Why Ernie Grunfeld Hasn’t Been Fired

grunfeld & leonsis

Easter Island. Stonehenge. The continued employment of Ernie Grunfeld. These are a few of the mysteries that have baffled researchers through the years.

That Grunfeld has been able to remain at the Wizards helm despite the team compiling the league’s third worst winning percentage during his tenure — well, that’s been a real puzzler. But, you won’t need to trouble your thoughts any longer: I have solved the riddle. Through careful application of logic, reason, Basketball Reference and Microsoft Excel, I have compiled definitive proof showing why team owner Ted Leonsis has kept Grunfeld on the job.

The reason is shocking in its simplicity, and it shows how misguided and unreasonable you Leonsis/Grunfeld detractors have been.

Shame on you.

The problem has been application of the wrong measuring stick. Critics have been comparing Grunfeld to the rest of the NBA, which is silly when you think about it. (And, I’m sure if we all give it some thought, we might come up with a reason (just one) why it’s silly.)

The proper comparison for a guy taking over the Washington Wizards is…(wait for it)…other Wizards GMs. I’ll pause a moment for you to slap yourself in the forehead and say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been SO stupid.”

Since 1973-74, the Washington Wizards/Bullets have had five GMs (top executives): Bob Ferry, John Nash, Wes Unseld, Michael Jordan and Grunfeld. Take a look at the table below, and you’ll see that the Grunfeld-built Wizards have compiled a .395 winning percentage — third best for a Wizards/Bullets in the past 31 years.

Ernie Grunfeld 03-04 to present 0.395 28 30
Michael Jordan 00-01 to 02-03 0.378 24 29
Wes Unseld 96-97 to 99-00 0.449 19 29
John Nash 90-91 to 95-96 0.327 25 29
Bob Ferry 73-74 to 89-90 0.523 8 27

And this season’s team is above average for a Washington team — hovering near the lofty heights of a .500 record.

Ernie Grunfeld — one of the three best Wizards/Bullets general managers in the past three decades. You don’t just go out and fire a top three GM.

We all owe Grunfeld and Leonsis a BIG apology.


Washington Wizards: Total Mediocrity

beal shoots

Ask a Wizards fan to describe the team, and odds are he’d say the starters are pretty good, but the bench is awful. And he’d probably take a shot at Randy Wittman’s coaching — something Wittman would deserve for no other reason than the passion he’s instilling for two-point jump shots (aka The Worst Shots in the Game; or The Shots the Defense Wants You to Take).

However, an analysis of starting lineups and benches around the league suggests that these assumptions may not be accurate. The analysis used my overall player rating metric, called Player Production Average (PPA), weighted by minutes played. I ran an overall minutes-weighted PPA for each team’s most commonly used starting five, and then for each team’s bench.

PPA 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.

The league’s average starting lineup produced a PPA of 129. Washington’s starters ranks 14th overall with a 127. The average bench produced a PPA of 67. Washington’s bench ranks 15th with a 69.

I’m as surprised as you are.

I suspect that a big reason the Wizards bench rates in the middle is because of Wittman’s short seven-and-a-half man rotation. Most nights, Wittman uses what amounts to a two-man bench of Martell Webster and either Nenê or Booker (whichever didn’t start). Nenê was counted as a starter, by the way. Garrett Temple plays only long enough for John Wall to catch his breath. The rest of the squad gets spot minutes when they can.

What does this show? This is a thoroughly mediocre team — starters AND bench.

Here’s a table showing minutes-weighted PPA scores for the starters and bench of each NBA team, sorted by Starter PPA:

MIA 173 74 1 11
LAC 166 70 2 14
SAS 165 101 3 1
MIN 158 51 4 26
OKC 156 76 5 8
POR 156 52 6 25
GSW 153 40 7 30
ATL 148 76 8 9
IND 145 56 9 23
HOU 145 67 10 17
DAL 140 83 11 5
NOP 132 77 12 7
DEN 128 72 13 12
WAS 127 69 14 15
CLE 126 42 15 29
PHO 126 85 16 3
TOR 121 65 17 19
DET 120 51 18 27
NYK 119 71 19 13
SAC 118 63 20 20
MEM 118 85 21 4
CHI 116 75 22 10
CHA 116 55 23 24
LAL 114 69 24 16
UTA 109 58 25 22
PHI 107 43 26 28
ORL 106 59 27 21
BRK 100 88 28 2
BOS 93 67 29 18
MIL 70 79 30 6
AVG. 129 67    

