Wizards Update: A Season of Discontent

wall 02

The Wizards concluded the regular season portion of a #SoWizards season losing back-to-back overtime games. The first of those losses — a double overtime snoozer against Indiana — was perhaps the most #SoWizards moment of the season: on the eve of the playoffs, Randy Wittman played John Wall, Marcin Gortat, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Drew Gooden more than 38 minutes each in a desperate effort to win a game that meant literally nothing to the Wizards.

Washington concluded the season 46-35, two wins better than last year’s record (and one game better than my pre-season projection). And yet, there’s a pervasive discontent with the team and its management. Some of the disappointment is a reaction to expectations that were pushed beyond the bonds of reality when the team was rolling through the junior varsity portion of their early-season schedule.

The dissatisfaction may run deeper than simply feeling let down that Washington didn’t get to 50-plus wins for the first time since the 1978-79 season. I think part of the reaction is the collective realization that what’s been sold to Wizards fans the past couple seasons has been kind of a fraud.

Getting above .500 and making the playoffs was supposed to be a sign of growth. It was supposed to be a progression. First, have a chance to win most nights. Second, make the playoffs and gain valuable experience. Third, build on that trip to the playoffs and ride the improvement of the team’s young core to deeper and deeper postseason runs until they can compete for a title.

But, making the playoffs has been built largely on NBA senior citizens who had something left in the tank, but not much of a future. In the span of a few short years, the Wizards paid a steep price in player acquisition resources to construct and old team. Sure, the old guys can be replaced, but the man leading the rebuild is likely to be the same one who steered the franchise into a ditch and then perpetrated the “fraud.” There is little reason to have confidence in Ernie Grunfeld reconstructing the roster in a manner that will make it anything other than a mid-level playoff team.

Meanwhile, their young core — Wall, Beal and Porter — hasn’t improved much. Wall has made the biggest improvement, yet still ranks solidly below the game’s elite. The best that can be said of Beal and Porter is that they possess potential. Whether that potential ends up getting translated into meaningful production is a question mark, especially considering how poorly the team is coached.

In general, fans overrate the impact of coaches. It’s clear, however, the Wizards operate at something of a disadvantage because of Randy Wittman’s antiquated notions of offensive basketball. Washington actually shoots the ball decently, but they’re rendered less efficient than they could be by their reliance on two-point jumpers. As has been pointed out numerous times by numerous commentators, two-point jumpers are exactly the shot the defense wants an opposing offense to take. The Wizards offense is built around that shot.

It’s almost impossible to unpack how much Wittman’s offense hinders the Wizards. I’ll give it a shot during the offseason, though.

On the bright side, there’s the team’s defense — fifth best in the league this year, and in a virtual tie with Golden State for league’s best over the last half of the season.

I’m hoping to have some playoffs analysis up tomorrow, but for now, here are the final PPA numbers for the Wizards.

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.

2015-04-17 -- wiz ppa

Perhaps Wall was cruising over the last couple months of the season. He still ended up with the best PPA of his career (he posted a 139 each of the preceding two seasons), but I’m convinced he’s capable of MUCH more. The areas for biggest improvement remain what they’ve been since he entered the league: shooting from the floor and turnovers.

By my reckoning, this was the second best season of Gortat’s career (the best was a 186 PPA with Phoenix (and Steve Nash) in 2011-12). He was edged out by Wall in total production because Wall played more minutes. He’s not an elite center, but he’s more than solid.

Paul Pierce made news this week with candid comments in an interview with ESPN. While his production has declined during the season, his overall performance has been remarkable for his age. In my historical database (which goes back to 1977-78), Pierce’s 126 PPA is the best season for a 37-year old SF. The closest contenders are Scottie Pippen (120) and Dominique Wilkins (119).

After those three, it’s difficult to generate much to say that’s positive. Beal ended up a hair below average for a third straight season. Nenê continued to decline. This was his least productive season since he was 25 years old. It’s a good thing his contract expires after next season.

The bright side for Washington is that they play in the epically weak Eastern Conference. As mediocre as they are (and they are mediocre), they have a chance in the first round against the vulnerable Toronto Raptors. More on that tomorrow.

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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.

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: Is Wall A Top 5 PG?

Now in his fifth year, Wizards PG John Wall is having the best season of his career. He’s drawn accolades from observers around the league, and some Washington fans have even started wondering if he might be a fringe MVP candidate. The MVP talk and the “he’s the best PG in the league” assertions are premature, however. He’s terrifically productive, but there’s still room for significant improvement.

Put away the pitchforks and torches. While Wall isn’t quite where fans want to place him, this is really good news for the Wizards. He’s a phenomenal player whose best days are likely still in the future.

While Wall’s passing and offensive creativity elicits praise, his greatest contribution is on the defensive end. In the defense part of my metric (Player Production Average — PPA for short), Wall rates as the league’s best defensive PG. That’s not a typo. Number one. Top of the heap. Nobody better. That finding is echoed by ESPN’s Real Plus Minus stat. If the season ended today, he’d be on my first-team All-Defense ballot.

