Predictions

Reality vs. the Wizards

The Wizards are not going to make the playoffs this year. They’re not quite as good as they’ve been the past couple years, which is to say they’re a bit worse than mediocre.

Wizards fans — and perhaps the Wizards themselves — are hanging their dreams of postseason participation on some fragile hooks:

  1. the schedule gets easier, and
  2. key Wizards players have returned from injury.

Neither factor holds as much promise for the Wizards as adherents might imagine. The schedule does get easier, but the Wizards are five games below .500 because they’ve played below average basketball through their first 51 games, not because the schedule was difficult.

Before the All-Star break, Washington’s opponents were 0.67 points per game better than average. That’s the approximate quality of a 43-win team over an 82-game schedule. Against this very slightly better than average level of competition, the Wizards got outscored by 2.7 points per game. Which means Washington performed about two points per game worse than average.

The schedule does get easier. Opponents the rest of the way have been a point per game worse than average the rest of the way — about the quality of a 38-win team over an 82-game schedule. In other words, the Wizards are going from playing the approximate quality of an eighth or ninth place team to playing opponents the approximate quality of a ninth or tenth place team.

There are a couple problems, though. First, the Wizards have been worse by a point per game than the aggregate of their remaining opponents. And second, 17 of their remaining games are on the road, and the post All-Star break sprint starts with three games in three nights.

Run the numbers on their remaining schedule, and at this point they’d be the favorite in 11 of their remaining 31 games. If you believe (as I do) the real quality of the team is about average, they’ll probably win between 14 and 17 games the rest of the way – meaning they’d finish with 37 to 40 wins, and would miss the playoffs.

So what about the injuries? The Wizards have indeed lost the NBA’s highest number of player games to injury so far this season. Unfortunately, the players who missed games weren’t the team’s major producers of wins, and their replacements did a reasonable job filling in.

Prior to the All-Star break, I used PPA to quantify how much injuries cost the team. That involved reapportioning minutes (taking playing time from Garrett Temple, Gary Neal and others, and assigning it to players who missed time like Bradley Beal, Nenê, and others). Based on the performance levels of the players involved, I estimate the team would have won two additional games with perfect health.

Two wins is a significant number, but it wouldn’t change the overall trajectory of the season. Washington would be 25-26 – closer to eighth in the East, but still in ninth or tenth place. Even with an easier schedule the rest of the way, the numbers in this “ideal health” scenario would project the Wizards to finish with 41 to 42 wins, and a likely ninth place finish.

Washington still has a theoretical chance to finish eighth. Chicago and Charlotte have suffered injuries — Jimmy Butler’s being far more damaging to the Bulls than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s to the Hornets. But, the eighth seed in the East is going to need a minimum of 42 wins, and to do even that well, the Wizards would need to transmogrify from playing like a 37-win team to playing like a 50-win team.

Here’s a simple table showing the task the Wizards have created for themselves. It’s not impossible for them to make the playoffs, but it is highly improbable. The W82 column shows the quality level the Wizards would need to reach the target wins. So, to reach 44 wins this season, they’d need to finish 21-10, which is the approximate level of a 56-win team over an 82-game schedule.

TARGET   NEED   W82
W L W L
44 38 21 10 56
43 39 20 11 53
42 40 19 12 50

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 2/11/16 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
Marcin Gortat 45 31.2 91 112 128 133 132 138 147 145 148 151
John Wall 51 36.1 153 129 136 168 157 157 149 144 142 146
Otto Porter 44 31.0 144 158 104 116 107 115 122 127 130 130
Bradley Beal 30 31.8 128 108 96 87 87 86 85 86 98 108
Jared Dudley 50 28.9 36 92 90 85 98 103 100 105 99 104
Ramon Sessions 51 20.4 131 119 84 90 87 89 88 91 90 89
Jarell Eddie 14 5.6  –  –  –  –  – 153 119 113 110 86
Nene Hilario 28 18.8 58 90 80 74 79 78 79 88 92 84
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
Garrett Temple 49 25.6 38 106 57 54 70 63 68 79 79 69
Drew Gooden 22 12.4 99 51 57 56 56 56 38 47 34 31
Kelly Oubre 43 11.9 -103 -4 -40 -44 9 37 43 39 36 29
DeJuan Blair 29 7.5 -345 -129 -112 -45 -34 -38 -38 -28 -6 -15
Ryan Hollins 5 9.6  –  – -40 60 59  –  –  –  –  –

Beal has returned from injury playing well. Wall, Gortat and Porter continue to lead the team in production. The numbers indicate the Wizards actually have some decent professional players. What they lack is an elite producer. More on that coming tomorrow.