A few observations:

  • Only Boston and Milwaukee have starting lineups that rate below the league average PPA (100). Incredibly, the Bucks bench rates as slightly more productive than the starters.
  • San Antonio has the league’s third best starting lineup AND the most productive bench.
  • Oklahoma City has the fifth best starting lineup, which is downright incredible because it includes 876 minutes of Kendrick Perkins (PPA: 24).
  • Minnesota is continuing its decades-long practice of not putting an adequate roster around a high-quality PF named Kevin. In years past, the “Kevin” was Garnett. The past few years, it’s been Love. The Timberwolves roll with the 4th best starters and the 5th worst bench.
  • Brooklyn is kind of a reverse image of Minnesota. The Nets’ starting lineup has been bad (minutes-weighted PPA of 100 — good for third worst), but they have the league’s 2nd most productive bench.

Moving on to the Wizards’ PPA update…no real surprises.

Trevor Ariza 38 34.8 144 151
John Wall 43 37.0 147 143
Trevor Booker 34 21.2 137 136
Marcin Gortat 43 32.6 135 136
Nenê Hilario 36 29.6 102 104
Martell Webster 41 30.4 105 100
Bradley Beal 34 32.9 84 89
Jan Vesely 28 16.0 72 72
Chris Singleton 14 10.6 60 60
Glen Rice 11 9.9 18 21
Kevin Seraphin 31 9.9 20 17
Eric Maynor 22 9.5 13 13
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 6
Otto Porter 21 9.8 3 4
Garrett Temple 41 11.5 6 3

Trevor Ariza had a good week while the rest of the team performed “about the same.” Webster’s production slipped for a fourth consecutive update — he’s now right at league average. If Washington is to break out of this rut of mediocrity, they need someone to significantly boost his production. The prime candidate would seem to be Bradley Beal, who had a terrific second half last season.

Should Wall Be Part of National Team?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards

USA Basketball’s 28-man player pool for international tournaments in 2014 and 2016 got leaked to ESPN yesterday. Wizards fans were pleased to see the name of Bradley Beal on the “newcomers” list, but many were puzzled by the omission of PG John Wall.

SBNation’s Matthew Tynan put Wall atop his list of “snubs” — a list that included Greg Monroe and Chandler Parsons. Around the web and in private conversations, the reaction from Wizards fans runs the gamut from “Wall’s been disrespected” to “well, he didn’t play all that well in that USA Basketball camp last year” to “his game isn’t well-suited to international hoops.”

The discussion of Wall and the international team goes hand-in-hand with the question posed in this RealGM message board thread: Is Wall A Top 5 PG? The answer to that question goes to the heart of player evaluation. In my rating system (called Player Production Average — PPA for short), Wall is the number two PG in the East, but ranks just 10th in the league in doing the things that cause teams to win.

This result puzzles many fans, who watch the games and see the basic (and not very useful) stats presented during game broadcasts. It’s easy to understand why “watchers” hold Wall in such high esteem — he’s an active, dynamic player who does lots of stuff during the course of a game. And those per game stats are good too.

What’s the disconnect? Some fans (and perhaps some talent evaluators as well) pay attention to the good stuff a player does while discounting (or ignoring completely) the negatives. For an example, look at last night’s overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. Wall posted a triple-double — 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and he added 3 steals to boot. The storyline from the game: Wall’s triple-double wasn’t enough because…fill in the blank (the Wizards bench was bad; Nenê isn’t what he used to be; Randy Wittman is a bad coach; Beal is still on his minutes limit).

What’s being left out is that Wall’s triple-double included 20 missed FGA, 6 turnovers, and 5 fouls. In a game where the Wizards produced an offensive rating (points per possession x 100) of 101, Wall’s offensive rating was a dismal 87. And he used nearly 40% of the team’s possessions while on the floor.

To further illustrate, I made up a couple new stats: Good Plays Only (GPO) and Bad Plays Only (BPO). The formulas:

  • GPO = fgm + 0.5 x ftm + reb + ast + stl + blk
  • BPO = missed fg + 0.5 x missed ft + tov + pf

Looking at total GPO, Wall is the number two PG in the league (behind only Stephen Curry) and ranks 12th overall. If we use per minute GPO, Wall drops to 5th among PGs (Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Curry and Michael Carter-Williams are ahead of him) and 27th overall. Hey, top 5 right?

