Month: March 2014

The Briefest of Wizards Updates

In keeping with established Wizards traditions, Al Harrington is currently the NBA's least productive PF.

In keeping with established Wizards traditions, Al Harrington is currently the NBA’s least productive PF.

Don’t have a ton of time for fancy prose — not with friend of the blog Ben Becker inviting himself to be a guest blogger next week and filling my inbox with questions.

So…here’s this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a metric 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. PPA is a per minute stat.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 66 36.0 154 151
Drew Gooden 13 17.5 152 148
Marcin Gortat 70 32.9 147 145
John Wall 71 36.8 146 144
Trevor Booker 61 21.1 116 116
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 101
Bradley Beal 62 34.4 88 90
Andre Miller 17 14.3 75 81
Martell Webster 67 28.4 84 81
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 68
Chris Singleton 22 11.0 40 40
Kevin Seraphin 47 11.8 40 36
Garrett Temple 66 9.4 23 22
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 20
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 31 8.3 3 3
Al Harrington 24 15.0 -2 1

Unsurprisingly given the team’s record during their recent series against the Western Conference, the production of their top players was down a little across the board. Nothing major — just…the kind of thing to be expected when they face some tougher competition than they get in the East.

I don’t know how much Martell Webster’s back is bothering him, but his production is way down this season. Last season, he posted a career-best PPA of 114. This season, he’s back down at his career level. This is cause for concern.

Also, I’ve heard/seen folks in a variety of places refer to the Wizards as a “young team.” But….not so. They’re right at the league average in age, but their rotation at this point is older. I’ll probably look at this in greater detail next week, but consider this:

  • The team’s plan was “build through the draft,” but only three of their rotation players (Wall, Beal and Booker) were selected by the Wizards.
  • Those same three players are the team’s only rotation players younger than league average.
  • Once Nenê returns they’ll have more rotation guys age 30 or older (four) than they do under age 26 (three).

The team does have young players on the roster, but they’ve been decidedly unproductive this season — for much of their careers for most of them.

In keeping with Wizards tradition, Al Harrington currently rates as the NBA’s least productive PF (minimum 300 minutes). Last season, that title was held by Jan Vesely.

Wizards Update: The NCAA Tournament Edition

gooden celebrates

With the sporting world mostly focused on The High Holy Weekend of NCAA basketball, last night I took in the Wizards game. I enjoy college hoop…to a point…but, truth is that I’d rather watch a regular season NBA game than an NCAA tourney game.

Yes, I’m serious.

The tournament is fun with its single elimination format, but the level of play just isn’t there. Think about it like this: let’s say you want to hear a musical performance tonight. And let’s say you have a choice between say Beyonce (or fill the name of your favorite singer/band) or the best kid at your local college. Which one would you choose (assuming both are free)?

That said, I still love the NCAA tournament because of all the randomness. I estimated Duke as a roughly 75% favorite against Mercer, yet the Blue Devils are going home and Coach K was on the bench with that “holy crap I’m gonna get clobbered in the press for this” look on his face.

But, I’m way off topic.

The Wizards are en route to their first playoff berth in a few years, and their best season since they had guys like Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. All season, I’ve been bothered by the significant quality difference between the NBA’s conferences. Washington is a solid playoff team in the East, but would be on the outside looking in if they were in the West.

Here’s a quick look at that difference:

OPPONENT WINS LOSSES W% W82
vs. EAST 562 457 .553 45.3
vs. WEST 455 564 .448 36.7

Pretty straightforward. When teams play against an Eastern Conference opponent, they win 55% of the time. When they play against a Western Conference opponent, they win about 45% of the time. That W82 is wins per 82 games. A perfectly average team playing against Eastern Conference opponents could expect to win 45 games over an 82-game season. That same team would win roughly 37 against Western Conference opponents.

Only four teams this season have a better winning percentage against Western Conference opponents than they do against the East — the Clippers, Miami, Brooklyn and Cleveland.

The Wizards have the league’s fifth highest East vs. West differential. Against the East, their winning percentage is .610. Against the West, it’s .370. The teams with bigger differentials: Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Portland. Against opponents in the East, Washington plays like a 50-win team. Against the West: 30. That’s significant. In other words, Washington is fortunate to be in the East this year.

By the way, I’m not saying the Wizards need to apologize for their schedule. All they can do is play who’s on the calendar for that day, and they don’t have control over opponent incompetence or organizational tanking decisions. Even if the league seeded the playoffs without regard to conference affiliation, Washington would make the post-season (as the 15 seed, but still).

Here’s this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a metric 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. PPA is a per minute stat.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 63 36.0 159 154
Drew Gooden 10 17.1 149 152
Marcin Gortat 67 32.9 149 147
John Wall 68 36.8 144 146
Trevor Booker 58 21.2 114 116
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 103
Bradley Beal 59 34.3 94 88
Martell Webster 64 28.6 90 84
Andre Miller 14 13.9 96 75
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 69
Chris Singleton 22 11.0 45 40
Kevin Seraphin 45 12.2 42 40
Garrett Temple 63 9.9 21 23
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 30 8.6 3 3
Al Harrington 21 14.7 -6 -2

Drew Gooden has been an excellent scrap heap pickup for the Wizards. He’s played just 171 minutes so far, but those minutes have been at a borderline All-Star level. Very bad things have been happening defensively when he’s in the game, which bears watching. Bad defense has been a rap on him throughout his career.