Projection: Wizards to Win 42

wall 02My 2015-16 Wizards preview is up at Vice Sports. I won’t steal my own thunder much, except to say that my projection approach says the Wizards will win 41-42 games this season. Not as encouraging as I’d hoped, and I had some mild surprises in the numbers — younger players not being predicted to improve as much as I’d have intuitively expected.

At any rate, please click over and give it a read at Vice.

NBA Playoffs: What Are The Odds?

steph curry

Okay, I’ve tried several different ways to talk myself into predicting that the Wizards will somehow beat the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs and meet their doom in a second round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks. Hasn’t worked, though.

I know Toronto struggled over the last couple months of the season. So did the Wizards. I know the Raptors have a not-so-good coach. So do the Wizards. In a way, the two teams are opposing images of the other. Washington has a good defense and a crummy offense; Toronto has a terrific offense and a bad defense. The key difference: Toronto is better.

The gap between the teams isn’t oceanic. Washington’s odds in any one particular contest in the upcoming series aren’t awful. They have basically a 41% chance of winning at Toronto and a slightly better than coin flip odds of winning at home. In terms of probability, it would be something like winning three straight coin flips, and then winning a “loaded” toss where the odds have been lowered from 50-50 to 60-40. It’s possible, but not likely.

The Wizards could be helped a bit by Kyle Lowry’s iffy back, but the numbers accumulated over a six-month season say they’ll be lucky to pull off the upset. On the bright side for fans hoping to at least be entertained, there’s only about a 9% chance the Raptors sweep.

As you can see from the table below, the Wizards are significant underdogs against the Raptors. The only teams with worse odds of winning their first round series are the eight seeds (Brooklyn and New Orleans), and the East’s seven seed (Boston). The best chances for first-round upsets come in the more balanced West. Houston vs. Dallas and the Clippers vs. the Spurs look to tight.

The best chance for a seeding upset is likely to happen in the second round where the Clippers would be favored against either Houston or Dallas.

The numbers suggest that Golden State — the league’s best team all season — has the best chance of winning the championship this season. I actually estimate them with a better than 50% chance of being champions. Despite coasting through the last few weeks of the season, Atlanta finished the regular season as the East’s best team by a significant margin. They’ll be tested in the Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland and Lebron James.

EAST
1st RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 8 ATL BRK ATL 91%
2 vs 7 CLE BOS CLE 79%
3 vs 6 CHI MIL CHI 70%
4 vs 5 TOR WAS TOR 70%
2nd RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 4 ATL TOR ATL 69%
2 vs 3 CLE CHI CLE 64%
ECF HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 2 ATL CLE ATL 61%
WEST
1st RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 8 GSW NOP GSW 92%
2 vs 7 HOU DAL HOU 58%
3 vs 6 LAC SAS LAC 57%
4 vs 5 POR MEM POR 61%
2nd RND HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 4 GSW POR GSW 83%
2 vs 3 HOU LAC LAC 65%
WCF HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 3 GSW LAC GSW 73%
FINALS HOME ROAD WINNER ODDS
1 vs 1 GSW ATL GSW 98%

Wizards Update: About to Be Tested

At 21-8, the Wizards are off to the second best start in franchise history. Check out the very bottom of the table in that link and note that Washington had its worst start in franchise history just two seasons ago. The front office’s strategic shift to proven veterans combined with a historically weak Eastern Conference to bring about an abrupt about-face in the team’s record.

While the Wizards have enjoyed the league’s easiest schedule so far, things are about to change. To this point in the season, Washington’s opponents have been 1.32 points per game worse than average. Over the next 19 games, their competition will be about a point per game better than average.

To say it another way, Washington’s average opponent so far this season has been the equivalent of a 37-win team — a lottery squad in either conference most years. Over the next quarter of the season, their opponents will be the quality of a 44-win team — a near-lock for the playoffs in either conference.

The next five games will likely be the toughest stretch of the regular season. Over the next week, Washington has road games against Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New Orleans — and the schedule includes two sets of back-to-back contests.

The Wizards will be underdogs in all five games, and their average competition this week will be equivalent to a 50-win squad. It won’t be easy.

I ran the numbers in my “who’s gonna win?” machine. The machine projects Washington to go 9-10 over the next month, including a five-game skid starting tonight. This will likely test the faith of Wizards fans, but I think reality for Washington is that they’re a solid team in a weak conference.

