Will Bynum

The Inside Story of How the Wizards Beat the Raptors

Gortat warrior

The Washington Wizards vanquished the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the NBA playoffs thanks to an innovative approach conceived by team president Ernie Grunfeld, funded by owner Ted Leonsis, and implemented by head coach Randy Wittman. Drawing upon unique abilities possessed by point guard John Wall, Wittman and Grunfeld developed a plan that in the days before the playoffs sent Wall and center Marcin Gortat on a (until now) top secret mission to prehistoric times.

“It was just a little time travel,” Wall said, stifling a yawn. “Just doing whatever I can to help my teammates out.”

” ‘Time travel?’ He said that?” Wittman snapped when told of Wall’s comment. “Okay, first of all, it’s not time travel. It’s just a way of using John’s ability to alter the space-time continuum to bridge the interdimensional gap between this reality and another in which conditions very much like our prehistoric era continue to exist.”

According to sources, Wall was essential to executing the project, but Gortat volunteered.

“We were going to play Raptor,” the Polish center said. “This way I could study real raptor, see how it move, see how it fight, see how it love. I fight six velociraptor at same time — hand-to-hand. After that, Toronto Raptor not so tough.”

While Gortat engaged in mortal battle with ferocious dinosaurs from the later Cretaceous Period, Wall did no fighting and did not engage with the ferocious reptiles.

“I’m competitive, but I’m not a fighter,” Wall said. “i just mostly slept.”

While Wall’s account of an extended nap — made necessary, he said, by the rigors of time travel — had its charm, it did not stand up to investigation. In reality, Wall executed the second part of the Grunfeldian Plan, and tracked down a pubescent Paul Pierce.

“Paul’s one of the oldest players in the league, and we were concerned about his physical condition,” said Wizards vice president Tommy Sheppard, speaking on condition of anonymity. “By sending John and March back seventy-one million years, we felt we could get March first-hand experience with some velociraptors and we could do something to help Paul get back to top form. This was definitely a two birds, one stone kind of thing.”

Wall’s mission was to locate the young Pierce and persuade him to provide biological samples, including blood, spinal fluid and stem cells. The samples would then be combined in Wittman’s laboratory, located deep beneath the Verizon Center, into a genetic cocktail that would rejuvenate the aging Pierce.

“Gotta say it didn’t take much convincing,” Wall said when he learned that details of his trip were known. “Once I told him about his later self being on a team in the playoffs, his competitive nature kicked in and he wanted to help. ‘Course I first had to beat him in a game of Micropachycephalosaurus before he’d do it, but basketball hadn’t even been invented back then so I had a little bit of an advantage. It was tough, but…well…you saw what happened in round one. Look man, Pierce ain’t changed a bit.”

Successful execution of the Grunfeldian Plan had several positive effects fans could see. Gortat and Pierce performed spectacularly in round one. And, freed from the rigors of researching and theorizing about interdimensional temporal travel, Wittman was able to refocus his attention on coaching the team.

“I looked at the numbers and said to the guys ‘What the hell is this?’ ” Wittman said. “Why are we taking so many two-point jumpers? What’s wrong with you people? Do I have to think of everything? Attack the hoop and shoot threes.”

The plan nearly backfired, however, when Wall, exhausted from interdimensional travel, searching for the younger version of Pierce, and the epic game of Micropachycephalosaurus, played horribly in game one. Sources with knowledge of the situation said Wall recovered thanks to some remaining bottles of Caron Butler’s “Tuff Juice.”

While details remain scarce, preparation for the team’s second round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks involved a journey to Middle Earth where Gortat taught teammates the art of riding the Great Eagles of Manwë. Sources could not corroborate the story with cell phone photos or video by publication time. I was able to obtain this image of a young Marcin Gortat riding one of the Great Eagles in Middle Earth, which Gortat claims is located not far from where he was born in Lodz, Poland.

A young Marcin Gortat riding a Great Eagle of Manwë.

A young Marcin Gortat riding a Great Eagle of Manwë.