The Wizards saw production dips this week from Bradley Beal, Martell Webster and Andre Miller. Al Harrington continues to get minutes, and continues to play very badly. I’d hope that the Harrington experiment ends when Nenê returns.

If the big man comes back healthy and ready to play, head coach Randy Wittman will have a nine-man rotation of Wall and Miller at PG, Beal and Webster at SG, Ariza and Webster at SF, Nenê, Gooden and Booker at PF, and Gortat, Nenê and Gooden at C. That still probably won’t be enough to win a first round series, but it should be good enough to at least make things competitive and fun to watch.

Upon Further Review: Grunfeld Still Not Good At His Job

grunfeld

I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong. Especially when there’s evidence to offer correction. Last week, Mike Wise sought to convince readers not just that Washington Wizards president would receive a contract extension after the season, but that he deserves one.

I didn’t find Wise’s argument convincing, but your mileage may vary. Today, Scott Cacciola, writing for the New York Times (where Wise wrote for 10 years), has a piece that echoes much of what Wise wrote. My first thoughts were along the same lines as my response to Wise. But, this is two articles in two weeks, and the Wizards are better this season, and Ted Leonsis seems pretty happy with Grunfeld, and Leonsis is a smart guy who’s made a few bucketfuls of money…

So, maybe I’m just being hard-headed. Maybe Grunfeld has been doing a just spiffy job and I’ve…missed it. Perhaps I’ve permitted bias to creep into my thinking and I’ve been unfair in my analysis of the Wizards and of Grunfeld’s work. So, using Cacciola’s article as a launch point, I’m going to take as objective a look as I can at the claims he makes in support of Grunfeld.

First up:

After so much futility, after so much losing and after so much false hope, the Wizards have finally reinvented themselves as a relevant team — thriving, even, with an energetic nucleus that features Beal and John Wall, 23, a first-time All-Star whose ability to run the court is virtually unmatched in the N.B.A.

The Wizards were 33-31 after Wednesday’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, in solid position for a playoff berth.

The first difficulty in analyzing this passage is the use of glittery words that don’t have real meaning. “Relevant team” means what? There’s little doubt the Wizards will make the playoffs this season, but does anyone think they have a shot against either the Heat or the Pacers? Does anyone believe the Wizards would currently be sitting sixth in the West? They’re reasonably fun to watch, and it’ll be great to see them back in the postseason. But, relevant? Depends on what folks want it to mean, I guess.

Cacciola identifies the “energetic nucleus” as being Bradley Beal and John Wall, which is something Wise did as well. To me, “nucleus” would suggest players who are currently the primary causes for the team winning. Wall fits that description, even if his production still falls well short of league elite status.

But Beal? Maybe next year he’ll reach “nucleus” status. Perhaps the year after. This season, he’s fourth in total production (using the Player Production Average metric I developed), but the clear “nucleus” of the team this season is comprised of Wall, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat.

Perhaps Cacciola means that Beal and Wall will be the nucleus in the future, but that’s not what he wrote. The word “thriving” indicates something ongoing — something happening in the here and now.

Cacciola writes:

Patience is not a word frequently used in professional sports. Fans are impatient. Owners are impatient. Yet the quest to win now, and win by any means necessary, often turns out to be an ill-conceived approach, one that strips the team of long-term stability.

This is kind of a logic trap because it asserts a problem and a conclusion without offering supporting evidence. People are impatient. Impatience is bad because it strips the team of long-term stability. Cacciola offers up the Knicks as an example, but there are some problems. First, an anecdote isn’t evidence. Second, even if he’d cited two or three examples, the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “evidence.” And third, he hasn’t shown that the Knicks’ problem is impatience. I’d argue it’s been incompetence.

Cacciola seems to share Leonsis’s belief in The Continuity Theorem.  The logic of the Theorem is this: hire a team (management, coaches, players), keep them together, give them time, and…voila…winner. The foundation of the Continuity Theorem is that continuity causes success. I think it’s wrong, though. Or, at least that it’s stated the wrong way around. That is to say: continuity doesn’t cause success, but rather success causes continuity.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine assembling a team of say Eric Maynor, Nick Young, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely, Kevin Seraphin, Garrett Temple, Jordan Crawford, Cartier Martin, Trevor Booker, and Jason Collins. Let’s say that squad is coached by Randy Wittman. How long should we keep this group together to produce a winner? How long until it makes the playoffs? Wins a series? Reaches the Finals?

The reason good teams have continuity is that they’re good. When a team has good players, it doesn’t want to make major personnel changes except for age, injury and expense. When a team has bad players, there must be turnover because the way to improve is to replace bad players with good ones. Now, if you have young players you believe in — AND they work hard — those players can transform themselves into good players. That’s the hope with Beal, Wall and Otto Porter. But, they don’t get better because they’ve been kept together, they get better because they work hard and smart and they mature.

So, back to the Wizards and Grunfeld and this notion of the team being patient so as not to strip itself of “long-term stability.” Grunfeld has been in his position since the 2003-04 season. During that span, the Wizards have the league’s third worst winning percentage. They’re 13 games behind Sacramento for fourth worst. Washington’s best team (so far) in the Grunfeld era: 45-37 — tied for 123rd “best.”

It’s been 17 seasons since the Spurs had a season that bad.

I think it’s fair to say that Wizards fans have been patient.

