Kawhi Leonard

The Surprising Problem for the Wizards

wall frustrated

One of The Official Narratives of the 2015-16 Washington Wizards season is that point guard John Wall is terrific, but is getting sideswiped by a substandard supporting cast. Last month, The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg lamented that, “The saddest thing here is that the Wizards might be in the process of sacrificing a year of John Wall’s prime.”

In Michael Lee’s excellent article at Yahoo!, Wall echoed Steinberg, saying: “I ain’t trying to waste a season.

Adam McGinnis and I touched on the subject during our podcast last week.

Alas, as is the case with many Official Narratives, there are problems.

  1. On a per-possession basis, Wall isn’t Washington’s most productive player. That honor goes to center Marcin Gortat. Because Wall plays five more minutes per game than Gortat, Wall leads the team in total production.
  2. Wall is not an elite player.
  3. The overall production difference between Wall (Washington’s top producer) and Gortat (second in total production) has been vastly overstated.
  4. The quality of Wall’s “supporting cast” isn’t bad.

Wall’s PPA (see below) is 148 this year. Among players with at least 500 minutes this season, he ranks 54th. Among point guards, he ranks 11th. Wall has had stretches of dominant play, but his performance continues to be plagued by the same bugaboos he’s had throughout his career: turnovers, poor shot selection and poor shooting. Gortat, by the way, ranks 29th in PPA.

Wall isn’t an elite player. For the past few seasons seasons (including this one, most of the year), he’s rated as a top 8-10 point guard and a top 40-50 player overall. That’s very good, but well short of the impact from elite point guards and elite players. He could be great — he was in December, for example. But his performance game-to-game is a mix of fantastic and horrible. Which averages out to very good, not elite.

The average PPA of top total producers for each team is 179 — 31 points better than Wall. Among those top 30 producers, Wall ranks 24th in per possession production — ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Nerlens Noel, Gordon Hayward, Tyson Chandler and Jordan Clarkson.

The average top producer has provided 22.0% of his team’s production. Wall is about average at 21.8%.

The average gap between a top producer and his team’s “number two” is about 4.5%. For Wall and Gortat, it’s 2.7%. Want a player who actually fits The Official Narrative? Try New Orleans where Anthony Davis has a PPA of 189, provides 26.3% of his team’s production, and (at 13.2%) sports the biggest drop to his team’s second most productive.

Since you’re wondering, the top five in total production shares:

  1. Stephen Curry, GSW — 29.6%
  2. Russell Westbrook, OKC — 26.7%
  3. James Harden, HOU — 26.4%
  4. Lebron James, CLE — 26.3%
  5. Anthony Davis, NOP — 26.3%

And, here’s the top five in drop-off to “number two”:

  1. Anthony Davis, NOP — 13.2%
  2. Stephen Curry, GSW — 12.7%
  3. James Harden, HOU — 8.5%
  4. Kawhi Leonard, SAS — 8.3%
  5. Kyle Lowry, TOR — 8.2%

Wall and the Wizards are 20th.

That’s all fine, you might be saying, but The Official Narrative isn’t necessarily that Wall’s “Robin” sucks, it’s that the roster lacks depth. That lack of depth means Wall has to carry a heavier load than other franchise leaders. Unfortunately, this is also wrong.

For this question, I calculated minutes-weighted PPA (mwPPA) for each team — after deducting the production of its top player. mwPPA provides a handy way of measuring the relative quality of each team’s roster.

The league average “supporting cast” posted an mwPPA of 92. The Wizards rank 14th so far this season with a 93. Since you were wondering, here’s the top five in supporting cast mwPPA:

  1. SAS — 124
  2. GSW — 121
  3. ATL — 107
  4. OKC — 105
  5. BOS — 104

So, to recap:

  • Wall isn’t elite.
  • The gap between Wall’s total production and Gortat’s is smaller than average for a number one to a number two.
  • The Wizards “supporting cast” is mediocre, not terrible.

The real problem for the Wizards is in that first bullet. Their problem: they don’t have an elite player.