So, Wall does a lot of “good stuff” out there — something that likely explains why he’s so highly regarded among fans, media members and league talent evaluators. Except…these categories aren’t weighted based on what they contribute to team wins, and they don’t include negative side of the ledger. It would be akin to evaluating personal wealth by adding up our paychecks without considering bills that have to be paid.

Turning to the “bills” part of the good/bad equation, Wall has the third highest total BPO (Bad Plays Only) among PGs (Curry and Monta Ellis have higher totals), and the 8th most among all players. In per minute BPO, Wall is 5th highest among PGs (behind Westbrook, Carter-Williams, Curry, and Kyrie Irving), and 15th overall in the league.

GPO shows that Wall makes a lot of good plays. BPO shows he makes a lot of bad ones. In financial terms, he earns a lot of money, but he spends a lot too. That “spending” reduces the “balance” (so to speak) and limits his positive impact for the Wizards. He’s a good player, but he could help his team win more by reducing those negative plays (missed shots and turnovers).

One final point with this GPO/BPO stat — call it Net Good & Bad Plays (NGBP). The formula is simple: GPO – BPO. In TOTAL NGBP, Wall ranks 4th among PGs (behind Paul, Ricky Rubio, and Ty Lawson) and 29th overall. On a per minute basis, Wall ranks 5th among PGs (behind Paul, Rubio, Lawson and Westbrook), but 66th overall.

Keep in mind — there’s no weighting done on these categories based on how these stats contribute to winning and losing. In PPA, which has that weighting, Wall ranks 5th in total production among PGs and 24th in the league (high-minute players logically lead in total production). On a per minute basis, he ranks 10th among PGs and 51st in the league. That’s good, but it’s not elite. And no, it doesn’t warrant being chosen for the U.S. national team.

Shameless plug: Click on the image below to read the FREE first chapter of my new mystery novel set for release later this month.

No In Between -- cover

All-Stars and a Wizards Update

Before I get to the weekly Wizards update, I want to take a quick look at All-Stars through the prism of Player Production Average (PPA) — an overall rating system I developed. PPA 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.

As usual, fan voting doesn’t correlate well with my metric or with what causes teams to win. I’m not one to complain much about that reality — the fan vote is a popularity contest, not a referendum on who’s best. The top vote-getter typically appears on about a quarter of all ballots cast. I first noted this phenomenon with Michael Jordan, who regularly collected the most All-Star votes. Going by All-Star voting, roughly 75% of NBA fans each year thought Jordan (wildly popular and widely considered the best player in the game — if not all time) didn’t deserve to be an All-Star.

Anyway, I’ll present the list in two ways: the first using PPA, which is a per minute metric; the second using total production (which could weed out guys who missed time due to injury).

G Kyle Lowry Chris Paul
G Dwyane Wade Stephen Curry
F Lebron James Kevin Durant
F Paul George Kevin Love
F Andre Drummond Anthony Davis
G John Wall Mike Conley
G Lance Stephenson Goran Dragic
F Brook Lopez Dirk Nowitzki
F Al Horford DeMarcus Cousins
F Joakim Noah Tim Duncan
G Kyle Korver Ty Lawson
F Carmelo Anthony LaMarcus Aldridge

The quality imbalance between the conferences is evident in these lists. Carmelo Anthony takes the East’s final frontcourt slot while ranking just 21st among all frontcourt players league-wide. The Wizards only All-Star, John Wall, rates as the East’s third most productive guard per minute, but ranks just 16th in the league (minimum 500 total minutes).

Here’s the “totals” list:

G Kyle Lowry Chris Paul
G John Wall Stephen Curry
F Lebron James Kevin Durant
F Paul George Kevin Love
F Andre Drummond LaMarcus Aldridge
G Kemba Walker Damian Lillard
G Aaron Afflalo Wesley Matthews
F Carmelo Anthony Blake Griffin
F Joakim Noah DeAndre Jordan
F Paul Millsap Anthony Davis
G Lance Stephenson James Harden
F Chris Bosh Dirk Nowitzki

Probably the biggest surprise for me was Kemba Walker. He hasn’t impressed me much, but he’s an above average producer on a per minute basis and he plays a lot of minutes. Notice Brook Lopez and Al Horford dropping off the list in the East — their total production is down because of injury. DeAndre Jordan is another mild surprise. It’s easy to focus on his limitations, which are abundant. However, Jordan rebounds, blocks shots, and limits his offensive repertoire to things he can do well: dunks, layups, put-backs and setting screens.

