Month: March 2015

Wizards Update: Bouncing Back?

sessions

After a lengthy stretch of losing basketball, the Wizards have won four of their last six. Have they shaken off their mid-season swoon? Are they poised to win like it’s November or December?

No, and not likely.

While the Wizards have played better over the past six games, their offense has remained below average, and their defense has been unsustainably fantabulous. During this 4-2 stretch, Washington has allowed its opponents just 96.5 points per 100 possessions. If they managed to do that over a full season, they’d be one of the 15 best defenses since 1973-74 when the league began collecting the stats necessary to calculate defensive rating. For the season, the Wizards are allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions.

Another factor: they’ve had the good fortune of meeting injury-depleted teams. And even then, the results have been mixed. They lost to Chicago, which was missing Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson. They eked out a two-point victory against Miami, which didn’t have Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade or Luol Deng. And, they beat the snot out of Memphis, which lacked Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph — also known as the Grizzlies’ four best players.

I know Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld have said the Wizards just need to play better on defense and work harder. I respectfully disagree. Their defense — even during the period of sustained losing — wasn’t bad. The decline has been on offense, and it still needs to be fixed.

Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (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.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

2015-03-13 -- wiz ppa

My apologies for the format. The spreadsheet has reached a width that WordPress struggles to accommodate.

Good weeks for Gortat, Wall, Pierce and Gooden. Not so good for Beal, Temple, Porter and Butler.

Ramon Sessions provided hope with a couple decent games.

Martell Webster isn’t able to physically compete at an NBA level, presumably because of his back.

I’ve thought all season that DeJuan Blair should have been playing ahead of Kevin Seraphin, but Blair looks unable to compete physically at an NBA level because of too much eating and insufficient exercise.

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Wizards to Sign Underwhelming Murry

murry shoots

Media reports say the Washington Wizards are close to signing D-League guard Toure’ Murry to a 10-day contract. While the Wizards could use some backcourt help because of injuries to Bradley Beal, Garrett Temple and Martell Webster, regression from Rasual Butler, and crummy play from newly-acquired Ramon Sessions, it’s unlikely Murry will offer much help.

There are positives in Murry’s game, of course. He has good size and athleticism, and judging by the numbers, he’s active and plays hard. So far this season, he’s averaging 20.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 2.5 assists per 100 possessions with two different D-League teams.

Yet, his Player Production Average (PPA) for the season is just 89. Yes, despite those impressive per 100 possession numbers, he still rates below average in the D-League this year. He’s been a bit better with Rio Grande, but even then he rates right about average (PPA: 98).

(For those who might not be regular readers: Player Production Average (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 and higher is better.)

So what’s the problem? Points, rebounds, assists and steals are all on the “plus” side of the player evaluation ledger. Unfortunately, Murry also has high numbers on the “minus” side. This includes poor shooting and lots of turnovers.

Here’s a comparison of Murry’s shooting to the rest of the D-League this year:

Stat Murry D-League
efg .452 .518
2pt% .475 .512
3pt% .254 .354

If there’s a reason to think he’ll shoot better in the NBA than he has in the D-League, I’d love to see it. In the minors this season, Murry shoots more frequently than average per 100 possessions, but scores less. His assists are nice, but are offset by high turnovers. Overall this season, his offensive rating is 102 points per 100 possessions in a league that has an offensive rating of 110. Even if we ignore his less-good stint with Idaho, his offensive rating is still just 105, which is well below average.

Murry is a good defender, according to the defense part of PPA. He generates steals, which could be good depending on how (meaning: does he steal the ball by being in good position and having great anticipation, or is he disrupting the team concept by gambling in passing lanes?), and he’s aggressive on the defensive glass. Both his teams this season have been terrible defensively — more than five points per 100 possessions worse than average. It’s hard to blame him for that considering he has just 670 total D-League minutes this year. Overall, my approach suggests he’s an above average defender.

This is fine, but…in basketball, situational substitutions are difficult to make. Teams have to take the whole player — good and bad. What matters is a player’s overall impact. And Murry’s is decidedly average. D-League average. Given what’s been ailing the Wizards lately, if they were going to skew toward one end of the court, offense would seem more logical. In my analysis, it’s unlikely Murry will help much. Barring a Butler-like hot streak, Murry will be a deficit on offense who might hold his own defensively.

Could the Wizards have done better? Well, there are several guards in the D-League who have been more productive. This includes the tiny Tim Frazier, who was terrible in six games with Philadelphia last month. Other guys who look more promising in the numbers:

  • David Stockton, Reno — Small (just 5-11), but efficient. His offensive rating is 119 so far this season. Excellent shooter with impressive assist numbers. His team has been terrible defensively, but he rates as having an average defensive impact. Came to training camp with Washington, so maybe they’ve already seen enough to conclude they don’t want him. D-League PPA: 162
  • Seth Curry, Erie — Doesn’t have a well-rounded game, BUT he’s an adequate defender who shoots like a Curry. PPA: 152.
  • Elliott Williams, Santa Cruz — A 6-5 SG type who’s a willing passer and has shot the ball well this season. Decent defender on a good defensive team. PPA: 147.
  • D.J. Seeley, Delaware — A 6-4 SG and willing passer who has shot well this season (.435 on 186 3pt attempts). Too many turnovers for my liking. And he rates a shade below average defensively. PPA: 133.
  • Aaron Craft, Santa Cruz — Small, quick, strong and tough-as-graphene. Craft was one of the best collegiate defenders I ever saw, and that’s showing up in his D-League numbers as well. Still a suspect three-point shooter, but he’s a good passer, doesn’t commit turnovers, and seems to know a thing or two about running a team. PPA: 122.
  • Vander Blue, Los Angeles — A 6-4 SG out of Marquette, which means he plays hard and defends. He’s not really a PG, but he’s a much improved shooter — .421 from 3pt range on 126 attempts. PPA: 119.