More from Cacciola:

Grunfeld, 58, declined to discuss his tenure with the Knicks, preferring instead to talk about the Wizards, whom he joined in 2003. The Wizards made four straight playoff appearances starting in 2004-5, but then came the lean seasons — 19 wins in 2008-9, for example — as the team coped with injuries, off-the-court problems and an ownership change. Still, Grunfeld survived when many others would have been fired.

All fair points. The Wizards have had injuries (especially the ones that effectively ended the career of Gilbert Arenas), off-court “issues” and a change in ownership. The off-court issues were at least in part of management’s making. They picked guys known to lack maturity (Nick Young, Javale McGee, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, Javaris Crittenton, Arenas), and then contributed to a lax atmosphere that a former assistant coach described as “Romper Room.”

As for the ownership “change,” I’m not convinced it’s a major factor in Grunfeld’s execution of his responsibilities. Former owner Abe Pollin gave Grunfeld a “win now” instruction. He didn’t instruct Grunfeld to trade the fifth pick in the draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, and then let both walk as free agents. Pollin didn’t tell Grunfeld which players to draft or which free agents to pursue. He told Grunfeld to win. It was up to Grunfeld to figure out how to do it. What happened? Over a season and a half, they went 36-96 before saying “uncle” and trading away high-priced veterans.

But hey, stability is good, right?

Writes Cacciola:

Ted Leonsis, who became the majority owner in June 2010, told Grunfeld to rebuild the team through the draft, a goal that Leonsis knew would take time to achieve. Time is not an especially valued commodity in professional sports, but Leonsis was committed to using some.

“From Day 1, he said, ‘This is what we’re going to do, and it’s going to be painful at first,’ ” Grunfeld recalled. “ ‘But we’ll see the results as we move forward.’ And I think we’re starting to see it now. It’s still a process. We still have things we want to accomplish. But we feel like we have a very solid core.”

The process, as Grunfeld described it, started with Wall, a high-energy point guard who was the top overall pick in the 2010 draft. While Wall would be the team’s centerpiece, Grunfeld said he knew he needed to surround him with perimeter scorers who could space the floor.

With that in mind, Grunfeld went through free agency to sign Martell Webster, a dependable 3-point shooter. Grunfeld also acquired center Nene in a three-way trade that sent Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers and JaVale McGee to the Denver Nuggets. Four months later, the Wizards drafted Beal.

This is a curious mix of building on the unsupported Continuity Theorem, and selective omission of relevant information. Notice that there’s a key date missing — an entire year, in fact. That year: 2011, also known as a time when Washington was building through the draft and Grunfeld chose Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack.

As many have written countless times, after careful evaluation, analysis and thought, Grunfeld picked Vesely ahead of Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried, chose Singleton over Faried; and then plucked Mack before Chandler Parsons and Isaiah Thomas. That’s not retroactive 20/20 hindsight stuff — there was an array of fans using publicly available information who said the Wizards were making mistakes at the time.

What’s happened? Last season, Vesely was the league’s least productive PF. This season he’s better than that, but still not much above replacement level. And he’s in Denver, dealt there as part of the deal to bring in a 37-year old backup PG. Last season, Singleton was one of the NBA’s five least productive PFs. This year, he’s right at replacement level. Mack wasn’t anything outstanding, but a) was the most productive player the Wizards selected in 2011; and b) was showing some signs that he could become an acceptable (and cheap) backup PG. So, of course the Wizards cut him twice to keep less productive players.

A previous draft analysis I did using PER suggested that Grunfeld was roughly average as a drafter. I’m planning a more extensive analysis later this year using PPA (which does a better job than PER of determining who wins and who loses in the NBA) — if I can find the time between responding to “All Hail Grunfeld!” articles.

More from Cacciola:

Today, the only players who remain from the team’s 23-win season in 2010-11 are Wall, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin, who are all young and productive and understand their roles.

This one is a puzzler. Wall and Booker can both be described as “young and productive,” but “productive” doesn’t work with Seraphin. Last season, Seraphin was the league’s least productive center. This year, he’s not quite as bad, but he’s still below replacement level. His strength is supposed to be scoring, but he’s had exactly one season with even average efficiency. He’s sort of a poor man’s Eddy Curry — the ball goes in the basket at a decent rate when he manages to shoot, but he’s a terrible passer and a turnover machine. He can be doubled with impunity because he’s more than twice as likely to turn it over than to assist a teammate. And he rebounds like a small forward.

Cacciola finishes up with this:

Grunfeld said he would continue to take a measured approach. He cited the slow upward arc of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who struggled to make much noise in Kevin Durant’s first few seasons in the league.

Durant developed, and the Thunder picked up important pieces to supplement his skills. There was never any panic, only patience.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Grunfeld said.

If I was in Grunfeld’s position, I don’t think I’d invite comparisons to what Oklahoma City has done, but…

Wall was the obvious pick at number one in 2010 just as Durant was the obvious pick at two (since Portland had already selected Greg Oden). Neither pick is indicative of basketball acumen — nearly anyone would have made the same choices.

But, I’m puzzled by this assertion about the Thunder’s “…slow upward arc.” Here’s a quick comparison of the first four seasons of Durant and Wall (and their teams):

SEASON DURANT PPA OKC WINS WALL PPA WAS WINS
1 88 20 93 23
2 146 23 110 23*
3 201 50 139 29
4 172 55 144 42**
Avg. 154 37 119 29

* — That was the year of the NBA’s labor dispute, which shortened the season. The Wizards won 20 games that season, but I’ve extrapolated to an 82-game season.

