Basketball NBA

Washington Wizards: Average in the Fun Way

If you ever need to find the Wizards earlier in a dictionary, look up the definition of capricious.

15th in offense, 15th in defense, 19th in wins and losses. The Washington Wizards have epitomized average on the year. While that’s far from a new development for this franchise, it is a new development for 2022-23. 

This is a team of highs and lows. The Wizards were in the midst of losing five of six 14 days ago. Then Bradley Beal returned from injury. The Wizards have won six and lost zero since then.

This team had a five-game winning streak directly before that five-of-six loss stretch. They also had an 11-game losing streak this year, losing 14 of 15 overall. Directly before that? A six-of-seven winning stretch. This team’s season stats are marred by immense peaks and abysmal valleys. 

The Wizards were 18-26 just 14 days ago. They held the 6th overall pick. Oh, how a fortnight changes things.

The bright present

One six-game streak and one Rui Hachimura trade later, 6th to last is now 9th from first in the East. The Wizards lead the NBA in point differential over the last two weeks. Their +11.3 net rating would be the fourth-best in league history. That makes sense for a team on an 82-0 pace.

Over this win streak, they’re taking the 15th-most threes, the 15th-most middies, and the 18th-most shots at the rim. On brand.

Washington leads the entire NBA on the year in field goal percentage at the rim (for real), but they’re 27th over this 6-0 stretch. They’re balancing that out by taking virtually their same amount of threes, but hitting them at a 41% clip. So while the shooting ought to regress to the mean, so will the rim accuracy. Their mid-range accuracy is +0.2% better than the rest of this season. Negligible.

Twin Towers

In addition to offensive rim domination, the Wizards are a top-ten defensive rebounding team. As of late, though, Daniel Gafford and Kristaps Porzingis had both been in and out of the lineup. They had just begun starting games together before overlapping sprained ankles caused some rough Taj Gibson and Anthony Gill time. 

In a 201 minute sample size, the Wizards have a net rating of +24.4 with Porzingis and Gafford both on the floor. Nearly double the +13.4 of the top team of all time (‘96 Bulls). More than double every other team in every other season in NBA history.

Porzingis-Gafford lineups would be the best rebounding team in the NBA. They would be the best defense in the NBA. They would be the best offense of all time. They would have the best true shooting of any team in the NBA, despite the fact it’s two giants.

201 minutes is not a ton. Please understand that this is a tad more silliness than projection. But it’d be a lie to say that data does not exist. The Unicorn and The Landlord are healthy at the same time again now.

During this winning surge, Washington’s rebounding numbers were down. Expect those to soar well above average and help keep wind in their sails.

Regression to the mean isn’t always negative

The Wizards haven’t needed turnover luck to win six straight.

Another silver lining (somehow) is that the Zards’ defense forces the least turnovers in the league. Dead last at just 12.2% of opponents’ possessions. On this streak? 10.7%. Even worse. That’s called sustainability. It hasn’t stopped them from winning 24 out of their first 50, and it can only get better. 

Washington allows the sixth-fewest free throw attempts of any team. During this stretch, they’re allowing the seventh-fewest. If it ain’t broke. Winning the free throw battle is as dependable a way to win as any. It’s a variable that’s much more constant than it is volatile, as opposed to three-point shooting or turnovers.

The most out-of-body change for the Wizards over this streak has been their proficiency in the halfcourt. They’re up 7.6 points per 100 possessions in the halfcourt from their season average, with the exact same frequency (80% of plays). Some part of that is Beal’s return to the usage-leading role, which had been Kyle Kuzma’s. Beal is a lightyears better isolation scorer and playmaker – with all due respect – than Kyle.

However, the Wizards are also up 8.9 points per 100 possession in transition, with the exact same frequency (20% of plays). Again, Beal has a lot to do with that, as does weakness of opponents. Half of the six wins have been against the Rockets, Spurs, and Magic.

Are those two things total flukes?

To the massive extent of 7-9 points per 100, yes. The Wizards have demonstrated that they are better both in the HC and transition without Rui Hachimura, though. They have compounded those improvements with Kendrick Nunn and the reintegration of Delon Wright. The increased doses of Wright and Deni Avdija have both done wonders for the defense and the ball movement. Monte Morris has found a serious groove. He averages 6 assists to every 1 turnover, and is shooting 47/40/81. More efficient shots for a team that doesn’t feature a single ball stopper 1-4 could see itself continue getting scary.

The short answer of why the Wizards have been winning is the offense. It’s miles ahead of where it had been.

We are currently in a high. Will it be sustainable? The odds are better on this one than the previous highs. If you’ve been around the Wizards for any period of time since 1979, you know heartbreak is imminent. But no one ever knows how far away inevitability is.

This version of the 22-23 Zards features things that earlier ephemera did not. Kendrick Nunn, the new Deni Avdija (who’s called Turbo now), Gafford-KP, Delon x Beal healthy at the same time, and comfortable Monte Morris are talents to bet on. 

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