As head coach Randy Wittman told the Sports Junkies this morning, Wall has all the attributes of an outstanding defender — size, quickness, speed, strength, length. And while he’s rated as a good defender in my system in previous years, he’s made the defensive leap this season with suffocating on-ball pressure, hard close-outs on shooters, and impeccable timing in the passing lanes.

The Los Angeles Clippers, led by elite PG Chris Paul, struggled to get into their offensive sets early in Washington’s win last week because of Wall’s pressure. Consider this: Paul has 49 total turnovers this season. Six of them came against the Wizards.

By now you’re probably wondering: If Wall’s so great on defense and he’s such a great passer and the Wizards are winning, why don’t you agree he’s an MVP candidate? Why are you about to tell me he’s not a top five PG?

Which brings me back to a junk metric I created last season: Only Good Stuff. In its simplest form, OGS is points + rebounds + assists + steals + blocks.

Wall is among the game’s more active players when he’s out there. He produces lots of OGS — 7th most in the league, in fact. Here’s the top 10 in OGS:

  1. James Harden — 977
  2. Anthony Davis — 940
  3. Stephen Curry — 922
  4. Kobe Bryant — 917
  5. Lebron James — 917
  6. LaMarcus Aldridge — 869
  7. John Wall — 867
  8. Blake Griffin — 843
  9. Kyle Lowry — 361
  10. Damian Lillard — 835

That’s a pretty impressive group, and Wall sits second among PGs. But, it’s ONLY the good stuff. What if we look at the other side of the ledger — Only Bad Stuff (missed field goal attempts + 0.5 x missed free throw attempts + turnovers + fouls)? Well, Wall’s near the top of that list too — 6th most OBS. The bottom 10:

  1. Kobe Bryant — 502
  2. James Harden — 422
  3. Monta Ellis — 389
  4. Josh Smith — 387
  5. Carmelo Anthony — 384
  6. John Wall — 367
  7. Tyreke Evans — 365
  8. Kyle Lowry — 361
  9. Blake Griffin — 360
  10. Stephen Curry — 351

So, with Wall (and several other of the game’s outstanding players), lots of good AND lots of “bad.” What if we combine the two? Because the categories aren’t weighted based on how much they contribute to winning, let’s call this last category Unweighted Total Stuff (UTS) — OGS – OBS. Here’s the top 10:

  1. Anthony Davis — 687
  2. Stephen Curry — 571
  3. Lebron James — 559
  4. James Harden — 555
  5. Chris Paul — 523
  6. LaMarcus Aldridge — 523
  7. Marc Gasol — 512
  8. Tyson Chandler — 505
  9. John Wall & Damian Lillard — 501
  10. Blake Griffin — 484

Enough with the “stuff,” according to PPA (which is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a degree of difficulty factor), Wall currently sits 8th among PGs on a per minute basis. Westbrook, Curry and Paul are clearly the top three. Lillard is next. Then it’s a tight group of Jeff Teague, Lowry, Mike Conley and Wall.

The scores of Wall’s group are close enough that I’d classify them as “about the same” and reasonable minds can differ on what order they should be in. I won’t argue if you want to push Wall to fifth, though I don’t see justification for ranking him higher at this point.

As mentioned above, Wall rates as the best defender — Lowry and Conley rate as average; Teague as a good-not-outstanding defender. However, Wall is the least efficient on offense among the top PGs by approximately 8 points per 100 possessions.

In TOTAL production, Wall currently sits 5th behind Curry, Paul, Lillard and Lowry. Kyrie Irving slips in ahead of Wall for fifth in per game PPA.

What can Wall do to improve? Shoot better and commit fewer turnovers.

How good has Wall been in December? His PPA for the month is 219 so far. If that was his PPA for the season, he’d rank 4th among PGs, ahead of Lillard, but still behind Westbrook, Curry and Paul.

To this week’s PPA update…

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 PPA
Marcin Gortat 19 30.2 181 186 170 175 179 178
John Wall 19 35.9 185 180 180 168 167 175
Paul Pierce 19 27.3 140 138 165 134 134 154
Rasual Butler 15 21.6 60 131 116 128 155 140
Andre Miller 19 12.4 72 69 92 103 102 101
Kris Humphries 18 22.0 46 87 90 82 109 100
Nene Hilario 13 33.2 108 102 68 67 83 94
Bradley Beal 10 24.6 122 63 69 94
Garrett Temple 17 17.0 121 112 96 100 98 91
Otto Porter 18 20.1 97 106 101 95 84 81
Drew Gooden 12 15.9 42 40 59 78 64 47
Kevin Seraphin 18 15.3 38 13 17 12 28 34
DeJuan Blair 6 4.6 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113

The Paul Pierce signing looks better and better. The last time Pierce was this productive was the 2011-12 season. His efficiency numbers have surged as the SF has found the Fountain of Youth. One potential warning sign is a slip in his defensive impact since the season’s opening weeks. After rating solidly above average earlier in the year, he’s down to average in my most recent update.