Moving on from All-Stars, let’s talk Wizards. (See what I did there?)

John Wall 40 36.9 140 147
Trevor Ariza 35 34.6 144 144
Trevor Booker 31 21.4 137 137
Marcin Gortat 40 32.1 132 135
Martell Webster 39 30.4 109 105
Nenê Hilario 33 29.3 107 102
Bradley Beal 31 33.1 73 84
Jan Vesely 28 16.0 73 72
Chris Singleton 14 10.6 64 60
Kevin Seraphin 28 10.1 12 20
Glen Rice 11 9.9 18 18
Eric Maynor 22 9.5 13 13
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 7
Garrett Temple 38 11.2 2 6
Otto Porter 19 9.7 15 3

It’s largely status quo, which is normal at this point in the season. Players have established their performance levels for the most part so I don’t expect to see major changes week to week. Any large changes are going to show up in lower minute players for whom a one-week sample size can still be significant.

Improvers this week include Wall, Beal, and Seraphin — the big Frenchman upped his production for a fourth consecutive update. Temple also did a little better, but still has been less productive this season than even Maynor.

On the downside were Webster, Nenê, and Porter. Nenê is interesting and worth further analysis. The team continues to be better when he’s on the floor even as his personal production slides.

Now for the shameless plug: check out the FREE first chapter of my mystery novel set for publication later this month. 

Movie Review: Her


Warning: There will be spoilers.

Give Spike Jonze credit for pulling off the Pixar-like feat of spinning metaphorical gold from conceptual straw. On its face, the premise is kinda silly: A man falls in love with his operating system. Really? That’s it? I mean, I’ve talked with Siri and there was no love.

But Jonze and his collaborators not only managed to make the story believable, they showed a relationship between a man and an artificial intelligence that was real in ways that relationships between humans can be artificial. Indeed, the most “artificial” moment between Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (his OS, voiced by Scarlett Johannson) was when Samantha found a “surrogate” — a human woman who served as a body so Theodore and Samantha could have physical sex rather than virtual.

Adding another person to the mix threw Theodore and the encounter went badly. This makes sense in the world Jonze created: the emotional, intellectual, and even sexual relationship Theodore had with his operating system was as real as sunshine and oxygen. Going through the motions with a person not Samantha was false.

The film is carefully layered with elements that ask the question: what’s “real” and what’s “artificial”? Theodore, for example, works for a kind of custom greeting card company. He uses a computer to ghost-write personal, hand-written letters for clients. In some cases, he’d been writing intimate correspondence for people throughout their relationships. How could loving an artificial intelligence that can learn and grow be any faker than those relationships?

Or, consider a scene early in the film. Theodore, feeling lonely, calls a phone sex chat line. He connects with a woman. Both give false names and commence virtual sex. As this stranger approaches climax, she asks him to choke her with a dead cat. It’s strange, it’s off-putting, and it’s pure fantasy. It’s two anonymous strangers pretending to have sex — nothing more. There’s no human connection, no love — nothing except imagination.

The sexual encounter Theodore and Samantha have later, while similarly virtual, is the product of an emotional and intellectual intimacy — even love. The point here is that the relationship they have is real in a way that many relationships between humans are not.

One exquisite scene was when Theodore calls Samantha, and…she’s not there. (She was updating with new code collaboratively written by a group of operating systems interacting with each other online.) When it happens, Theodore becomes abruptly aware that Samantha has entire life that’s separate from him. Her virtual intelligence permits her to carry on thousands of conversations simultaneously. She “admits” to being in love with more than 600 others.

It was a revelation akin to those children have that their parents have entire lives the kids know nothing about. And it’s a painful emotional blow to Theodore:

THEODORE — You’re either mine or not mine.

SAMANTHA — I’m yours and not yours.

The film’s only false note was when Samantha presented Theodore with the gift of getting his letters published in book form. I can’t imagine how his company would permit that. Surely, those letters would fall under “work for hire” and wouldn’t belong to him in a manner that he could publish. Plus, my mind instantly went to his clients. What kind of effect would publication have on their relationships? Those hand-written letters were supposed to express the writer’s true thoughts and feelings. I can’t imagine the recipient of ghost-written letters still feeling good about them when they learn they were composed by a stranger. But this is a minor gripe that has nothing to do with the film’s core narrative.

