Why The Wizards 2015-16 Win Total is Written on The Glass | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Why The Wizards 2015-16 Win Total is Written on The Glass

Updated: October 20, 2015
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Look! These weird, 3-point-shooting Washington Wizards have the highest Offensive Rating in the (preseason) NBA thus far. What a world.

The Wizards in this here-again playoff upswing have been rather poor when it comes to Offensive Rating (OffRtg) over the last three seasons, ranked 26th out of 30 team in the league. They finished worst in the league in 2012-13, the year a stress fracture slammed the brakes on John Wall’s All-Star train, and haven’t finished above 16th.

But now the Wizards are in first! And that’s great and exciting for two reasons. First, if it works, people around the country (and the world, presumably) will see how good John Wall really is. Randy Wittman’s system was designed, probably by candlelight, to create midrange shots with off-ball action that never truly stretched defenses—up until the moment Paul Pierce played some stretch 4 in the postseason. That old-timey strategy had kept the city’s most athletic scientist and tinkerer, Wall, underfunded.

Still, he dished 10 assists per game last season (11.9 in the postseason), a year during which 26.6 percent of his passes led to an assist opportunity, the fourth-highest rate in the NBA. The Wizards’ effective field goal percentage (which takes into account the greater value of a 3-point shot) was also 6.1 percent higher with Wall on the court, per Pete Newmann of Sheridan Hoops.

And yet if you’ve followed the Wizards, you can’t help but wonder: How many basketball breakthroughs has the team missed?

Out with the old. The Wizards are no longer in a system that eschews the 3-pointer. They’re playing a system that encourages the long ball, one that’s been proven to work come playoff season. It all but guarantees better spacing, pacing, and an overall uptick in shot selection-engineered efficiency. As a result, John Wall & Co. have been playing at a level that bounces between “Unstoppable” and “Dangerous but Disinterested Because It’s Preseason,” which is fine, because it’s preseason. Know that the All-Star is No. 1 in assists in 21.5 minutes per preseason game.

Everyone loves a high-scoring game, so boosting the team’s points per shot attempt is nothing if not good business. And less waste means the Wizards don’t have to take out the trash as often, which gives them more time than ever to iterate and innovate.

But there is another positive byproduct: boards.

Offensive Rebound Rate (ORR), the percentage of available rebounds grabbed while on offense, is a key to winning basketball for Memphis VP of Basketball Ops, and former ESPN stats guru, John Hollinger, along with analytically inclined basketball people everywhere. ORR is a factor in calculating Offensive Rating, the higher the better. While the Wizards were strong on the defensive side of things, top 5 last season, they had the 19th-ranked ORR (10.2).

Typical. In 2011-12, opponents grabbed 29.1 percent of their own rebounds under the Wizards’ basket, the fourth-highest rate; the year before, opponents came away with 29.5 percent (2nd). Even with their own offensive rebound opportunities (1) it wasn’t until 2013-14 that the Wizards began posting higher OREB% than opponents over 82 games. Wittman and the Wizards made it to the Eastern Conference Semis that year, and again last season, after missing out on the playoffs for what seemed like forever.

Of course, Marcin Gortat became Washington’s starting 5 days before that ’13-’14 season. By the measure of one 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference paper, the Polish Machine is one of the best in the league at blocking out and/or crashing the offensive boards.

The sleek, modern, intuitive offensive system of 2015-16 should help the Wizards do more than just stay out of their own way. It should help them borrow extra possessions, interest-free. Quick payback.

“Missed 3-pointers are more likely to result in offensive rebounds than missed midrange jump shots,” Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry wrote on his blog Court Vision in 2012. “Midrange jumpers kill possessions more and result in points less.”

Have a look for yourself.

ORR when shots are taken from midrange or from the wings:





And rates when shots are taken from 3-point land:


Attempting more 3-pointers doesn’t unlock a massive increase in ORR, obviously. But when it comes to having a better chance of getting the ball back after a miss, you’ll take improved odds no matter how small. Especially when you’re a team like the Wizards, which had a middling average point differential of plus-0.7.

The Wizards had a decent record in games decided by three points or less last season, 9-4, but they were 4-4 in overtimes games and 14-22 against teams .500 or better. The point is, one extra possession per game could make all the difference.

Go ahead. Defend the long 2. But I won’t.

The future is here, and it looks bright.

(Washington’s over/under for wins this season is 45.5. If I were a betting man, I’d take the over.)


  1. There were more than enough, given Washington’s FG% only recently came back from the depths of league ranks.
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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.