Wizards Update: The Worries

wall the leap

The Washington Wizards are off to a 5-2 start, tied with Miami for first place in the NBA’s Southeast Division, and sitting on pretty good odds of getting to 7-2 before they face Dallas at Verizon Center. And yet…in classic Wizards’ follower fashion, I’m actually a little worried.

Yep, it’s good they’re winning. But, they should be winning given the quality of the opponents they’ve faced so far. No, this isn’t one of those “they would be X record if they’d faced teams A, B and C” critiques. I don’t believe a team (or its fans) should ever have to apologize for the schedule, which is something they don’t control.

What has me a little worried is how pedestrian the Wizards have looked so far this season. They’ve outscored their opponents by 1.57 points per game so far this season; the league has outscored their opponents by 1.99 points per game.

I’d be more willing to buy the injury excuse if they weren’t getting career-best play from Garrett Temple standing in for Bradley Beal and Martell Webster.

But, this is this “little worry” because we’re still in the annual performance of Small Sample Size Theater. A study by Kevin Pelton, then-writing for Basketball Prospectus, showed that team-level stats tend to stabilize around the 25th of the season. Other research has shown that per minute stats for individual players begin to have validity as quick as 150 minutes. More is better, though.

Still, the early indications are that, despite the good record early on, the Wizards are an average team again this season. They’ve been good defensively, but a bit below average on offense. The hope is that getting Beal and Webster will help bolster the team offensively when they can return from injury.

Here’s the first Player Production Average (PPA) update of 2014-15. PPA is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

PLAYER GMS MPG PPA
John Wall 7 35.7 185
Marcin Gortat 7 32.7 181
Paul Pierce 7 28.0 140
Garrett Temple 7 33.7 121
Nene Hilario 6 29.2 108
Otto Porter 7 24.7 97
Andre Miller 7 12.9 72
Rasual Butler 3 14.3 60
Kris Humphries 6 9.8 46
Drew Gooden 6 19.5 42
Kevin Seraphin 6 13.8 38
DeJuan Blair 3 3.7 -41
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120

Wall and Gortat should jump out immediately (they are at the top of the chart). Both guys have produced at an All-NBA level in the first seven games. This could be The Leap from Wall that fans have been waiting for. If he keeps it up. Gortat has actually performed at a 180ish PPA for a full season (2011-12).

Pierce has been everything Washington could have hoped he’d be. Over the summer, I went hunting through the stats to find players who’d be most likely to replace what Trevor Ariza had provided. The top name on the list: Paul Pierce. His offense could be more efficient, but he’s producing at about the level Ariza did last season — and his defense has been outstanding.

Nenê appears to have picked up more or less where he did last season, and that’s not such a great thing for the Wizards. He’s still a good defender, but his offensive efficiency seems to be departed.

It’s good to see Porter hovering around average. He’s been an asset off the bench, and seems to be figuring out the NBA game. Porter hasn’t been helped much by his oldster bench mates Miller and Gooden, who have been awful defensively since arriving in Washington.

And check out Porter look-alike Garrett Temple, who has so far played at the level of an almost-average NBA starter. Major kudos to Temple for all the work he’s done on his jumper. It shows in his form — especially in the way he sets his feet for takeoff, freezes the follow-through, and plants the landing.

I know folks are going to wonder about Kevin Seraphin, who rates below replacement level yet again. Seraphin is shooting 63% from the floor, and has had a couple nice games. His offensive efficiency is above average. And yet…he continues to be plagued by the same problems he’s had since his rookie year. Specifically, his rebounding is sub-par, he’s turnover prone, and he fouls too much.

Also worth noting are Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair, who were acquired in the offseason to provide frontcourt depth. So far, they’ve been behind Seraphin on the depth chart, which is astonishing. Humphries at least has some excuse — he missed three weeks of preseason with a hand injury. Blair has apparently been healthy, but can’t get on the floor despite dreadful play from Seraphin.

At some point, I gotta believe they’ll end the Seraphin experiment and give playing time to Humphries and/or Blair. Based on what they’ve done on the court so far this season, it’s fair to say that neither has made a case for playing ahead of Seraphin. At least not yet.

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