** — So far this season the Wizards have 33 wins. Their current winning percentage multiplied by 82 games comes to 42. Their scoring differential is that of a 42-43 win team.

What I see in the table is that Wall was a tad better than Durant as a rookie, but that Durant improved much faster. Perhaps not coincidentally, Oklahoma City’s wins went up faster well. The first two seasons were similarly terrible for both teams, but then the Thunder jumped to 50 wins in Durant’s third season while the Wizards managed just 29 in Wall’s.

Of course, Wall was injured for a significant chunk of his third season, but with him they were a game under .500. I won’t argue if folks prefer to claim 40-42 wins for that third season. The basic point still stands — namely, that OKC’s arc wasn’t “slow.” It was horizontal for two seasons and then turned sharply up. From Durant’s second season to his third, they more than doubled their win total. The Wizards’ arc has been slow, however.

Since the Wizards were attempting to emulate the Thunder’s approach (building through the draft), it’s worth comparing what the teams did with their picks. In the three drafts following Durant’s, OKC added Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in 2008, and James Harden in 2009. Their 2010 draft was a bust — they traded multiple first rounders and got essentially nothing in return.

In the years following the selection of Wall, Seraphin and Booker, Grunfeld picked Vesely and Singleton in 2011, Beal in 2012, and Porter in 2013. Washington’s 2011 draft class will never be what the 2008 draft was for OKC. Beal’s first two seasons are a flatter version of Harden’s. The Wizards youngster had a rookie PPA of 92 and he’s currently at 94 in year two. Harden’s rookie season of 73 grew into a 101 (league average is 100) in his second year and jumped to 142 in his third. It’s way premature to make a call on Porter. The early returns don’t look favorable.

That’s seven first round picks for the Wizards since 2010. Wall is good. Booker is solid. Beal will probably be well above average. Let’s give Porter an incomplete. What I see is a clear reason why the team has shifted from building through the draft to making trades for established veterans: the failed 2011 draft. It seems odd to tout the team’s young “core” while ignoring that they’ve been forced to trade for starters and construct a geriatric bench because they’ve drafted so badly.

And, Cacciola omitted another piece of relevant information when assessing Grunfeld’s performance: the egregious free agent signing of Eric Maynor, who was given the full biannual exception and a player option on a second season despite four seasons of sub-par play in the NBA. Maynor, of course, was so bad in Washington that he had to be traded (along with Vesely AND a future second round pick) for the 37-year old Andre Miller.

So, after careful reivew, I remain unpersuaded that Grunfeld has done a good job running the Washington Wizards. Maybe next week someone from the New York Post can try to convince me.

Wizards Enjoy Soft Schedule Without Nenê

drew gooden

The Wizards have run their “without Nenê” record to 5-2 — a subject well-covered by the Washington Post’s Michael Lee this morning. Lee even broke out “points per 100 possessions,” which was nice to see. My only quibble with the story was that it didn’t mention Washington’s ultra-soft schedule, which may have ended up on the cutting room floor as editors tried to make the story fit into their print edition.

Here’s a quick look at the Wizards season — rolling averages of their offensive and defensive ratings (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions), as well as pace (possessions per 48 minutes).

2013-14 Wizards -- rtg & pace rolling

Red = defensive rating
Green = offensive rating
Dark blue = pace
Light blue = league average offensive rating
Orange = date of Nenê’s knee injury

That the Wizards have had a nice run without Nenê shouldn’t be much of a surprise. His overall play (see the PPA table below) has been mediocre, and while he’s helped the team on defense, he’s hurt them on offense. And, the Wizards have faced a series of cupcake opponents — four of their last seven have been in full tank mode. Their win against Toronto is the only one that could be considered a surprise. Even using the Nenê on/off numbers from the date he got hurt, the Wizards should have been expected to win at least four.

What have the Wizards done differently without their big man? They’ve been WAY more efficient on offense (115.3 points per 100 possessions over the last seven games vs. a season average of 105.7), but worse on defense (a defensive rating of 109.7 vs. 104.9 for the season).

The offense was largely expected. As noted previously, Washington has been more efficient without Nenê this season. The defense is worrisome. They got shredded by Orlando (28th ranked offense), Memphis (about average), and Milwaukee (27th on offense). The Heat also toasted them pretty good, but no shock — Miami boasts one of the league’s top three offensive units.

Also helping the Wizards get by without Nenê: the additions of Drew Gooden and Andre Miller. In still-tiny sample sizes for each, they’ve both been exactly what the team needed. Gooden has dominated opposing reserves — at least on the offensive end — and has provided much-needed rebounding and efficient scoring off the bench. Miller has been a steady veteran facilitator who somehow produces despite playing in “epic movie slow-motion” mode.

Miller’s production is sustainable — it’s about the same as what he was doing in Denver before he got sent home because of an argument with Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. Gooden’s production will almost certainly moderate, though he’s likely to still be useful the rest of the season. Gooden’s career PPA is 122, and he’s just two seasons removed from a 141. He’s never been this efficient on offense, though. And, his good play to this point is likely to earn him more minutes, which means he’ll end up facing more starters than he’s gone up against so far this season. Worth mentioning: his defense has long been a concern, and so far he grades out as well-below average in the defense part of PPA.