Player Production Average: First Round

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.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS
POS GMS MPG PPA
Marcin Gortat C 4 31.3 294
Paul Pierce SF 4 28.5 209
Will Bynum SG 1 4.0 183
John Wall PG 4 38.0 165
Otto Porter SF 4 32.0 147
Kris Humphries PF 1 5.0 146
Bradley Beal SG 4 41.8 116
Drew Gooden PF 4 20.5 107
Nene Hilario PF 4 24.3 82
Ramon Sessions PG 4 16.5 67
Kevin Seraphin C 3 11.0 50
Martell Webster SF 1 4.0 36
Rasual Butler SF 2 3.5 -85
TORONTO RAPTORS POS GMS MPG PPA
Greg Stiemsma C 1 2.0 535
Jonas Valanciunas C 4 26.5 142
Patrick Patterson PF 4 26.5 122
Amir Johnson PF 4 28.0 91
DeMar DeRozan SG 4 39.8 75
Terrence Ross SF 4 26.8 38
Lou Williams SG 4 25.5 26
Greivis Vasquez PG 4 25.3 14
Kyle Lowry PG 4 32.8 -6
Tyler Hansbrough PF 4 12.0 -13
James Johnson PF 2 6.0 -118

While the playoffs are the most important part of the NBA season, fans and analysts tend to go overboard in using postseason results to reach new conclusions. The Wizards were impressive in round one, but it’s worth keeping in mind that any given round of the post-season (especially a four-game sweep) is the very definition of Small Sample Size Theater. Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 167 minutes in the first round.

I’d caution against overreaching in using the win over Toronto to make a significant reassessment of the Wizards. They’ll get a tougher test against the Hawks.

That said, the good news from round one was getting good production from the team’s youthful triumvirate. Washington was led by Gortat and Pierce, both of whom were outlandishly efficient, and got outstanding play from Wall and Otto Porter, and solid production from Bradley Beal.

Unsurprisingly (considering Washington’s resounding series win), five Wizards were more productive than the most productive Toronto player. The Raptors were hampered by an extreme lack of production from its backcourt, including a net negative performance from All-Star Kyle Lowry.

Meanwhile, Gortat was the league’s most productive player in the first round, and Pierce’s production ranked eighth.

Advertisements

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.

Wizards Update: The Home Stretch

sessions ramon

There’s a temptation to note the Wizards have won four in a row and five of their last six and conclude they’re headed for the playoffs in good form. I don’t share that optimism, however. This is a stretch of games where Washington was expected to win with four games against three of the league’s weakest teams — Charlotte (21st in Simple Rating System — a power ranking published by Basketball-Reference.com that combines scoring differential with strength of schedule), New York (30th) and Philadelphia (29th) twice.

Failing to win at least four of the six would have been cause for real concern. Getting an “extra” win against Memphis was encouraging, although it’s worth noting the Grizzlies were coming off a hard-fought win against Oklahoma City the previous night while the Wizards coasted to an easy (and restful — the only starter to play more than 30 minutes was Bradley Beal) over the hapless Knicks.

The Wizards aren’t “fixed,” they’re playing bad opponents. It’s good that they’re beating those teams, but that’s not the same as saying they’re in good shape. Realistically speaking, they continue to look how they’ve looked all season — a slightly better than average team that feasts on the 99-pound weaklings in the East and can sometimes summon the game to challenge (and even beat) a good team if stuff goes right for them and wrong for the other side.

The preceding is talking about the team’s big picture. The overall. They’re excellent on defense, and have been since the end of January. Unfortunately, their offense has been terrible during the same time frame. Since the playoffs are about to start, we’re about to hear a bunch of the old maxim that defense wins in the postseason. Like a lot of truisms, it’s half true. Unless the Wizards are able to operate with some level of offensive efficiency against higher-quality opponents, they’re not going deep in the playoffs.

I’ll get more into postseason matchups when the regular season concludes, but it does help that Washington is in the East. First, because they’ll be in the playoffs at all. Out West, they’d at best be scrapping for the eighth seed. In their actual conference, they’ll have a punchers chance in the first round against Toronto or Chicago.

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.

2015-04-09 -- wiz ppaSearching for encouragement as the playoffs approach? Look at Gortat and Wall — both of whom have been consistently good all season. Beal has played better the past few weeks, as have Sessions, Porter and Gooden.

On the other hand, Nenê and Pierce have struggled. The hope is that they’re recharging for the playoffs. But, they’re also the team’s oldest players, and they could be wearing down from the long season.