None of these guys are guaranteed producers, of course. All have their “warts,” as does Murry. If the Wizards wanted a 3&D type, Williams, Seeley and Blue would seem to be better options. Stockton and Craft are “pure PGs” and the front office may imagine they have that backup role covered with Ramon Sessions.

Signing Murry isn’t a disaster. But, he doesn’t match what the Wizards need, and he isn’t much of a prospect for the future. In that sense, it is something of a missed opportunity.

EDIT — Since publishing, Nick Bilka asked on Twitter about Chris Babb. He looks like a better option as well. Babb is a 6-5 SG who rebounds decently, defends adequately and shoots the three well. PPA: 141.

Wizards Update: Death Spiral

wall wtf

When the NBA entered its annual All-Star break, I started work on a piece intended to look at how teams similar to this year’s Wizards throughout league history fared when they reached the playoffs. At the time, Washington was 33-21, and their Simple Rating System (SRS) — a measure of team strength that combines scoring differential with strength of schedule — was +1.67 per game.

In the six games they’ve played since the break, they faced opponents with a combined scoring differential of -1.15. Even an average team would have been expected to win four of the six. The Wizards went 1-5 and were outscored by a whopping 86 points. That’s 14.3 points per game. Even if I throw out the 38-point loss to Cleveland as an aberration, Washington lost the other five by 9.6 points per game. Their SRS now stands at -0.02.

All season, I’ve been writing variations on the theme of “The Wizards Just Ain’t That Good,” but I’m still surprised by their catastrophic collapse since the All-Star break. What’s scary: their remaining 22 games don’t look as easy as they did just a few weeks ago.

Fourteen of their remaining contests are against likely playoff teams. And, the key statistical indicators of team strength I watch are all dipping. This recent stretch of horrific basketball could merely be a rough patch for an average team, but it could also be a signal of an aging group that’s about to flat line.

When I run the numbers through my “who’s gonna win” machine, the results are…well…bad. In a worst-case scenario, the Wizards would limp into the playoffs with just seven wins over their last 22. I think they’ll be better than that, but it’s hard to find more than 11 wins the rest of the way (which, by the way, would give them a final record of 45-37, which happens to be what I projected for them back in October). Barring a miracle about-face, those dreams of a 50-win season will remain just that.

As long as I’m fretting, here’s another reason for Wizards fans to be concerned: this interview of team president Ernie Grunfeld by radio guy Dave Johnson. Presented with respectful softball questions by Johnson, Grunfeld offered his thoughts on how his team could pull out of its skid — and thoroughly misdiagnosed what’s wrong.

In the interview, Grunfeld suggested the team’s biggest problem has been a decline in their defense. He said their results will improve when they play better defense, get out on the fast break and “compete” on a nightly basis.

Here’s a look at the Wizards pre- and post-All-Star break:

TIME PACE ORTG DRTG
Pre-ASB 93.5 105.4 102.9
Post-ASB 96.7 93.4 108.3
CHANGE 3.2 -11.9 -5.4

What the numbers show is that the Wizards have played faster since the All-Star break, but have been worse. Grunfeld gets partial credit on the “play better defense” portion of his prescription since that would be a good thing to do. However, The drop in offensive efficiency is more than double their change in defensive efficiency. That means the team’s struggles are first and foremost because of its offense.

In case you were wondering, forgetting the debacle against Cleveland doesn’t change the analysis. Their defense the past three games has been excellent and yet they lost two because their offense was a horror show. If the Wizards want to start winning, they do need to get better on both ends, but their most important fix will be on offense.

There’s another issue with Grunfeld’s prescription — the data show the team’s offensive and defensive efficiency are uncorrelated. I’ve been tracking offensive and defensive efficiency by pace for years now, and this season’s result is the same as every other year. Good defense doesn’t cause good offense. Good offense doesn’t cause good defense. It’s almost as if offense and defense occur at different ends of the floor.

This season, if the numbers suggest anything it’s the Wizards show a very slight tendency to play better defense when they’re worse on offense. In terms of pace effects, Washington has a very slight tendency to play worse on offense in faster-paced games. But these “effects” are so small they’re basically meaningless.

Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (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.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

2015-03-03 -- wiz ppa

My apologies for the format. The spreadsheet has reached a width that WordPress struggles to accommodate.

Early returns on the Andre Miller for Ramon Sessions trade aren’t good. As the table above shows, Miller had a PPA of 80 with the Wizards; Sessions has managed a Maynor-esque 13 so far. Meanwhile, Miller’s PPA with the Kings is a robust 90 (good for a backup PG). Sessions in Sacramento posted a 16 PPA.

Unsurprisingly for a team that barely ended a five-game losing streak, production for most guys was down. The biggest decliner was John Wall, but he was hardly alone. The team also saw drop-offs from Nenê, Garrett Temple, Rasual Butler, and Kevin Seraphin.

Perhaps the Wizards can turn things around, but it’s an old team that doesn’t have a ton of upside. Over the season’s final 22 contests, Wall will likely play more like he did earlier in the season, but it’s not realistic to think any of the team’s older players have much room for improvement. Maybe Beal or Porter can play better to close out the season, but neither looks ready to provide a surge in production.

Realistically speaking, if the Wizards can go .500 the rest of the way, I’d call it a success. But, winning just seven or eight of their remaining 22 is a realistic possibility as well. That would leave them with 41 or 42 wins, which would almost certainly relegate them to the sixth seed. Where they’d probably draw Cleveland and get bounced from the playoffs in the first round.

So. Wizards.