Based on how teams have performed to this point in the season, The Machine predicts Washington will go 33-20 over their remaining games to finish the year 54-28. This would be tied with the 1978-79 Bullets for the third best mark in franchise history. Fans my age might recall that the 78-79 team went to the NBA Finals where they lost to Seattle. I suspect fans of any age would be ecstatic if this year’s team reached the Finals and got thumped by a top-shelf Western Conference opponent.

Weekly 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.

PLAYER GMS MPG 10-Nov 18-Nov 24-Nov 3-Dec 8-Dec 17-Dec 23-Dec PPA
Marcin Gortat 29 29.7 181 186 170 175 179 178 178 173
John Wall 29 35.8 185 180 180 168 167 175 171 171
Paul Pierce 28 27.0 140 138 165 134 134 154 142 143
Rasual Butler 25 22.8 60 131 116 128 155 140 134 123
Kris Humphries 28 21.9 46 87 90 82 109 100 88 109
Bradley Beal 20 33.0 122 63 69 94 90 98
Nene Hilario 22 24.2 108 102 68 67 83 94 96 97
Andre Miller 29 12.4 72 69 92 103 102 101 89 85
Otto Porter 28 19.0 97 106 101 95 84 81 84 82
Garrett Temple 25 14.4 121 112 96 100 98 91 90 75
Drew Gooden 18 13.3 42 40 59 78 64 47 47 44
Kevin Seraphin 28 15.3 38 13 17 12 28 34 45 36
DeJuan Blair 9 4.6 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47 -46 -34
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113 -111 -111

Plenty of stability in this update as several players seem to have established their performance levels.

Humphries went back into “above average” territory with two outstanding games off the bench this week.

Butler’s production seems to be coming back to earth after preposterously torrid shooting for the first 20 games of the season. Hopefully, whatever’s lost from his return to norms will be offset by improvement from Beal.

After improving his PPA in three consecutive updates, Seraphin spent the past week Seraphining. Over his past three games, Seraphin played 40 minutes. During those minutes on the floor, he scored 20 points (yay points!) while getting three rebounds, one assist, no steals or blocks, but four turnovers and seven fouls.

He did shoot 10-20 over those three games, but he got to the free throw line just once (he missed). His 50% shooting isn’t bad — league average efg is .499. But, add in the turnovers, the lack of offensive rebounds and the inability to get to the free throw line, and his offensive rating (points produced per individual possession x 100) was just 81 — 25 points below league average, and nearly 27 points below the Wizards’ average over the past three games.

With the schedule getting tougher, it’s time for the Seraphin experiment to end.

Projection: Wizards Will Win 45 and Return to the Playoffs

Improvement from the Washington Wizards youngsters, and an infusion of frontcourt depth will be offset by missed time due to injuries and declines from the team’s older players to keep the team in the middle of the NBA pack for another year. However, the team could be a dangerous playoffs matchup if they’re able to enter the postseason healthy.

Below, I’m offering up projections done a couple different ways. The first is built on the similarity scores I’ve posted after the past week. This approach finds players in NBA history with similar production at a similar age, and then looks at what they did in subsequent seasons. Those findings are then applied to the Wizards roster and combined with a playing time estimate for each player.

For this estimate (and the other one, which I’ll get to later in this post), I’ve used my overall metric Player Production Average (PPA), which is calibrated to explain individual player contributions to winning and losing. 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 court. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level.

Statistical Doppelganger Projection

POS PLAYER MIN LAST SEASON PPA PROJECTED PPA PROJECTED kWins
PG John Wall 2812 139 156 9.0
C Marcin Gortat 2464 154 132 6.7
SG Bradley Beal 2325 96 112 6.1
SF Paul Pierce 1800 139 108 4.0
SF Otto Porter 1800 15 85 3.2
PF Kris Humprhies 1608 132 133 4.4
F/C DeJuan Blair 1450 97 97 2.9
PF Nenê 1430 102 90 2.7
PG Andre Miller 1165 86 65 1.6
G/F Glen Rice Jr. 1029 20 78 1.2
F/C Drew Gooden 1002 106 100 2.1
G/F Martell Webster 1000 77 74 1.5
POS TEAM 19885 107 110 45.4

MIN = projected TOTAL minutes for the upcoming season

Projected kWins = how many wins that player will contribute based on his projected PPA and projected total minutes.

