Opening Statements 09: Wizards at Bulls — Why is Washington so Bad at Defending the 3? | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 09: Wizards at Bulls — Why is Washington so Bad at Defending the 3?

Updated: November 12, 2016

Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls - Dec. 29, 2012 - Truth About


Why are the Wizards so bad at defending the 3-point line? Dude, I dunno.

They are not currently the worst worst—that distinction goes to Dallas, giving up 41.2 percent from 3 to opponents. The Wizards are second-worst, giving up 39 percent. The upstart Lakers are allowing just 30.5 percent, a league best. The NBA average is 34.6 percent.

Let’s start with contested shots, part of the’s new “hustle stats”—featuring data on contested 2s, 3s, and total contested shots. Similar player tracking data has been available for seasons past—shooting percentages when a defender is within a certain range of feet—but that doesn’t necessarily mean a hand was up trying to contest (more on defender range below).

So let’s go with this new-fangled contested shots stat for an exercise where it’s hard to determine how much it actually has to do with another team missing. For example, forcing an opponent to shoot late in the shot clock might have something to do with it; or spot-up catch-and-shoots versus shots off the dribble, around a screen, etc. Also, some players, like Steph Curry or Kawhi Leonard, see the contest but don’t care about it at all.

First, is there an actual correlation between contesting a shot and the opponent missing?

The Wizards contest 77.1 percent of 3-pointers allowed, ranked 23nd-lowest in the league. The Mavericks contest 82.7 percent of 3-pointers allowed, ranked 4th. The Lakers contest 79.2 percent, ranked 16th. Huh. There’s not much difference between the best and worst contesting teams, but any NBA win is the product of so many little things.

Plugging 3-point contest rate and 3-point percentage allowed for each NBA team into a fancy online “Correlation Coefficient Calculator” we get a correlation of minus-0.16325, which indicates that at this early season juncture there’s a pretty weak correlation between contested 3-pointers and missed 3-pointers.

The weak correlation may be because some top-notch pro players are simply conditioned to shoot better with a hand in their face, at least versus the pressure of making a shot when all alone and wide open.

For further mathematical example: total 3-pointers attempted this NBA season: 6,483.

  • 2.2% — defender within two feet (very tight).
  • 16.2% — defender within 2-4 feet (tight).
  • 39.4% — defender within 4-6 feet (open).
  • 42.2% — defender six or more feet away (wide open).

No surprises here. NBA offenses smartly try to get players open shots, and players probably (generally) try to avoid taking shots when a defender is close. To the percentages across the league…

  • 31.4% 3P shooting when defended very tight.
  • 29.5% when defended tight.
  • 32.9% when open.
  • 38.3% shooting when wide open.

Again, no real surprises, despite my halfway assertion that ‘some’ players shoot better with a hand in their face. Then again, there’s only 1.5 percent difference between being guarded very tight (which carries with it a smaller sample size) and being open.

Washington’s 3-point problems are not solely on the defensive end. They can’t shoot them either. Washington shoots 35.7 percent when wide open, 28.8 percent when open, 22.2 percent when guarded tightly, and they are just 0-for-1 when guarded very tightly. They are also shooting 33 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, ranked fourth-worst in the league.

Part of the problem: Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards over the years have done a very poor job ensuring that they have personnel that can make shots from deep—analysis for another day, I suppose.

The Wizards are 2-6. They are not a good team. And 3-point shooting is a big reason why. However, as we are about to find out, the Wizards defensive deficiencies are not limited to the perimeter.

Here are the scoring frequencies and league rank allowed by Washington’s defense for different play types:

  • Transition – 51.8% (19)
  • Isolation – 40.9% (17)
  • Ball Handler – 38.5% (13)
  • Roll Man – 54% (22)
  • Post-Up – 49.1% (24)
  • Spot-Up – 34.2% (7)
  • Hand-Off – 40% (15)
  • Cut – 66.7% (22)
  • Off Screen – 42.1% (18)
  • Put Backs – 64.9% (28)

Interestingly, the Wizards rank well in limiting score frequency on spot-ups but are generally average or below average in all other areas, especially when it comes to defending paint operations—post-ups, roll man, and put backs.

We don’t yet know what kind of defensive coach Scott Brooks is because it’s more clear that Washington does not have the personnel to play top-notch defense, and likely won’t even when Ian Mahinmi suits up.

To conclude: I’m all out of stats to give.


Noted: The Wizards visit the Chicago Bulls tonight at 8 pm ET. With Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade on the same side of the ball, many suspected the Bulls to be a poor 3-point shooting team heading into the season. Right now they are making 35.7 percent of their 3s, ranked 11th just after Golden State’s 36.2 percent. Jimmy Butler is shooting 44.1 percent from deep, Doug McDermott is shooting 38.1 percent, and Wade is right there at 37.5 percent.

When it comes to defending the 3-point line, Chicago is just as bad as Boston—tied for fourth-highest in allowing 37.4 percent. The Wizards shot 10-21 versus Boston, tying their season-high in makes (they were 10-27 versus Houston). All other games Washington has made six or less 3-pointers in each.


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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.