Andre Miller is another of the Wizards ancients who continues to perform well. The team plays dramatically different when he replaces Wall in the lineup (they slow by 10 possessions per 48 minutes), but they’re crazy efficient when he’s out there. It seems like every game is a masterclass for how to get to the rim despite running in slow motion.

Statistical tidbit: so far this season, Wall is averaging 14.8 assists per 100 possessions. Miller is averaging 14.4.

Beal and Nenê increased production after a couple rough weeks. I hope Wittman continues to use Nenê off the bench where he can face opponent reserves when Washington is on offense, and anchor a weak defensive second unit.

Kevin Seraphin was up for a second straight week. His rebounding has improved the past couple weeks, though his offensive efficiency remains poor. Among the team’s regulars, he’s in a virtual tie with Miller as the least effective defender.

Wizards Enjoy Soft Schedule Without Nenê

drew gooden

The Wizards have run their “without Nenê” record to 5-2 — a subject well-covered by the Washington Post’s Michael Lee this morning. Lee even broke out “points per 100 possessions,” which was nice to see. My only quibble with the story was that it didn’t mention Washington’s ultra-soft schedule, which may have ended up on the cutting room floor as editors tried to make the story fit into their print edition.

Here’s a quick look at the Wizards season — rolling averages of their offensive and defensive ratings (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions), as well as pace (possessions per 48 minutes).

2013-14 Wizards -- rtg & pace rolling
Red = defensive rating
Green = offensive rating
Dark blue = pace
Light blue = league average offensive rating
Orange = date of Nenê’s knee injury

That the Wizards have had a nice run without Nenê shouldn’t be much of a surprise. His overall play (see the PPA table below) has been mediocre, and while he’s helped the team on defense, he’s hurt them on offense. And, the Wizards have faced a series of cupcake opponents — four of their last seven have been in full tank mode. Their win against Toronto is the only one that could be considered a surprise. Even using the Nenê on/off numbers from the date he got hurt, the Wizards should have been expected to win at least four.

What have the Wizards done differently without their big man? They’ve been WAY more efficient on offense (115.3 points per 100 possessions over the last seven games vs. a season average of 105.7), but worse on defense (a defensive rating of 109.7 vs. 104.9 for the season).

The offense was largely expected. As noted previously, Washington has been more efficient without Nenê this season. The defense is worrisome. They got shredded by Orlando (28th ranked offense), Memphis (about average), and Milwaukee (27th on offense). The Heat also toasted them pretty good, but no shock — Miami boasts one of the league’s top three offensive units.

Also helping the Wizards get by without Nenê: the additions of Drew Gooden and Andre Miller. In still-tiny sample sizes for each, they’ve both been exactly what the team needed. Gooden has dominated opposing reserves — at least on the offensive end — and has provided much-needed rebounding and efficient scoring off the bench. Miller has been a steady veteran facilitator who somehow produces despite playing in “epic movie slow-motion” mode.

Miller’s production is sustainable — it’s about the same as what he was doing in Denver before he got sent home because of an argument with Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. Gooden’s production will almost certainly moderate, though he’s likely to still be useful the rest of the season. Gooden’s career PPA is 122, and he’s just two seasons removed from a 141. He’s never been this efficient on offense, though. And, his good play to this point is likely to earn him more minutes, which means he’ll end up facing more starters than he’s gone up against so far this season. Worth mentioning: his defense has long been a concern, and so far he grades out as well-below average in the defense part of PPA.

To the update. What is PPA? It stands for Player Production Average, which 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 58 35.9 159 159
Marcin Gortat 63 32.8 141 149
Drew Gooden 5 13.4 -146 149
John Wall 63 36.8 150 144
Trevor Booker 53 20.7 115 114
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 103
Andre Miller 9 13.7 52 96
Bradley Beal 54 33.9 93 94
Martell Webster 59 28.9 88 90
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 69
Chris Singleton 20 11.4 54 45
Kevin Seraphin 43 12.2 42 42
Garrett Temple 59 10.5 21 21
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 29 8.8 2 3
Al Harrington 16 15.3 -9 -6

Trevor Ariza continues to maintain a high level of play. In PPA, he ranks 4th in the league among SFs with at least 500 total minutes; third overall in total production. Marcin Gortat’s production ticked up this week, while John Wall’s went down.

I really think it’s time to shelve talk of Wall being a superstar. He’s very good and he has great potential, but there’s still a loooooooong ways to go for him to be considered an elite player.

Nice to see Martell Webster’s PPA go up slightly — the first time since December 17th that his PPA hasn’t dropped in one of my updates.

With or without Nenê, the week ahead could be a good one for the Wizards. My odds estimator suggests Washington should be favorites to win each of their next four games, although the matchups with Orlando and Sacramento fall into “coin flip” territory. Their odds of actually winning all four are only about 10%, but 3-1 is realistic.

The Anointing of John Wall

Folks have been tripping over each other 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.

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.

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.

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.