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.

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.

Andre Miller Is A Big Upgrade

wall dribbles

No time for anything in-depth today, but I wanted to get the numbers up. The Andre Miller trade is paying off already. In his first three games (and 44 minutes), Miller has been a bit more than four times as productive as Garrett Temple on a per minute basis.

John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat had good weeks. Trevor Booker did not. Martell Webster’s production declined for a seventh consecutive update.

The table below shows the just about weekly results of my metric: 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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 52 35.7 148 155
John Wall 57 36.8 140 147
Marcin Gortat 57 32.4 139 144
Trevor Booker 47 20.1 118 112
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 103
Bradley Beal 48 33.5 90 94
Martell Webster 55 28.8 91 89
Andre Miller 3 14.7 88
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 69
Chris Singleton 15 10.9 60 53
Kevin Seraphin 43 12.2 44 43
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Garrett Temple 54 11.2 20 20
Al Harrington 10 15.1 6 12
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 24 8.9 -4 -6

Wizards Trade for Backcourt Upgrade

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors

The Wizards made a deal at the trade deadline, swapping Eric Maynor, Jan Vesely and a second round pick in 2015 in a three-team trade that landed 37-year old Nuggets PG Andre Miller. The trade provides Washington with a much-needed reserve guard, and costs the team little in the long-term.

For their stated goal of making the playoffs, this is a good trade. Miller has declined some in his NBA dotage, but is still productive in his 15th season. Regular readers are likely familiar with my Player Production Average metric (PPA), which credits players for things that contribute to wins, debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace-neutral, accounts for defense and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor. In PPA, 100 = average and higher is better.

Miller’s PPA this season: 94. Last season it was a 96. The previous season: 84. This is a significant dropoff from the 140-range PPAs he posted in his early 30s, but it’s still more than adequate for a third guard. For comparison, Temple’s PPA this season: 20. Maynor’s: 8.

Acquiring Miller doesn’t affect Washington’s cap situation going forward. Vesely’s contract is up at the end of the season. Maynor had another year at $2.1 million, but only $2 million of Miller’s salary for next season is guaranteed. If the Wizards decide to bring him back, it would be the equivalent of signing a free agent PG for $2.525 million. The money they owed Maynor is a sunk cost they would have had to pay regardless.

And yet, I’m ambivalent about the trade. First, I don’t like giving up that second round pick. Some object based on the likelihood of it being a high second rounder. I really don’t care where it falls. In my analysis, second round picks are grossly undervalued by many teams, including the Wizards. They’re opportunities to take chances on guys with ability, but with a “wart” or two. They’re opportunities to obtain inexpensive talent to fill roles — or perhaps more. If it was me, I’d want lots of second round picks to have more shots at finding the next Gilbert Arenas or Carlos Boozer or Chase Budinger or Isaiah Thomas or Marc Gasol or Marcin Gortat or Nikola Pekovic or DeJuan Blair or DeAndre Jordan or Ersan Ilyasvoa or Amir Johnson or etc., etc., etc.

Remember, second rounders typically sign non-guaranteed contracts — if they get a contract at all. They can be sent to the D-League, seasoned overseas, or simply straight out released if they don’t work. Low-risk investment with the possibility of a significant reward. Even if only half your second rounders turn into rotation players, they’re still providing valuable production at bargain price. But I digress.

The second reason I’m ambivalent is that it highlights a long series of mistakes and mismanagement by Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards front office. It’s nice they could acquire Miller, but they shipped out Maynor — the free agent prize, who just six months ago was supposed to be their upgrade at backup PG. Now they’re paying a second round pick to dump him. Vesely, of course, was the sixth overall pick in the draft (chosen ahead of Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried), who has totaled almost as many turnovers plus fouls as he did rebounds or points.

Over the past few seasons, the Wizards have managed to turn near-max cap space, future 1st and 2nd round picks, a 6th overall pick, and a BAE into Gortat, Ariza and Miller. All of whom have expiring contracts.

