What’s Been Working for the Wizards? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

What’s Been Working for the Wizards?

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Updated: January 29, 2017

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[photo via NBA]


The Washington Wizards are 26-20. As has been noted widely and with tentative enthusiasm, Washington has the best record in the East since December 1, at 20-9. And with their best performance of the season occurring just days ago in Atlanta, the line is still trending upward. With a broad stroke, it’s easy to see a few reasons for the shift in efficacy: a coach that experimented desperately for weeks at the season’s outset finally settling on rotations that emphasize the presence of multiple starters on the court at most, if not all, times; Bradley Beal finding a comfortable mix of ball-handling and catch-and-shoot opportunities, driving to the rim more frequently in the process; Otto Porter shooting the lights out from behind the arc.

But how has this played out in the cold winter’s light of statistical record?

Well, as of today, Washington is third in the NBA in field goal percentage. Who’s to thank? Here are some of Washington’s top scorers, along with their respective field goal percentages.

  • Marcin Gortat, 59.2 percent
  • Otto Porter, 53.5 percent, 46.5 percent on 3-pointers
  • Jason Smith, 52.3 percent
  • Trey Burke, 47 percent, 44.7 percent on 3-pointers
  • John Wall, 46.3 percent, 32 percent on 3-pointers
  • Bradley Beal, 45.5 percent, 38.4 percent on 3-pointers

For Gortat, who has been an unsung, and particularly stable, hero this season, these are career-best numbers. Gortat has never averaged over 56.7 percent on field goals for a season. While Gortat is attempting fewer field goals per game (his lowest attempt numbers since 2010-11), the decreased attempts thankfully have not resulted in any apparent frustration from the Hammer. What’s strange about Gortat’s increased efficiency is that his percentage from 0-3 feet is actually decreased from last season, from 70.4 percent to 67.8 percent. The increase has come from shots between 3-10 feet, where Gortat is suddenly a 51.8 percent shooter (up from 49 percent last year and 41.4 percent in 2014-15).

Porter, too, is posting career-best numbers. Otto’s improvement is aided in part by his embrace of his niche strengths: cutting to the basket and finding blue sky among Wall and Beal’s ball-handling to come open for 3-pointers. A career-high 41 percent of Otto’s shots are 3-pointers this season. And while he has hardly forsaken the midrange shot he’s capable of making (especially the “long two,” which still accounts for 20 percent of his shot attempts), an increase in 3-point attempts combined with a career-best 46.5 percent efficiency on those shots is enough to provide the outside threat Washington has needed to complement Wall’s slashing ability and Beal’s floor-stretching shot.

But let’s get back to midrange shots. Washington ranks fifth among NBA teams in the percentage of their total points that come from midrange attempts, currently at 18.8 percent. Additionally, Washington is fifth among NBA teams in “elbow” points per game (5.5). If you’ve ever seen John Wall come off a screen on the right elbow, you know why they rank where they do. It’s long been a pet shot of Wall’s, but he’s had mixed success over the years. This season, Wall’s been money, hitting 47.8 percent of his right elbow jumpers.

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Wall, like many other Wizards, is also sporting a career-best field goal percentage of 46.4 percent, up from his previous career-high in 2014-15 of 44.5 percent.

One question that remains is how much across-the-board increases in field goal percentage have to do with individual improvement, and how much those increases have to do with Washington’s new coach. It would be too easy to decry Wittman’s stodgy offense as the entire problem, one that’s been alleviated by Brooks’ hiring. But that theory is complicated by how much Brooks’ players have relied on midrange attempts, even while individual players like Beal and Porter drastically increase their number of attempts from beyond the arc. The change hasn’t been revolutionary in scope, but it hasn’t been invisible either. The Wizards are, to the eye test, fun to watch. When Wall puts pressure on a defense, and Beal plays as much like a Dwyane Wade as a Klay Thompson, opportunities abound for players like Porter, Oubre, and even Markieff Morris, who recently took exception to a Bleacher Report slideshow and decided he wanted to stick it to the clickbaiters.

Down in New Orleans, the Wizards have a plum and primed matchup against a Pelicans team that won’t be able to keep up with Washington’s starters, despite the presence of superstar Anthony Davis. Washington currently leads the league in deflections, and ranks fifth in screen assists per game (both statistics recently categorized by the league’s tracking of “hustle” stats). Against the Pelicans, thin on a good day, pushing the pace and forcing mistakes from unproven players will be key. At fifth in the East, and just a win away from tying recently vanquished Atlanta for the fourth seed, the Wizards have, to my non-expert eye, turned a corner.

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.