beal has been healthy, the team—and fans—have been disappointed that he hasn’t progressed further after having established a more promising trajectory earlier in his career. A large part of will come down to Beal either improving at or coping with inherit flaws in his game, which have been evident since he entered the NBA: shaky ball handling and an inability to finish at the rim at the pro level.

According to NBA.com, both Wall and Beal make 60.2 percent of their attempts within five feet of the basket, but almost 33 percent of Wall’s total attempts come from that area while just under 24 percent of Beal’s shots come within that range. Furthermore, Beal gets blocked from within five feet 13.5 percent of the time while Wall gets blocked 9 percent of the time. So instead, Beal often finds himself searching for and settling for midrange jumpers, something perfectly acceptable in his coach’s eyes.

How much of all this is simply growing pains can be debated, but because of his fierce shooting potential, there’s no doubt that the Wizards should continue to give Beal a fair share of the offensive possessions in the clutch. Current clutch usage rates go as follows: Wall (34.5%), Beal (19.7%), Pierce (19.0%), Nene (18.0%), Gortat (11.6%).

This Wizards team starts and ends with Wall, and with him being the only player on the team really capable of creating his own, good shots—and hitting them—it’s hard to hate on the fact that he has attempted just over one-third of Washington’s clutch shot attempts.

Still, he needs to further develop, too. Wall has been superb this season, but he’s not a Supreme Point God just yet. Wizards bigs Nene, Gortat and Humphries shoot a combined 51.6 percent in the clutch but they cumulatively only account for 23 percent of the attempts (while each Beal and Pierce account for 15 percent of clutch field goal attempts). Maybe the Wizards would put teams away in the clutch more often if Wall found his big men for fourth-quarter buckets, maybe he needs to make sure his backcourt partner gets the ball in better spots to make shots—all part of being both the team leader and primary play-maker.

Ultimately, however, it comes down to infrastructure—the coaching system and the talent level around Wall and Beal, as well as talent off the bench. The Wizards may continue to fight into the second round, so certainly no one should bury what they’re capable of accomplishing this season just yet, but for the future (and when it counts in the clutch), you wonder if they will ever get it right.

[Beal and Wall, via @NBA]

[Beal and Wall, via @NBA]

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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.