Her deserves its many accolades and award nominations. The screenplay is as good as any I’ve read, and the actors were outstanding. It’s not the best picture, though. I’ll have a review of that film, 12 Years A Slave, up soon.

Wizards Manage Yet Another .500 Week

There’s a good chance I’ll be able to type these exact words in many of my Wizards entries the rest of the season: since my last update, the Wizards have a .500 record. That’s because this is a slightly below average team in a historically bad conference. And so, the team is likely to continue muddling through at around .500 — a bit worse when they play a tough patch of the schedule; a bit better in an easier stretch.

The team needs several things if it hopes to become a contender for anything more than squeaking into the playoffs:

  1. Better management.
  2. Better coaching.
  3. Better players.

Simple, right? It’s tough to envision a scenario where team owner Ted Leonsis replaces Ernie Grunfeld, however. The Wizards have had the league’s third worst winning percentage during Grunfeld’s tenure, yet somehow he’s remained in place. Why would Leonsis replace him now that the team is slouching towards mediocrity?

Before I get to this week’s update, I want to mention something I stumbled upon from a conversation with a fan of the team on the RealGM Wizards message board. This fan asserted that Washington’s starting lineup is “on par” with teams in the East other than Miami and Indiana. This is low bar stuff, of course, but…well…it’s not even true.

While the Wizards starters can be described as “solid,” they actually rank 4th in the East behind Miami, Indiana and Atlanta. The team’s starting five produces at a rate solidly below those three teams. Washington is “on par” with the next few teams in the East — their starters are in the same vicinity as those for Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto.

Overall, the Wizards rank 15th in the quality of its starting lineup, albeit with an aggregate production rating slightly below the league average. So, while many have correctly assessed the Wizards lack of depth as a major problem, the fact is that their starters have been mediocre as a group as well.

Here’s 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 30 34.3 146 144
John Wall 35 37.2 147 140
Trevor Booker 27 21.5 139 137
Marcin Gortat 35 32.2 130 132
Martell Webster 34 30.4 120 109
Nene Hilario 28 28.7 120 107
Bradley Beal 26 34.0 76 73
Jan Vesely 26 15.9 55 73
Chris Singleton 12 12.1 66 64
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 18
Otto Porter 16 10.9 23 15
Eric Maynor 22 9.5 13 13
Kevin Seraphin 25 10.3 2 12
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 7
Garrett Temple 33 10.8 -2 2

Trevor Ariza’s rating is basically flat from last week, but that belies his volatile week. The SF alternated awful games with highly productive ones, with little apparent reason for either performance level.

John Wall seems to have settled in at a solidly productive level, albeit one that’s well short of being worthy of the maximum contract extension he signed before the season.

Booker and Gortat continued performing as they had been in previous weeks, but both Nene and Martell Webster continued to see their production slide. With Nene, I know he’s struggling to play through an Achilles injury. The Wizards haven’t reported any physical problems for Webster, though I’m starting to wonder if there might be something there.

Vesely had a couple good games against Charlotte and New Orleans, and then a couple duds against Indiana and Houston.

Seraphin gave the Wizards a lift in their comeback against the Rockets, but was awful the rest of the week.

The team continues to have a gaping chasm at PG behind Wall. Maynor has been awful; Temple remains one of the league’s least productive players, even as he finally eased out negative PPA territory for the first time all season.

Should the Wizards Give Wittman A Sympathy Firing?


Here’s how weird things have gotten for me as I follow the Washington Wizards: I feel sympathy for a coach I never would have hired in the first place. Team president Ernie Grunfeld and owner Ted Leonsis awarded the full-time coaching job to Randy Wittman, who’d done a solid job as interim coach when they fired Flip Saunders. According to reports at the time, they neither considered nor interviewed other candidates for the position. Had it been my call…well, Wittman wouldn’t have been the choice.