Over the past few seasons, the Wizards’ front office has converted the team from being one of the league’s youngest to being one of the league’s oldest. Gortat, Nenê, Pierce, Gooden and Miller all figure to play prominent roles this season, and all are past 30. Well past 30 for Pierce and Miller.

Projections for Porter and Rice were difficult because they played so little last season. For both, I elected to throw out their rookie numbers and rely instead on projections based on the rookie seasons of the players they were most like from college. Using the rookie numbers would lower Porter’s projected PPA to 66 and Rice’s to 30. That would drop Washington’s projected win total 43.8.

Note that I didn’t include Kevin Seraphin, Garrett Temple or Rasual Butler in the above table. They’ll get some minutes along the way, but — barring several catastrophic injuries — none should see enough court time to have a major effect on the team’s fortunes. For those interested, this is what I project for the end-of-the-bench trio:

  • Garrett Temple: 33
  • Kevin Seraphin: 49
  • Rasual Butler: 55

I can hear the cockeyed optimists already: “Why do you just assume the old guys will get worse? What if they maintain for a year?” Quick answer (and one I’ve given before): athletes past 30 tend to two things — get hurt and get worse.

But, let’s say the “Ancients” are able to do this season what they did last year. In that event, Washington’s projected win total would climb to 48.5. Which would be hella fun.

On the other hand, there are scenarios where there are more injuries than expected, younger players don’t make anticipated improvements and/or older players decline more steeply. That gives a potential “bottom” of 40.7 wins.

Simple Rating System Projection

POS PLAYER MIN LAST SEASON PPA SRS PROJECTED PPA PROJECTED kWins
PG John Wall 2812 139 143 8.3
C Marcin Gortat 2464 154 144 7.3
SG Bradley Beal 2325 96 111 5.3
SF Paul Pierce 1800 139 117 4.3
SF Otto Porter 1800 15 63 2.3
PF Kris Humphries 1608 132 133 4.4
F/C DeJuan Blair 1450 97 135 4.0
PF Nene Hilario 1430 102 102 3.0
PG Andre Miller 1165 86 108 2.6
G/F Glen Rice 1029 20 82 1.7
F/C Drew Gooden 1002 106 118 2.4
G/F Martell Webster 1000 77 102 2.1
G/F Rasual Butler 0 63 81 0.0
C Kevin Seraphin 0 35 53 0.0
G Garrett Temple 0 24 54 0.0
POS TEAM 19885 107 117 47.9

The guys over at Basketball-Reference have up Simple Rating System projected stats for everyone who played in the NBA last season. Go here for an explanation. They don’t estimate minutes, which I can understand because it’s frigging hard to do.

The SRS approach is more optimistic than the one I used — at least at the bottom line. SRS generally predicts less of a decline for older players, but also not as much improvement from the younger ones. The SRS approach would suggest the Wizards will win 48 games this season — with a low end prediction of 43 and a high of 52.

Here’s a table comparing results from the two approaches:

POS PLAYER DOPP PPA SRS PPA DOPP kWINS SRS kWINS
PG John Wall 156 143 9.0 8.3
C Marcin Gortat 132 144 6.7 7.3
SG Bradley Beal 112 111 6.1 5.3
SF Paul Pierce 108 117 4.0 4.3
SF Otto Porter 85 63 3.2 2.3
PF Kris Humprhies 133 133 4.4 4.4
F/C DeJuan Blair 97 135 2.9 4.0
PF Nenê 90 102 2.7 3.0
PG Andre Miller 65 108 1.6 2.6
G/F Glen Rice Jr. 78 82 1.2 1.7
F/C Drew Gooden 100 118 2.1 2.4
G/F Martell Webster 74 102 1.5 2.1
G/F Rasual Butler 55 81 0.0 0.0
C Kevin Seraphin 49 53 0.0 0.0
G Garrett Temple 33 54 0.0 0.0

DOPP PPA = projected PPA using the Statistical Doppelganger approach

SRS PPA = projected PPA using the Simple Rating System numbers published by Basketball-Reference

DOPP kWINS = projected individual wins contributed using the Statistical Doppelganger approach

SRS kWINS = projected individual wins contributed using the Simple Rating System numbers published by Basketball-Reference

Final Word

In the end, I’m using my own projection system. Last year, I projected the Wizards would win 43 — they won 44, albeit not exactly in ways that I expected. I’ve refined my projection system (I hope), although I’m hoping the team outperforms my prediction by a wide margin.