To the update. What is PPA? It stands for Player Production Average, which is a metric 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. PPA is a per minute stat.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 58 35.9 159 159
Marcin Gortat 63 32.8 141 149
Drew Gooden 5 13.4 -146 149
John Wall 63 36.8 150 144
Trevor Booker 53 20.7 115 114
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 103
Andre Miller 9 13.7 52 96
Bradley Beal 54 33.9 93 94
Martell Webster 59 28.9 88 90
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 69
Chris Singleton 20 11.4 54 45
Kevin Seraphin 43 12.2 42 42
Garrett Temple 59 10.5 21 21
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 29 8.8 2 3
Al Harrington 16 15.3 -9 -6

Trevor Ariza continues to maintain a high level of play. In PPA, he ranks 4th in the league among SFs with at least 500 total minutes; third overall in total production. Marcin Gortat’s production ticked up this week, while John Wall’s went down.

I really think it’s time to shelve talk of Wall being a superstar. He’s very good and he has great potential, but there’s still a loooooooong ways to go for him to be considered an elite player.

Nice to see Martell Webster’s PPA go up slightly — the first time since December 17th that his PPA hasn’t dropped in one of my updates.

With or without Nenê, the week ahead could be a good one for the Wizards. My odds estimator suggests Washington should be favorites to win each of their next four games, although the matchups with Orlando and Sacramento fall into “coin flip” territory. Their odds of actually winning all four are only about 10%, but 3-1 is realistic.

Four Words You Thought I’d Never Write About Mike Wise

Rescue crews battle against the fumes from Mike Wise's latest column.

Rescue crews battle against the fumes from Mike Wise’s latest column.

If the Washington Post’s Mike Wise is trolling Wizards fans with his latest epistle in praise of Ernie Grunfeld…kudos to him. If he really believes what he wrote…holy crap.

Now for the payoff to that Upworthy headline: Mike Wise is right. Well, his basic conclusion that Grunfeld will keep his job is correct. But just about everything else he wrote? Ill-informed, error-riddled, poorly reasoned garbage.

Now that Wise is allegedly finished expressing his thoughts, bear with me as I retort.

Wise leads off with this:

Among the barbershop banter going around Verizon Center’s media room Wednesday night was the topic of which Washington Wizards small forward had to go in the offseason to avert a talent-and-minutes logjam: Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster or Otto Porter Jr.?

By the time arguments were made on each player’s behalf (given his age and upside, everyone agreed moving Porter after his rookie year would be downright foolish), it dawned on the half-dozen or so of us: We were talking about players who might have to leave Washington because of too much depth at their position. No one could remember such a discussion about a Wizards roster this decade.

This was when I realized Ernie Grunfeld had definitely saved his job.

Several things are downright amazing in these four sentences. Face palm “amazing,” not “John Wall just threw down a breakaway 360 windmill” amazing.

First, mediaites are just now talking about the Wizards having a lot of guys at small forward? Second, this is somehow a good thing? And third: it took Wise until March 5 to “realize” Grunfeld’s job was saved?

Yeah, the Wizards do have a theoretical logjam at SF. People paying attention to the Wizards recognized a potential logjam at that spot before last year’s draft. That’s before the team selected Otto Porter — which was as predictable as…well…Wise writing an inane column for the Washington Post.

That potential logjam — recognized before last year’s draft — called into question the Wizards’ entire offseason strategy. Picking Porter to play SF was a fine move, especially if you’re a “best player available” proponent (as I am). Trading two second round picks for one and selecting SG/SF Glen Rice Jr. was another perfectly acceptable move. Keeping Trevor Ariza for the final year of his contract (instead of trading him) was also a fine move, as was re-signing Martell Webster.

What was decidedly NOT sensible was doing all four in the same offseason. And, a number of smart observers who pay attention and give actual thought to how to construct a good NBA team have been saying so since June 2013.

Grunfeld’s choice to invest so many resources at one position left the Wizards lacking depth up front, which was yet another thing that concerned fans who were paying attention. Washington was counting on two 30+ year old bigs, and 30+ year old athletes predictably do two things: get hurt and get worse.

What happened? Thirty-one year old Emeka Okafor got hurt before the season started, which meant that the Wizards NEEDED to acquire a replacement if they hoped to salvage their season. We’ll get into that in more detail very soon.

Meanwhile, 31-year old Nenê hit the 30+ exacta by both declining AND getting hurt.

More from Wise:

On a playoff-or-bust edict from his owner since training camp, out of injury alibis and facing the prospect of no postseason for a sixth straight spring, the oft-slammed team president launched a deep three-pointer in late October.

Grunfeld acquired a journeyman center from Phoenix and some loose change for an injured Emeka Okafor and a protected first-round draft pick.

That player, Marcin Gortat, has started 60 of 61 games this season.

Gortat has double figures in points and rebounds in 24 of those games.

He has bailed out his team down low, especially now that his bookend 6-foot-11 big man, Nene, is out for at least another month because of a sprained knee ligament. When Nene is healthy, the two play off each other brilliantly; the more Gortat bangs inside on offense, the more Nene can do his ballet outside the key.

That first paragraph is pure sophistry. Trading for Gortat wasn’t a “deep three,” it was a layup, a sure thing. Ditto for the trade to obtain Okafor and Ariza. Wise is suggesting that Grunfeld was taking a chance to get the team back in the playoffs. A competent GM would have addressed the team’s glaring need for frontcourt depth during the offseason instead of burning all of his assets on small forwards and a backup point guard who had been demonstrably terrible for four seasons.