And third, I look back with some frustration on the ones that got away. In particular, I think of Shelvin Mack — a guy the Wizards cut twice to keep less productive players — who’s having a solid year in Atlanta.

But, Miller does improve the team’s bench. He should give Randy Wittman lineup options at the end of games, and his success sharing the backcourt with Ty Lawson in Denver bodes well for a partnership with Wall in DC. He’s an experience, efficient pro, who will help the Wizards make the playoffs, even if they still figure to be a first-round out. In that sense, the trade is fine. But it’s a shame the deal was even necessary.

Should the Wizards Fire Randy Wittman?

USP NBA: WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT DETROIT PISTONS S BKN USA MI

I was all set to write a piece arguing that it would be pointless to fire Randy Wittman. Yeah, he’s not a good coach, but in my view the team is performing about as I expected. The Wizards are neither good nor bad. They’re mediocre. Or, looked at another way, the Wizards are BOTH good and bad. Which is merely another way of saying the same thing: this is an average team.

They are what their talent says they are. I don’t believe that any coach could come in and transmogrify this roster into a…well…what exactly? a contender for the third seed? Blech.

What would “fix” the Wizards? Fewer two-point jumpers? More screen/roll with John Wall and Marcin Gortat? Better defined roles? A rotation that somehow includes developmental minutes for Otto Porter? A more solid defensive scheme? More consistent effort? Sure, any or all.

Some of that could be influenced by the coach, some not. My position has been that Wittman is a problem, not The Problem. And, “The Problem” is that the team doesn’t have enough talent, which is a result of a series of bad decisions by the front office. My thinking has been this: Don’t let Ernie Grunfeld off the hook. Make him live with the success or failure of the team he assembled — players AND coaches.

Except, let’s look at reality. Owner Ted Leonsis set the franchise goal for the season: Make the playoffs. In very large part because of a historically weak Eastern Conference, the Wizards will almost certainly accomplish that goal. While they’d be roughly the 11th best team in the West, they’re 5th or 6th best in the East. It would take a catastrophic collapse over their final 29 games to miss the postseason.

Assuming Leonsis is a man of his word, Grunfeld will be retained in the offseason. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Washington makes the playoffs and Leonsis doesn’t bring back Grunfeld and The Coach.

I use “The Coach” intentionally, because the question for Wizards fans is whether you want to root for a team that’s stuck with Grunfeld and Wittman or a team that’s stuck with Grunfeld and Someone Else. My feeling is that Someone Else — whether it’s an interim coach who’s replaced by a “permanent” hire after the season or whether it’s an interim coach who “succeeds” and keeps the job — will be a better long-term option for the Wizards than Wittman.

So, even though Wittman has been saddled with a roster that doesn’t include a single player that ranks among the league’s 40 most productive players (Trevor Ariza is the highest rated Wizards player at 44), count me among the fans who’d like to see a new coach. Now.

Moving on to the update…  The table below presents results from my Player Production Average (PPA) metric. 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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 48 35.8 152 148
John Wall 53 37.1 149 140
Marcin Gortat 53 32.4 139 139
Trevor Booker 43 20.2 125 118
Nene Hilario 46 30.3 103 103
Martell Webster 51 29.1 94 91
Bradley Beal 44 33.2 86 90
Jan Vesely 32 14.7 72 69
Chris Singleton 14 10.6 60 60
Kevin Seraphin 40 11.8 32 44
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Garrett Temple 51 11.5 13 20
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 6
Otto Porter 23 9.3 4 -4

When looking at these numbers, keep in mind that PPA scores in the 140-150 range (like Ariza and Wall) are nowhere near elite levels of production. A typical MVP-quality season would have a PPA of 230 or better. This season’s MVP is likely to be Kevin Durant with a PPA of 261 (so far). Last season, Lebr0n James posted the best PPA in my database with a 284.

Wall had a feel-good All-Star weekend winning the dunk contest and playing well in the game. But, if he played in the West, he wouldn’t have been part of the All-Star discussion. He continues to have All-World potential, but his actual production is good — not great.

