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Meet the New Wizards, Same as the Old Wizards

May 15, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4) shoots as Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) defends during the first half in game six of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

May 15, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4) shoots as Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) defends during the first half in game six of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After an abysmal 2012-2013 campaign with just 29 wins, the Wizards improved to 44-38 this season and provided their fans with legitimate fodder for “3rd best team in the East” arguments. That’s an amazing achievement, but after re-signing Marcin Gortat, the Wizards look set to try something even more difficult next season — trying to get better…with very nearly the exact same team.

As I write this, Houston has signed Trevor Ariza and the Wizards have signed Paul Pierce to shore up the SF position. Pierce had a quietly good year and this switch is probably almost a wash. But if the Wizards are going to improve they need two things to break their way.

The first is that they’ll need Nene to play more than the 53 games he did last season. Jeremias Engelmann’s xRAPM has Nene as the seventh best defensive player in the NBA last year, and Marcin Gortat as the 14th. Gortat and Nene spent 983 minutes on the court together and produced a defensive rating of 95.5 in those minutes. That’s a monster number that makes them one of the NBA’s premier defensive duos. Unfortunately there’s no number that will tell us how many games Nene can stay on the court next season. He’s only played an 82 game season once in his career, so Wiz fans will just have to cross their fingers.

An even more important part of the Wizards’ ongoing success will be the development of John Wall. Although Wall’s FG% dropped last year, his overall efficiency increased, because he shot nearly four three-pointers a game at a league average rate. Here’s his 2013-2014 shot chart (from our new collection of shot charts for every player since the 1997 season):

Wall is a good finisher and adding a three-point shot to his arsenal should make him a versatile and efficient scorer. Unfortunately Wall is in love with the midrange pull-up jumper, as you can see on the chart. Even though he hits these shots at around a league average rate, it’s a bad shot, and Wall’s efficiency would increase if he cut down. That Wall shoots so many pull-ups is not a hiccup up in the Wizards’ offense. Wall simply and inexplicably can’t seem to help himself, and fires them off early in the shot clock for absolutely no reason, as in this possession against Boston:

John Wall throwing the ball away

Washington’s other young gun, Bradley Beal, has some of the same bad habits. But they are exactly that: bad habits. There’s no reason to believe that Wall can’t figure this out and turn their offense, ranked 18th in the league last season, into something more.1 The expected value of one of these midrange jumpers is just 0.7 points for Wall and yet a staggering 44% of his total shot volume comes from the midrange. That’s inexcusable for a talented young star who earns 1.2 points per shot near the basket and 1.05 points per shot from 3-point range.

Maybe the Wizards wouldn’t have made good use of the possession pictured in the GIF above anyways, but it’s hard to imagine that they would have done any worse than what Wall chose. If Wall can learn to step back for the three2 or find the extra pass, Washington’s offense will catch up to its defense and the Wizards might yet get more mileage out of the exact same team.

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  1. There are, unfortunately, players who never grow out of these bad habits. Exhibit one is Josh Smith.
  2. Curry and Durant will sometimes have possessions exactly like the one in the GIF with the difference being that they take the shot behind the 3-point line. An instant increase in efficiency at probably no cost to the probability that the shot goes in.

Austin Clemens