The trade for Gortat isn’t evidence of Grunfeld’s executive acumen, but prime evidence of his incompetence. When the team’s starting center was out of commission, they couldn’t turn to their bench and have even a reasonable hope that the next man up could do an adequate job. Nope, they had to burn a future asset — likely to be in one of the deepest, most talented drafts of the past decade — to achieve the very modest short-term goals for this season.

Next, Wise seems surprised at the level of Gortat’s play this season. While “journeyman” is a fair descriptor, Gortat is doing exactly what should have been expected. Regular readers may recall that before the season, I projected Gortat’s Player Production Average (an overall production measure I developed) this season would be 146. Gortat’s PPA as of my most recent update: 141.

More Wise:

Okafor, still rehabbing, has yet to play a game.

“With March and Nene, we can match up with anybody inside,” Grunfeld said at halftime of a victory over the Jazz on Wednesday night as he leaned against a wall in the club suite where he watches games.

“It was big at that time we made the trade because we knew Emeka was hurt. To bring in a big guy who plays both offense and defense and has a very positive attitude, we were very happy.”

Ernie won’t talk about his future, pleading that I write about something else. Ted Leonsis won’t talk about Ernie’s future, just as he won’t talk about George McPhee’s future with the Capitals. All Monumental Sports business apparently will be handled this summer.

But while McPhee may need a Stanley Cup playoff run of at least two or more rounds to warrant an extension, the signs of Grunfeld being re-signed are growing daily.

ESPN has calculated the odds of Washington returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as 100 percent (since Golden State and Portland don’t yet have that designation, it apparently does help to play in the Eastern Conference).

I’ve already addressed the content of the Grunfeld quotes. What he says is accurate enough, if looked at in a vacuum. The trade for Gortat (which cost the team a future first round pick) wouldn’t have been necessary if they’d done a reasonable job of adding depth in the offseason. Or, if they’d used the cap space they traded for Okafor and Ariza to get younger players that could be just as productive and have the prospect of improving.

It was nice to see Wise at least acknowledge the benefits of playing in the weak sister Eastern Conference. To add some teeth to the aside, keep in mind that Washington’s record (compiled against the league’s 8th easiest schedule) would rank 10th in the Western Conference. At 32-29, they’d be four games out of 8th place.

Realistically, Washington’s record would be worse in the tougher conference. In my analysis, they’d fall 11th. In the East, they’re fourth or fifth.

More from Wise:

I’ll admit it: I thought Ernie was finally toast. Though I’ve consistently defended him on essentially the same grounds Leonsis has used — Grunfeld is executing the gradual rebuilding plan his employer instructed him to — I wasn’t sure he could recover from re-signing Gilbert Arenas and Andray Blatche to a combined $146 million in 2008 and 2010.

But the recycling king did it, turning Arenas into Rashard Lewis, then into Okafor and Ariza (a trade widely criticized as the Wizards taking on two aging role players for too many guaranteed years and millions) and finally Okafor into Gortat.

The first paragraph from this excerpt is absurdity. The Wizards talked about doing a gradual rebuild, but when presented with resources to acquire young, productive players with a future, they instead traded for older players who could speedwalk them back to mediocrity.

The Arenas for Lewis trade was a solid move. Trading the cap space for older players was shortcutting the rebuild.

Note that last line: “…and finally Okafor into Gortat.” No, it was Okafor AND a first round pick for Gortat. Here’s the total price: maximum cap space, a future first round pick and a future second round pick for Ariza and Gortat. And, if the Wizards want them back, it’ll cost them max cap space again.

More Wise:

This is a very good core group, with its two best players 20 and 23 years old, respectively. The Wizards have put themselves in position salary-cap wise to spend in free agency the next two seasons.

Everything here is wrong. The core group is not “very good,” it’s average. Its best players are 28 and 23 (Ariza and Wall). The Wizards have NOT put themselves in a good position to spend in free agency. The last point is one I addressed last November.

To summarize: the Wizards won’t be in position to ADD to their team via free agency. If they’re to have significant cap room to sign a “name brand” free agent, they’ll have to let Gortat, Ariza and Booker depart. If those guys leave, Washington will need to REPLACE them. If they re-sign Gortat and/or Ariza and/or Booker, they won’t have cap space to pursue a significant free agent.

Now, the team could re-sign Gortat and Ariza (and maybe Booker too), and then go shopping in free agency using the MLE. Then they’d be adding. But, they’d also then be tied to two 30+ year old big men (Gortat and Nenê), who would more likely be declining as Wall, Beal and (maybe) Porter are approaching their potential.

More Wise:

As time has gone on, the bigger picture of Grunfeld’s vision is beginning to emerge. Taking on Nene’s $65 million deal or the remaining $15 million of Ariza’s deal appeared risky, if not foolish, in 2012. But without those pieces and Gortat surrounding John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards aren’t three games over .500 for the first time since the Arenas era and less than two months from possibly their first playoff series win since 2005.

Vision? There’s no vision here. The team is the assemblage of a man trying to save his job. There’s little apparent thought given to a long-term goal like building a championship contender.

The stuff about Ariza, Nenê and Gortat supposes that those were the only moves available. What’s more, getting these players (instead of younger guys who might grow with Wall and Beal) is indictment of Grunfeld’s alleged vision. Gortat and Ariza must be re-signed — re-acquired at the cost of a second helping of maximum cap space. And, as some (including myself) predicted, Nenê is in the expensive, injured, decline portion of his career.

And this is before even getting to the bungling that made trading for veterans a consideration in the first place. When Washington dealt for these guys, younger players — all of whom were selected by Grunfeld — were setting new standards for ineptitude.