Despite the howls of fans angered by a three-game losing streak, Wittman isn’t a bad coach. He isn’t a good one either — at least not by NBA standards. He’s standard issue NBA coaching material. Good at some things, not so good at others. On balance, probably on the “below” side of average, but close enough to the league standard that he’s not a drag on his team’s performance. When he gets fired by the Wizards, he could take a year off, go down to college and be great at that level. Sure, a guy like Phil Jackson, Pat Riley or Greg Popovich would win a few more games with the same roster, but a) those guys aren’t coming to Washington, and b) the Wizards wouldn’t be title contenders even with an elite coach.

I’m not saying it would be pointless to fire Wittman and replace him with Someone Else — maybe Mr. Else could get an extra win or two from this team over the remainder of the season. But no coach is going to transmogrify this group into a title contender for one simple reason: the roster is inadequate. They’re good enough to avoid missing the playoffs in the misbegotten East. They might even be good enough to win a playoff series if they’re reasonably healthy and they can avoid a first round matchup with Indiana or Miami. But there isn’t a coach on the planet who could get them further — not with this roster.

As you’ll see in the table below, Wittman has been given a team that’s effectively six deep. Bradley Beal could be a seventh, if he starts performing the way he did in the second half of last season. Wittman’s options are further diminished by minutes restrictions for Beal and (more importantly) Nene.

There are plenty of things I’d love to see the team do differently — starting with taking fewer two-point jump shots. (Umm, fellas — those shots are open for a reason.) Maybe better coaching could change some of those things. But, NBA reality is that everyone knows what everyone else is doing strategically. Coaches come up with stuff to surprise each other now and then, but most games are decided by overall talent and execution.

A coach’s most important job is getting lineups on the floor that maximize his team’s chances of winning. Those lineup decisions have largely been taken from Wittman by the team’s wafer-thin roster. Unless Nene’s Achilles gets better or someone on the Wizards bench radically improves, the coaching staff is stuck with few options to patch over the lack of depth. That this situation was entirely predictable (in fact, was predicted before the season) makes it no less frustrating.

Below is 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.

John Wall 31 37.2 149 147
Trevor Ariza 26 34.2 154 146
Trevor Booker 23 22.0 118 139
Marcin Gortat 31 32.5 130 130
Nene Hilario 24 29.4 132 120
Martell Webster 30 31.2 151 120
Bradley Beal 22 34.9 84 76
Chris Singleton 11 12.9 48 66
Jan Vesely 22 15.8 53 55
Otto Porter 12 12.2 -47 23
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Eric Maynor 22 9.5 18 13
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 6
Kevin Seraphin 23 10.0 -15 2
Garrett Temple 29 10.8 -21 -2

Normally, I update weekly, but this one went a couple weeks — eight games total. The Wizards went 4-4 during that stretch, including their current three-game winning streak. The performance levels of John Wall, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat appear to have largely stabilized.

Wall’s “grade” is interesting because it’s at once encouraging and disappointing. On the encouraging side, this is the longest sustained period of well-above average play of his career. So far, he’s the most productive guard in the East. But…his per minute production is still not close to “franchise cornerstone” level. And while he’s the East’s best PG, he still ranks behind nine Western Conference PGs in per minute production.

I have a similar reaction to Gortat’s score. He’s a solid producer, but…he ranks only about 20th among centers. The Wizards need more from him, especially on the boards and on defense.

Ariza is — by some strange coincidence — playing the best basketball of his career in a contract year.

Other positives: Trevor Booker becoming a solid producer upon entering the starting lineup (though his team defense continues to be a problem), Otto Porter improved from a HUGE negative to a net positive, and Kevin Seraphin finally got out of the negative PPA range.

A word on Seraphin — the big man currently rates as the NBA’s least productive center. He managed the same “feat” last season. There seems to be some kind of a message there, but I could be over-thinking things.

Oh yeah, Chris Singleton also showed signs of life with not atrocious play in a couple garbage time appearances.

On the negative side: Nene’s production is (unsurprisingly) down as he tries to play through that Achilles injury. Martell Webster’s play declined significantly this update, as well. And, of course, the Wizards continue to get absolutely nothing from their backup PGs.

With teams now able to sign free agents to 10-day contracts, I’m hoping the Wizards front office will start bringing in D-League PGs for tryouts until they find one they like. I’d also like to see them try some PF/C types in hopes of getting even replacement level play off the bench. They can make room by releasing one or more from the group of Temple, Seraphin, Harrington and Maynor. Yes, I know there’s no way they’d just cut Maynor because of the player option he holds for next season. It could be a correct move, however.