Player Production Average

The ratings below are from a metric I developed called Player Production Average (PPA). In PPA, players are credited for things they do that help a team win, and debited for things that don’t, each in proportion to what causes teams to win and lose. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes an adjustment based on the level of competition faced when a player is on the floor. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45.

League-wide PPA scores through games played 3/14/16 are here.

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/10 11/22 12/3 12/13 12/21 12/30 1/6 1/13 1/27 2/11 3/1 3/14
Marcin Gortat 60 30.2 91 112 128 133 132 138 147 145 148 151 172 169
John Wall 66 35.9 153 129 136 168 157 157 149 144 142 146 153 148
Otto Porter 59 30.1 144 158 104 116 107 115 122 127 130 130 134 126
Jared Dudley 65 27.7 36 92 90 85 98 103 100 105 99 104 106 98
J.J. Hickson 6 7.5  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – -14 96
Bradley Beal 42 30.6 128 108 96 87 87 86 85 86 98 108 94 94
Nene Hilario 42 18.8 58 90 80 74 79 78 79 88 92 84 86 90
Alan Anderson 8 14.0  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – 97 90
Ramon Sessions 66 20.3 131 119 84 90 87 89 88 91 90 89 88 85
Markieff Morris 14 26.0  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – 41 58
Garrett Temple 64 25.4 38 106 57 54 70 63 68 79 79 69 59 56
Jarell Eddie 21 4.7  –  –  –  –  – 153 119 113 110 86 68 51
Kelly Oubre 53 10.7 -103 -4 -40 -44 9 37 43 39 36 29 22 25
Drew Gooden 28 10.6 99 51 57 56 56 56 38 47 34 31 26 22
Marcus Thornton 3 15.0  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  – -6
Ryan Hollins 5 9.6  –  – -40 60 59  –  –  –  –  –  –  –
Kris Humphries 28 16.6 90 121 95 80 78 76 79 79 78 76  –  –
Gary Neal 40 20.2 23 49 64 75 78 74 75 78 71 70 69  69
DeJuan Blair 29 7.5 -345 -129 -112 -45 -34 -38 -38 -28 -6 -15  –  –

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.

Responding to Ted Leonsis “Wizards Add Talented Big Man” Post

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis weighed in at his blog with his thoughts on the team’s acquisition of center Marcin Gortat. As usual, I’m not sure whether Leonsis actually believes what he’s saying, or if he’s merely careless with words, or if he’s applying PR spin, or if he’s being cynical. Either way, I thought some of what he wrote was worth a response:

Leonsis opened his blog posting with this:

The Wizards made a trade to add a talented big man to our roster Friday night — and Marcin Gortat will contribute right away to our team. It was important to our franchise to enter this season at full strength and to have depth and show upside and improvement.

Lots here. Yep, Gortat is talented, and he will contribute immediately. Part of that is because the other guys on the roster at power forward and center are so awful. More on that in a moment.

That second sentence is one of those that make me wonder if he’s being careless with words or whether he’s really that cynical about fans of his team. In sports-speak, “upside” means potential and “depth” means having more than one good player at a position.

Maybe I’m just THAT stupid, but I can’t figure out how trading for a 29-year old center on a one-year contract can count as “upside.” If Gortat does his job, the team will likely get to the playoffs, which won’t mean much unless they re-sign him, which they really don’t want to do because of Leonsis’ previous chest-thumping about signing a “brand name” free agent.

His “depth” comment is a face palm moment. Why wasn’t frontcourt depth important to “show” during the summer? With a solid small forward on the roster for another year (Trevor Ariza) and two more swingmen joining the team through the draft (Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.), why spend the mid-level exception on yet another SF (Martell Webster)? With an acceptable backup point guard easily re-signed for the league minimum (A.J. Price), why rush out the first day of free agency and burn the bi-annual exception on a scrub (Eric Maynor)?