Wise writes:

With Joe Dumars reportedly on his way out in Detroit, Grunfeld would have the fifth-longest tenure among NBA GMs behind Miami’s Pat Riley, the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak, San Antonio’s R.C. Buford and Boston’s Danny Ainge.

Yes, Grunfeld’s the only one on that list without an NBA title. He’s also the only one who was expressly told to do it on the cheap for a few years.

More sleight-of-hand sophistry. Note the use of “…an NBA title,” as if Grunfeld’s team was oh-so-close, but just fell short. So, let’s compare the records of the longest-tenured GMs:

NBA RANK TEAM GM W L W-L%
1 SAS Buford 611 254 .706
3 LAL Kupchak 520 346 .600
4 MIA Riley 515 348 .597
8 BOS Ainge 472 392 .546
11 DET Dumars 458 407 .529
28 WAS Grunfeld 345 520 .399

Perhaps you’ll notice what I did — during the time Grunfeld has been in charge of the Wizards, they’ve had the league’s third WORST winning percentage. In that same timespan, those who have been in place longer have run three of the league’s most successful franchise. And the fourth guy — the one reportedly close to being fired — guided a franchise that was one of the NBA’s best for a seven-year span, and which won a championship.

What’s remarkable to consider is that 22 other NBA franchises were better than the Wizards teams Grunfeld assembled…and replaced their GM.

Wise blathers:

He doesn’t get a pass for drafting Jan Vesely at No. 6 or Oleksiy Pecherov at No. 18. He’s also not the only NBA executive who didn’t take Stephen Curry before No. 7 or DeJuan Blair before No. 37 in 2009.

But, apparently in Wise’s book, Grunfeld does get a pass for picking Chris Singleton ahead of Kenneth Faried, for signing Eric Maynor, or for trading the 5th pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

Wise bleets:

Here’s hoping those in the Why-Isn’t-Grunfeld-Gone? mob can lower their pitchforks and finally notice the team in front of them.

Last month in Sochi, Russia, I ran into a former acquaintance of mine and Grunfeld’s who, within minutes, wanted to know, “How does Ernie still have a job?” I’ve heard this often the past few years, often from people looking for work themselves.

Now that the Wall era is within weeks of its first postseason, the answer is easy: Ernie Grunfeld and his closest advisers were given just the right amount of time they needed to fix what was broke.

For this year, the team is enjoyable to watch. But, those who pay attention to the team know that scaling Mt. Mediocrity this season (and really, it was supposed to be scaled last season, but…you know…that injury to Wall and (this may sound familiar) lack of depth) comes at the expense of the team’s future.

They spent their cap space on older players. To keep those older players, they’re going to have to spend even more cap space.

Because one of those older players got hurt (and they hadn’t obtained a solid reserve big man despite a glaring need for depth), they had to spend a future first round pick (probably in a deep draft) to get another older player.

Because they flunked player evaluation, they had to spend their biannual exception, a previous (failed) first round pick, AND a future 2nd round pick to get an “on his last legs” backup PG.

This kind of twaddle from Wise is what I expected from casual fans when the Wizards punted on the rebuild and instead went all-in for mediocrity. What the team did was cynical in my view — they created an illusion of improvement, not by doing a genuine rebuild with younger players who have a future, but by spending resources on established players on short contracts.

It’s not about lowering pitchforks or wanting Grunfeld gone. When I’ve met Grunfeld, I liked him. In fact, I’ve liked and respected all the front office guys I’ve had a chance to meet. But they haven’t done a good job over the past decade, and there’s little reason to think they’ll abruptly improve in the future.

Update on Wizards Odds Without Nenê

Nene Hilario

Last week, I posted an estimate of the Wizards’ possible record in their remaining games, assuming Nenê misses the rest of the regular season. With a few more games in the books, Washington has survived the big man’s absence by playing better on offense and worse on defense — which was exactly what should have been anticipated based on how the season had gone prior to his injury.

The gap between how the Wizards performed with Nenê on the floor vs. when he’s been off has closed considerably. When I first posted these estimates, the numbers suggested Nenê’s absence could reduce the Wizards chances of winning by approximately 6%. In other words, if the Wizards had a 50% chance of winning with Nenê, their chances would be cut to roughly 44% with him on the sidelines.

Fast-forward four games (including games against Philadelphia and Utah — the Little Sisters of the Poor of the NBA), and the with/without Nenê differential is down to about 3.6%. There’s some game-to-game variation because of home court advantage, but the updated odds suggest that it would be reasonable to expect the Wizards to finish with 43-47 wins, even if Nenê misses the rest of the regular season.

As you’ll see in the tables below, there’s still uncertainty. The “no Nenê” estimate projects that 12 of the remaining 21 games are essentially coin flips — Wizards’ odds of winning falling between 45% and 55%. Using their full season numbers indicates 10 coin flip games. Still, 43-47 wins appears to be a realistic projection from this point in the season.