While still lacking an elite producer, the Wizards could be a tough out in the playoffs when rotations shorten and there’s more rest between games (especially in the first round). If they can get there healthy, of course.

I’m projecting the Wizards will win between 41 and 48 games this season. Final projection: 45 wins and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

That Path to the Eastern Conference Finals

partingredsea08

In my last post, I alluded to a kind of parting of the seas for the Wizards in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The reasoning is pretty simple: the Wizards should be considered strong favorites over either the Pacers or the Hawks. That’s right, either.

If this was a “normal” NBA season, Washington would be a heavy underdog to the top seeded Pacers. But, if this was a “normal” season, the Wizards wouldn’t have been the fifth seed with 44 wins, Atlanta wouldn’t have been in the playoffs with a sub-.500 record, and Indiana wouldn’t have disintegrated over the last two months of the season (and wouldn’t have had to fight and claw to get to a seventh game against such a pedestrian opponent).

This is an abnormal season, though, and the weak Eastern Conference coupled with the stumble-bum Pacers at the top have given the Wizards their best chance of reaching the NBA’s final four since…1979.

That the Wizards would be favored vs. Atlanta is unsurprising. The Hawks weren’t much good during the regular season. They struggled after center Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle (again), and limped into the playoffs. The Pacers need a bit more explanation — which I provided nearly a month ago when I wondered whether Washington should tank for seventh so they could face Indiana in the first round.

If you want more detail, please click and read on that link. The upshot is this: since the All-Star break, the Pacers have been a very different team. They’ve actually had a negative scoring differential, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen for an extended stretch from a highly seeded team. Indeed, since the All-Star break, the Pacers have had the scoring differential of a 34-win team (over an 82-game schedule), just one game better than the eighth seed Hawks. Over that same time frame, Washington’s differential was that of a 52-win team.

Don’t go getting too excited about that differential: the Wizards played an incredibly easy schedule after the All-Star break. Still, it’s illustrative of the significant changes in the Eastern Conference. Since that All-Star break, the Wizards had the third best efficiency differential of the East’s playoff teams. The Pacers had the second worst.

So, what are the odds? Applying a combination of full season numbers, post All-Star break numbers, and playoff performance, I estimate Washington having the following chances of beating these possible Eastern Conference playoff opponents:

  1. Indiana — 64%
  2. Miami — 27%
  3. Toronto — 50%
  4. Chicago — 100%
  5. Washington — 0%
  6. Brooklyn — 67%
  7. Charlotte — eliminated
  8. Atlanta — 81%

The odds will fluctuate a bit after that seventh game, but the fundamental point remains: Washington is in a terrific position to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Getting farther is a dicier proposition, especially if they end up facing Miami.

Round One Wrap-Up

The 4-1 first round win over the Chicago Bulls is done, but there are still a few points worth making. While there’s been some chatter about how flawed the Bulls are (including by me), Chicago actually looked pretty strong entering the post-season. It’s trademark defense was excellent down the stretch, and its offense was about average. The Eastern Conference team with the best efficiency differential after the All-Star break? The Bulls.

Washington’s first round victory wasn’t a case of getting a crappy opponent, it was a case of the Wizards outplaying a decent team. Give credit where it’s due: a big reason the Bulls looked so bad is that the Wizards were on their game.

Finally, here’s a look at the Player Production Averages (PPA) for the series. PPA is an overall rating metric I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win, and debits them for things that don’t. It’s a per-minute stat that’s 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 45 = replacement level. (Don’t pay much attention to the extreme scores at the bottom of the table — tiny sample sizes don’t mean much of anything.)

TEAM Player GMS MPG PPA
CHI Taj Gibson 5 30.8 210
WAS Trevor Ariza 5 39.0 193
WAS Bradley Beal 5 41.0 152
CHI Mike Dunleavy 5 32.6 139
WAS Trevor Booker 5 24.2 134
WAS John Wall 5 38.6 128
WAS Martell Webster 5 18.0 113
WAS Nene Hilario 4 35.8 107
CHI Joakim Noah 5 42.0 97
WAS Marcin Gortat 5 36.0 97
CHI Jimmy Butler 5 43.6 88
CHI Carlos Boozer 5 24.2 58
CHI Kirk Hinrich 5 33.4 22
WAS Andre Miller 5 10.4 10
CHI D.J. Augustin 5 28.2 5
WAS Kevin Seraphin 1 1.0 0
WAS Drew Gooden 4 9.0 -35
CHI Tony Snell 5 9.2 -47
CHI Nazr Mohammed 2 2.5 -189
WAS Al Harrington 3 2.3 -364
WAS Garrett Temple 4 0.3 -1889

Interesting that the most productive player in the series was Taj Gibson, who played just 30.8 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Chicago started Carlos Boozer and played him 24.2 minutes per game despite production that wasn’t much better than replacement level.

