Even 7 Isn’t All That Lucky for Wizards

Short of trading additional future assets, getting lucky with a D-League pickup, or getting radical in-season improvement from one or more players currently on the roster, there just isn’t getting around the reality that this year’s Washington Wizards is solidly mediocre — at best.

I went into this week’s update on the team trying to conjure up a “modest proposal” type of post. Best I could come up with was the notion of shortening the game to 32 minutes so that teams would need to play only their top seven. And, Washington’s top seven is pretty good.

In this imaginary “top 7” league, so far this season, Washington would move up the standings a bit. According to my estimates, their top 7 would rank 4th in the East behind Miami, Atlanta and Indiana.

Overall, their top 7 rates 12th best, which sorta gives some perspective to how weak the East is so far this season. Washington’s seven best players rate as 4th best in the East, but would be only 9th best in the West.

Just to extend the silliness to its “logical” end — in this hypothetical, Washington would win a first round series against Brooklyn only to get bludgeoned in round two by Miami. The West would be a dogfight, but (if my PPA ratings held sway — and in this alternate reality, they do) San Antonio would emerge victorious. That would set up a repeat of last season’s Heat-Spurs final. Which the Heat would win.

Of course, the league isn’t going to shorten the game time anymore than it can guarantee Washington’s top seven can actually stay healthy. The bright side: a fully healthy Wizards team might be good enough to win a first round series if they can make the postseason. The downside: “fully healthy” seems like a fantasy.

To this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a player rating stat I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level.

Trevor Ariza 18 36.1 172 154
Martell Webster 22 33.0 148 151
John Wall 23 37.7 168 149
Nene Hilario 16 32.6 134 132
Marcin Gortat 23 34.6 150 130
Trevor Booker 15 20.1 114 118
Bradley Beal 14 39.5 81 84
Jan Vesely 17 17.6 54 53
Chris Singleton 7 15.6 29 48
Glen Rice 11 9.9 4 21
Eric Maynor 20 10.0 16 18
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 6
Kevin Seraphin 18 8.3 -32 -15
Garrett Temple 21 10.3 -23 -21
Otto Porter 4 12.0 -70 -47

No real surprises for a team that lost two of three since the last update (and barely won the third). Ariza, Wall and Gortat led the “decliners.” The “improvers” were of the awful to slightly less awful variety — Singleton getting to replacement level, Rice getting out of single digits, Seraphin becoming a bit less negative.

Sorta looping back to the “modest proposal” portion of this post, here’s another look at the Wizards this season — one that shows the hard demarcation between their top 7 and their bottom 8.



Wizards Lack of Depth Continues to Hurt

Get used to repeats of that old Wizards pattern — keeping the score tight (even holding a lead in the fourth quarter) only to lose in the end. The problem isn’t that Washington lacks a mystical “ability to close,” it’s that their bench can’t hold the leads its starters provide, and its starters wear down at the end of competitive games.

This is not the fault of Randy Wittman and the coaching staff. Most of the failing bench players are producing at levels consistent with career norms. Eric Maynor, a fan whipping boy so far this season, is playing worse than usual, but not abnormally so. He’s been unproductive throughout his career — that’s he’s even less productive should surprise no one. The same is true of Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Garrett Temple. They’ve established themselves as unproductive. There’s little reason beyond hope to imagine them becoming productive.

With the “make the playoffs or else” mandate, Wittman has little option but to play his key players heavy minutes and pray they don’t get hurt. And that’s exactly what’s happening. John Wall and Bradley Beal lead the league in minutes per game at PG and SG. Among SFs, Trevor Ariza ranks eighth and Martell Webster sits 15th. Marcin Gortat is second in minutes per game among centers. The fragile Nene plays the 12th most minutes per game for a PF.

If this was the playoffs, there’d be little reason for concern. But there are 62 games remaining in the regular season, and they’ve already sustained injuries to Ariza, Webster, Nene and Beal. Another injury could put the playoffs out of reach. That would be a shame (as would limping into the playoffs) because at full strength, it’s core rotation players could at least put a scare in a post-season opponent. They’ll need to get (and stay) healthy to do that, however.

For a further demonstration of Wittman’s lack of options, peruse the table below, which shows the (approximately) weekly update of Player Production Average (PPA). PPA is a player rating stat I developed. It credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level.

Trevor Ariza 15 36.1 146 172
John Wall 20 37.8 169 168
Marcin Gortat 20 34.6 152 150
Martell Webster 19 32.5 156 148
Nene Hilario 16 32.6 133 134
Trevor Booker 12 16.5 96 114
Bradley Beal 13 40.2 81 81
Jan Vesely 14 18.1 75 54
Chris Singleton 6 17.5 51 29
Eric Maynor 19 10.3 35 16
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 7
Glen Rice 9 8.0 -10 4
Garrett Temple 18 10.1 -14 -23
Kevin Seraphin 15 7.9 -27 -32
Otto Porter 2 10.5 -70

Ariza is playing a lot like he’s in a contract year, which is to say — superbly. His production is All-Star level, though it would astonish me if he actually received the honor. But, with Lebron more a PF these days, it’s arguable that Ariza has been the East’s second best SF so far this season (behind Paul George).