As for that “improvement” thing — it’s kinda hard to know what he means. Does he mean the team’s record? If so, then I’d sort of agree. The team should win more games this season. It could be an illusory improvement, however because Gortat and Ariza are on expiring contracts and could depart whether the Wizards want to re-sign them or not. Plus, as mentioned above, Leonsis is hoping to attract a free agent — something that can’t happen if the team re-signs Gortat and/or Ariza.

Moving on:

We traded a protected first round pick to get the deal done. We have many young players on our team today and we believed that  using our conditional pick to get the deal done was the prudent  move for our franchise at this time in its development. Of our 15 players under contract 8 players have been drafted by us in the first or second round in the last 4 off seasons. We are a very young team still.

We have noted that we would use the draft, first and foremost, to rebuild our team. 8 players and make trades to bring on vets such as Trevor Ariza, Nene, and now Gortat — or free agency such as Martell Webster, Eric Maynor and Al Harrington. We dipped into the D league for Garrett Temple.

This kind of claptrap has me leaning more toward the conclusion that Leonsis is being cynical. Leonsis is suggesting that the team is actually building through the draft and that they’re just bringing in a few veterans here and there to kinda supplement these wonderful young players, who dangit arejust too young to carry the burden themselves.

But let’s go through who these eight draftees he’s talking about:

  1. John Wall — Consensus number one overall pick. Woefully inefficient on offense throughout his career (terrible shooting and lots of turnovers). Had a month last season where he played like a potential league MVP candidate. While he received a maximum salary contract extension, Wall has been more potential than production through his first three seasons.
  2. Bradley Beal — Third overall pick last season. Struggled at first, but played at a borderline All-Star level for a stretch until he had to sit due to a leg injury. His rookie season statistically looked a lot like Ray Allen’s.
  3. Otto Porter — This year’s third overall pick has been injured. In my pre-draft analysis machine “YODA,” Porter rated as a top five pick in most drafts. When he was selected, Cody Zeller and Nerlens Noel rated as better prospects. Porter should be a good pro, however.
  4. Glen Rice Jr. — The team trade two second round picks for the second round pick they used on Rice. His amateur/minor league career has been…interesting. He rated poorly as a draft prospect in college, but played well in the D-League last season. If he’d done in the NCAA what he did in the D-League, he’d have rated as a mid-first round pick. Assuming his off-court baggage is abandoned, he could make for a solid reserve SG/SF.
  5. Trevor Booker — The team made a draft-day trade to acquire him three years ago. The big issue with Booker: health. He’s been solidly productive when he’s played, but he’s missed substantial time due to a series of injuries.
  6. Kevin Seraphin — Obtained in a 2010 draft-day trade, Seraphin’s awful play was a big reason why the team had to trade a future first round pick to get a good player at center when Okafor got hurt. Last season, he was the league’s least productive center (minimum 500 minutes).
  7. Jan Vesely — Chosen sixth overall, Vesely has been an abject disaster. While Vesely has been awful, others chosen later (like Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic and Kenneth Faried) have thrived. In my analyis, Vesely last season rated as the league’s least productive power foward (minimum 500 minutes).
  8. Chris Singleton — Chosen 18th in the same draft that brought the Wizards Vesely, the team’s braintrust picked Singleton over Faried, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler and Chandler Parsons. This was not a good decision. Singleton has been almost as bad as Vesely. Last season, he rated as the league’s second least productive power forward (ahead of only Vesely).

So, to recap, these young building blocks include a potentially good PG, a potentially good SG, a potentially good SF, a probable rotation swingman, a decent rotation PF, and three of the worst basketball players in the league. And oh yeah, Booker and Seraphin are on expiring contracts, and the team just declined to pick up the fourth year options on Vesely and Singleton. In other words, half of these eight draft picks that make this team so young, will likely be gone after the season. In effect, the team already released Vesely and Singleton. And, any money they spend re-signing Booker or Seraphin would cut into their salary cap space, which would hinder their pursuit of a “brand name” free agent.

Here are some additional clips regarding the trade.Check them out here,here,here, and here.

Shocking that he didn’t include my analysis.