Biggest improvers in this update were Kevin Seraphin and Garrett Temple. Seraphin is now at replacement level. Temple continues to be among the league’s weakest PGs, but is at least a little less bad than he’d been.

Wall’s performance slumped leading into the All-Star break. Perhaps he was distracted by the coming festivities? Nenê’s production continues to hover around league average. Martell Webster’s play declined for a sixth consecutive update.

Weekly Wizards Check-Up: The Over .500 Edition

seraphin dunks

Wanted to get this up before tonight’s match-up with the San Antonio Spurs — a team the Wizards haven’t beaten since 2005. For those keeping score at home, that’s 15 consecutive losses to the Spurs. But, I’m digressing (in the lede, no less). The point is to celebrate that the Wizards are a game over .500 for the first time in four years.

When I told my 17-year old the other night, he said (and this is an exact quote): “Wow. Is the East really that bad this year?”

When I tried to tell my 14-year old, I’d gotten to “…for the first time in…” He finished the sentence with, “…my lifetime?”

Wiseass.

Although, now that I reflect on it, I’m not sure he was joking. The team has been bad enough for long enough that it’s probably a reasonable question for a less-than-casual follower of the team. Put another way, it’s been nearly 29% of my 14-year old’s life since the Wizards had a record over .500.

Anyway, not much time for this week’s update. The table below presents results from my Player Production Average (PPA) metric. 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.

A few quick observations:

  • Biggest improvers this week were Kevin Seraphin and Garrett Temple. John Wall had a good week, and Marcin Gortat wasn’t bad either. Trevor Ariza maintained at a high level of production.
  • In consecutive games against Oklahoma City and Portland, Seraphin had single-game PPA scores of 179 and 178. If he could somehow manage that kind of play over a full season, it would put him among the league’s 10-12 most productive centers — in a general grouping with Joakim Noah, Nikola Pekovic and DeAndre Jordan. I do not expect this kind of performance to continue for long.
  • Martell Webster’s PPA slipped for a fifth consecutive update. His production for the season is now slightly below average. His shooting continues to be excellent, but he’s very low usage (about 14% of the team’s possessions when he’s in the game), and he doesn’t rebound or assist much. His defense rates as a little below average in my analysis.
  • Nenê’s production continues to hover around league average. The trajectory of his production is looking scarily like a fairly typical NBA aging curve. The team continues to be better when he’s on the floor, but the dip in his overall production has to be a concern — especially since he’s due $13 million for two more seasons after this one.
  • Eric Maynor didn’t exactly give a good example of staying ready. After getting DNP-CD for a month, Maynor finally got a shot. In just 6:37 of playing time, Maynor was bad enough to lower his PPA for the season by five points. When it comes to Maynor, keep in mind this quote from Ernie Grunfeld on the eve of training camp:

We wanted to upgrade our backup point guard position and Eric [Maynor] has been with us now, three weeks in a row. He’s very solid, very steady. He brings a little poise to the game. He knows how to play. So we feel we’ve upgraded that position.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 42 35.2 151 152
John Wall 47 36.9 143 149
Marcin Gortat 47 32.6 136 139
Trevor Booker 37 21.2 136 125
Nene Hilario 40 29.6 104 103
Martell Webster 45 30.0 100 94
Bradley Beal 38 32.8 89 86
Jan Vesely 29 15.7 72 72
Chris Singleton 14 10.6 60 60
Kevin Seraphin 34 10.8 17 32
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Garrett Temple 45 11.5 3 13
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 13 8
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 6
Otto Porter 22 9.4 4 4

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:

TEAM STARTER PPA BENCH PPA Starter Rank Bench Rank
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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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.

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).

Per MINUTE EAST WEST
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:

TOTAL PRODUCTION EAST WEST
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?)

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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. 

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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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?

NBA-Coach-Randy-Wittman-Face-Smashed-By-Basketball

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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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.