Recovered from injuries last season, Gortat is producing at a good level again. Like Ariza, his timing is superb — he’s in a contract year as well.

Wall seems to have settled in at All-Star level production. PPA currently has him rated as the top PG in the East, and fifth most productive overall behind Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Mike Conley.

This week’s update shows Vesely’s production dropping off. Hopefully he can turn things around. Whether or not he does, the coaching staff would be wise to give more minutes to Booker, who continues to be an “about average” producer. That’s nothing to get excited about, but it makes him a solid reserve.

Finally, note that the Wizards have seven players who rate below replacement level so far this season. Collectively, they’ve played 823 minutes — nearly 17% of the team’s total. This is a direct result of the front office’s persistent failure to properly assess players, and their inability to address the team’s glaring need for depth. This misjudgment is costing the team wins now, and could cost them even more as the season wears on.

Wizards Must Try Not To Let Success Go To Their Heads

Seen on Twitter the past few days is the heady news that the Washington Wizards went .500 in November — tied for the franchise’s third best winning percentage for month in the past 30 years. Forgive me if I don’t join the parade. For a team like the San Antonio Spurs — a good team that competes for championships — the same record would be their ninth worst in the same time span.

A .500 record for a month is not cause for celebration. The Wizards have a good starting group, but an awful bench. The net result: precisely average. The team is improved, but that’s not the same thing as being good. In a weak East where several teams are tanking, even a meh team can make the playoffs.

All that said, let me reiterate — the Wizards are improved. John Wall is the best PG in the East, and currently ranks 7th overall at his position. The team is getting well-above average play from Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Nene. The team’s depth makes any success feel tenuous, but they have a core of good players for this season.

One common thread of Wizards discussion I’d like to address before posting the weekly PPA update is this notion that PG Eric Maynor was at some point “good” and that he’s abruptly and inexplicably gotten worse in Washington.

The facts are that Maynor has been a sub-par player throughout his career. That people believed otherwise is testament to attributing to Maynor that which should have been attributed to his teammates. In other words, folks believed Maynor was causing (or contributing) teammates to be better when, in fact, those other players were producing on their own.

The reason I’m addressing this topic is that asserting that Maynor was at some point “good” or “serviceable” is to let the Wizards’ front office off the hook. In reality, signing Maynor was a terrible waste of resources, and evidence that Ernie Grunfeld and his team still haven’t figured out how to evaluate players. They thought they were getting a steal. Instead, they were getting a lemon. And what’s head-bangingly frustrating is that fairly rudimentary look at the numbers would have told them so.

With that out of the way, here’s the weekly Player Production Average update. PPA is a player rating stat I developed. It credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level.

John Wall 17 37.6 158 169
Martell Webster 17 33.6 144 156
Marcin Gortat 17 34.4 139 152
Trevor Ariza 12 35.6 123 146
Nene 14 33.3 127 133
Trevor Booker 9 14.0 102 96
Bradley Beal 13 40.2 82 81
Jan Vesely 11 17.9 81 75
Chris Singleton 3 8.7 51
Eric Maynor 16 10.5 50 35
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 6
Glen Rice Jr. 6 6.3 -5 -10
Garrett Temple 15 11.5 -18 -14
Kevin Seraphin 13 8.5 -39 -27

What jumps out? On the plus side, the team has a good group of starters. Wall appears to be doing what I predicted at the start of the season — making The Leap to becoming a top-shelf PG. Webster, Gortat, Ariza and Nene round out a quality lineup.

On the down side, there’s the rest of the team. Booker has dipped below average for the first time this season on scant playing time. So far this season, the team falls apart on defense when Booker is on the floor.

Vesely appears to be the beneficiary of lowered expectations from fans. He was so inept last season that anything positive gets exaggerated. He is better than last season in that his play hasn’t been a total train wreck. But, he remains well below average.

Some fans (and perhaps the Wizards as well) hoped that Singleton would provide some kind of significant contribution when he returned from a foot injury. Thus far…not so much. Very small sample size, however.

Maynor’s production has slipped below replacement level. Seriously, the Wizards would do better (or at least do no worse) giving his minutes to someone from the D-League. What’s scary: as bad as he’s been, Harrington, Rice, Temple and Seraphin have been worse.

The Wizards will need to either a) get some level of production from The Bench That Grunfeld Built, or b) bolster the bench with a trade or from the D-League. Without radical improvement from its reserves, this team seems perfectly constructed for a first-round playoff ouster — regardless of the opponent.