Also interesting to me is how the production numbers differ from popular perception. One “experts” poll named Nenê as Washington’s first round “MVP.” When it comes down to doing the things that cause teams to win, he rated sixth best for the Wizards — behind Ariza, Beal, Booker, Wall and Webster.

In total, eight players rated “above average” in this series. Six of those players wore Wizards uniforms. While Gibson was good throughout the series, the only other Bull above average was Dunleavy, and most of his production came in a single game.

Wizards Must Try Not To Let Success Go To Their Heads

Seen on Twitter the past few days is the heady news that the Washington Wizards went .500 in November — tied for the franchise’s third best winning percentage for month in the past 30 years. Forgive me if I don’t join the parade. For a team like the San Antonio Spurs — a good team that competes for championships — the same record would be their ninth worst in the same time span.

A .500 record for a month is not cause for celebration. The Wizards have a good starting group, but an awful bench. The net result: precisely average. The team is improved, but that’s not the same thing as being good. In a weak East where several teams are tanking, even a meh team can make the playoffs.

All that said, let me reiterate — the Wizards are improved. John Wall is the best PG in the East, and currently ranks 7th overall at his position. The team is getting well-above average play from Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Nene. The team’s depth makes any success feel tenuous, but they have a core of good players for this season.

One common thread of Wizards discussion I’d like to address before posting the weekly PPA update is this notion that PG Eric Maynor was at some point “good” and that he’s abruptly and inexplicably gotten worse in Washington.

The facts are that Maynor has been a sub-par player throughout his career. That people believed otherwise is testament to attributing to Maynor that which should have been attributed to his teammates. In other words, folks believed Maynor was causing (or contributing) teammates to be better when, in fact, those other players were producing on their own.

The reason I’m addressing this topic is that asserting that Maynor was at some point “good” or “serviceable” is to let the Wizards’ front office off the hook. In reality, signing Maynor was a terrible waste of resources, and evidence that Ernie Grunfeld and his team still haven’t figured out how to evaluate players. They thought they were getting a steal. Instead, they were getting a lemon. And what’s head-bangingly frustrating is that fairly rudimentary look at the numbers would have told them so.

With that out of the way, here’s the weekly Player Production Average update. PPA is a player rating stat I developed. It 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 GAMES MPG LW PPA
John Wall 17 37.6 158 169
Martell Webster 17 33.6 144 156
Marcin Gortat 17 34.4 139 152
Trevor Ariza 12 35.6 123 146
Nene 14 33.3 127 133
Trevor Booker 9 14.0 102 96
Bradley Beal 13 40.2 82 81
Jan Vesely 11 17.9 81 75
Chris Singleton 3 8.7 51
Eric Maynor 16 10.5 50 35
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 6
Glen Rice Jr. 6 6.3 -5 -10
Garrett Temple 15 11.5 -18 -14
Kevin Seraphin 13 8.5 -39 -27

What jumps out? On the plus side, the team has a good group of starters. Wall appears to be doing what I predicted at the start of the season — making The Leap to becoming a top-shelf PG. Webster, Gortat, Ariza and Nene round out a quality lineup.

On the down side, there’s the rest of the team. Booker has dipped below average for the first time this season on scant playing time. So far this season, the team falls apart on defense when Booker is on the floor.

Vesely appears to be the beneficiary of lowered expectations from fans. He was so inept last season that anything positive gets exaggerated. He is better than last season in that his play hasn’t been a total train wreck. But, he remains well below average.

Some fans (and perhaps the Wizards as well) hoped that Singleton would provide some kind of significant contribution when he returned from a foot injury. Thus far…not so much. Very small sample size, however.

Maynor’s production has slipped below replacement level. Seriously, the Wizards would do better (or at least do no worse) giving his minutes to someone from the D-League. What’s scary: as bad as he’s been, Harrington, Rice, Temple and Seraphin have been worse.

The Wizards will need to either a) get some level of production from The Bench That Grunfeld Built, or b) bolster the bench with a trade or from the D-League. Without radical improvement from its reserves, this team seems perfectly constructed for a first-round playoff ouster — regardless of the opponent.