DATE PLACE OPP Nenê OFF FLOOR FULL SEASON AVERAGES
03/08/14 A MIL 57% 61%
03/10/14 A MIA 33% 36%
03/12/14 H CHA 56% 59%
03/14/14 A ORL 51% 55%
03/15/14 H BRK 55% 59%
03/18/14 A SAC 46% 50%
03/20/14 A POR 34% 38%
03/21/14 A LAL 52% 55%
03/23/14 A DEN 47% 50%
03/26/14 H PHX 48% 51%
03/28/14 H IND 40% 43%
03/29/14 H ATL 54% 57%
03/31/14 A CHA 46% 49%
04/02/14 H BOS 59% 63%
04/04/14 A NYK 48% 51%
04/05/14 H CHI 51% 54%
04/09/14 H CHA 56% 59%
04/11/14 A ORL 51% 55%
04/12/14 H MIL 66% 70%
04/14/14 H MIA 42% 45%
04/16/14 A BOS 50% 53%

And, projected records with and without Nenê.

REMAINING GAMES FINAL RECORD
SPLIT W L W L
Season 15 6 47 35
w/o Nenê 11 10 43 39

The Anointing of John Wall

Folks have been practically tripping over to anoint John Wall a Genuine SuperStar and Franchise Savior since…well…before he even signed a contract. The Wizards literally gave him red carpet treatment when he arrived in DC after being made the number one selection. Since then, he’s been proclaimed as a star, as one of the game’s elite, and was awarded a max contract basically as soon as the Wizards could offer it.

Jason Reid’s still premature piece last week heralding Wall’s arrival as a “…true NBA star” seems nearly an example of restraint in comparison.

This blog post should not be read as “hate” for Wall. He has improved significantly since his first two seasons, and he has become good. He continues to possess elite (true star) potential, but despite the array of assertions that he already is a star…he’s not. Yet.

Before I go any further, it’s probably worthwhile for me to articulate what I mean by “star.” For me, it’s not a synonym for “well known” or “popular.” They’re guys consistently do the things that cause their teams to win games. Through the years, there have always been “media” stars — guys whose reputations exceed their actual production. Usually, they have high per game scoring averages — think Dominique Wilkins, Allen Iverson and (in recent years) Carmelo Anthony (although Anthony’s production has moved somewhat closer to his rep this season).

At 23 years old, Wall is decidedly NOT in that category. He’s a very good player now, and he’s on the cusp of greatness — if he continues to improve his jumper and cut down on turnovers. He could be one of the game’s elite in the very near future. He’s just not quite there yet.

Here are a few illustrations through the prism of the metric I developed, Player Production Average (PPA). 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. PPA is a per minute stat.

First, let’s look strictly at point guards. In most seasons, it takes a PPA of 225 or higher to be an MVP candidate. Players scoring above 200 are among the game’s truly elite players. Here are this season’s top 10 PGs (minimum 500 minutes):

  1. Chris Paul — 250
  2. Stephen Curry — 197
  3. Goran Dragic — 175
  4. Kyle Lowry — 170
  5. Russell Westbrook — 166
  6. Mike Conley — 163
  7. Ty Lawson — 158
  8. John Wall — 150
  9. Tony Parker — 149
  10. Damian Lillard — 146

If I redo the analysis looking at totals instead of per minute production (to reward durability), Wall moves to fifth behind Curry, Lowry, Paul and Dragic.

Based on my analysis of Wall’s game and what I know of his work ethic and personality, I’d take his future over the future of anyone on the list ahead of him except Paul. But he needs to become more productive to become a truly elite PG.

Comparing Wall to the rest of the league, it’s hard to support the claim that he’s a “true star” (elite player). He’s top 20 in total production, in part because of he plays lots of minutes. In per minute production, he ranks just outside the top 40.

As I discussed a few weeks back, Wall’s positive contributions are plentiful — not unlike some of the game’s best players. But, his negative plays (poor shot selection, missed shots, and turnovers) are also abundant. I estimate that his shooting from the floor has cost the team 59 points so far this season — just under a point per game. That doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of 60 games it works out to about two more wins. Just two more wins at this point would have the Wizards tied with Chicago for the fourth seed, and just a half game behind Toronto for third.

‘Nuff said.

To this week’s PPA update:

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 55 36.0 155 159
John Wall 60 36.9 147 150
Marcin Gortat 60 32.9 144 141
Trevor Booker 50 20.6 112 115
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 103
Bradley Beal 51 33.8 94 93
Martell Webster 57 28.9 89 88
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 69
Chris Singleton 18 12.0 53 54
Andre Miller 6 13.8 88 52
Kevin Seraphin 43 12.2 43 42
Garrett Temple 56 10.9 20 21
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 26 8.8 -6 2
Al Harrington 13 14.2 12 -9
Drew Gooden 2 7.0 -146

Ariza and Wall continue to lead the way for the Wizards. Ariza is having a career-best season in his contract year. I have to think the Wizards would like to re-sign him, and I suspect Ariza’s more modest career production may keep his price more manageable.

Martell Webster’s PPA declined by one point — down for an eighth consecutive update. It’s good the team is giving him some days off to rest his ailing back, which is the likely cause for his production dip.

The new and returning old guys (Andre Miller, Drew Gooden and Al Harrington) were all awful since the last update.

It was good to see Otto Porter make some plays in the loss to Memphis. He’s back out of negative PPA territory, unlike number one overall pick Anthony Bennett whose PPA is -3.

A couple more entries in Small Sample Size theater: the departed Wizards. Jan Vesely’s PPA in Washington: 69. In 59 minutes for Denver: 58. PG Eric Maynor in Washington: 8. In 68 minutes for Philly: 48. That 48 was right around Maynor’s career average before signing with the Wizards. I still have no idea why the Washington front office thought he’d be good. Thankfully, he can now do a job for which he’s perfectly suited — helping Philadelphia lose games.