Wizards 2014 Playoffs Wrap-Up

NBA Washington Wizards vs Chicago Bulls Play-Offs Game 4
Trevor Ariza dominated in the playoffs despite low-blow karate chop from Mike Dunleavy.

Just in time for the start of training camp, here’s a look back at the Wizards run in the playoffs this year. For those with short memories, Washington beat the Bulls in round one, and lost to the Pacers in round two. It was a good couple weeks for a franchise that’s been among the league’s worst the past several years.

I’ve finally gotten around to crunching the data to produce the Player Production Average (PPA) numbers. 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.

Like any stat extracted from a small sample size, there’s a grain of salt factor. For example, Bradley Beal led the team with 458 playoff minutes — the cut when I look at regular season numbers is usually 500 minutes. Only 21 players reached 500 or more playoff minutes this year. That said, here are the numbers:

Trevor Ariza 11 37.0 145 193
Marcin Gortat 11 34.7 154 148
Bradley Beal 11 41.6 96 139
John Wall 11 38.2 139 82
Trevor Booker 9 16.2 123 75
Nene Hilario 10 32.5 102 49
Drew Gooden 10 14.6 106 37
Martell Webster 11 17.7 77 35
Andre Miller 11 9.8 86 12
Al Harrington 7 8.4 24 -22
Garrett Temple 10 .9 24 -33
Otto Porter 3 2.0 15 -49
Kevin Seraphin 4 1.5 35 -274

RS PPA = regular season

PS PPA = post-season

The numbers reflect Ariza’s tremendous playoffs performance. A 193 in the regular season would be worthy of All-NBA selection in most years. Among playoff performers with at least 100 total minutes, it ranked third overall behind Lebron James (263) and Chris Paul (211).

Gortat’s production improved as the playoffs went on. His first round PPA was a shade below average, but his play against Indy in round two pulled his full playoffs rating into the vicinity of his regular season performance.

The team’s only other above-average playoffs producer was Beal, who was terrific in round one (152) and solid in round two. A promising post-season debut for a talented kid who will still be among the league’s youngest players when he starts his third season in a few weeks.

The post-season wasn’t so kind to Beal’s backcourt partner, John Wall. In the first round, Wall’s overall production wasn’t overwhelming, but he thoroughly outplayed Chicago’s guards. Indiana did a better job of forcing him out of comfortable plays, and Wall struggled.

Now-departed Trevor Booker was solid in the first round, but played little in the second round. Friend of the blog Ben Becker wondered if Washington might have won against the Pacers if they’d played Booker instead of Gooden and/or Harrington. And, that’s definitely possible. The games were close and hard-fought, and the Wizards got next to nothing from Gooden and less than nothing from Harrington. Booker was fifth on the team in per minute production during the post-season, but 10th in round two minutes.

Against the Pacers, the Wizards got good production from Gortat, and little else from the front-court. Using the trio of Nenê, Gooden and Harrington with so little court time for Booker may well have cost Washington a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Similarity scores coming soon.


Wizards Slouching Toward the Playoffs

The numbers in the table below are this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a metric I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level. PPA is a per minute stat.

Marcin Gortat 77 32.9 150 153
Trevor Ariza 73 35.7 151 143
John Wall 78 36.6 141 138
Trevor Booker 68 21.4 115 119
Drew Gooden 20 18.6 127 114
Nene Hilario 50 29.9 101 100
Andre Miller 24 14.4 104 91
Bradley Beal 69 34.7 89 89
Martell Webster 74 28.1 82 80
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 68 68
Kevin Seraphin 50 11.4 35 37
Chris Singleton 24 10.4 34 32
Garrett Temple 71 8.9 25 25
Glen Rice 11 9.9 20 20
Otto Porter 33 8.2 13 19
Al Harrington 30 14.9 13 8
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8

Rough week for the Wizards, which is reflected in the individual numbers. On the positive side were Marcin Gorat, (who continues to have a good season), Trevor Booker (who many fans want removed from the rotation), and Otto Porter (who performed better, but still rates well below replacement level).

Even with a bad week, Trevor Ariza is having a career season. He gets a bit of a pass for the last few games — he’s been beset with the flu, and really shouldn’t have even been on the floor.

John Wall’s production fell for a third straight week. It’s been fashionable to celebrate Wall’s improvement and his ascendancy to All-Star status, but it’s worth noting that his 138 PPA this season is virtually identical to the 139 he posted last year.

Here’s a visualization of each player’s PPA through the season. Since this is basically a weekly rolling season average, the larger fluctuations at the beginning followed by a flatter line toward the end is to be expected. Note the fairly steady climb of Gortat’s PPA — he’s been playing better as the season has progressed. The production slip from Wall the past three weeks is also apparent.

Check out the steady production from Booker. Webster’s season-long decline is apparent in his graph.

Drew Gooden’s production has fallen steeply after a hot start. He may not be the godsend Wizards fans had hoped for. Andre Miller’s play has been up and down, but at least sorta trending up.

ppa trend

Wizards Weekly: Playoffs Clinched

wall past carmelo

Since the Wizards cemented a spot in this year’s playoffs, I’m going to focus more on the stellar play of Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat, and sorta gloss over the things that bug me a bit in this week’s numbers.

Some positives:

  • Al Harrington had a good enough week that he no longer rates as the league’s least productive power forward. That honor belongs to Brandon Davies.
  • Marcin Gortat’s PPA rose to 150 — the highest its been since December 11.
  • I missed it last week, but the Wizards have no one with a negative PPA. The team’s least productive player is Eric Maynor, but he’s not in the NBA after being released by Philadelphia.
  • Otto Porter scored nine points in five minutes, and added 10 points to his PPA.

Below is this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a metric I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level. PPA is a per minute stat.

Trevor Ariza 70 35.7 151 151
Marcin Gortat 74 32.7 145 150
John Wall 75 36.6 144 141
Drew Gooden 17 18.9 148 127
Trevor Booker 65 21.0 116 115
Andre Miller 21 14.8 81 104
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 101 101
Bradley Beal 66 34.5 90 89
Martell Webster 71 28.2 81 82
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 68 68
Kevin Seraphin 49 11.5 36 35
Chris Singleton 23 10.7 40 34
Garrett Temple 69 9.1 22 25
Glen Rice 11 9.9 20 20
Al Harrington 28 15.5 1 13
Otto Porter 32 8.2 3 13
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8

Okay, I can’t help myself — now for the stuff that worries me:

  • Wall’s PPA is down to 141. That’s a good score, but his PPA last season was 139. And his offensive efficiency has slipped back below average.
  • Gooden’s PPA dropped sharply this week. His efficiency numbers are still insanely good — heck, all his numbers are, except for defense. There are way too many defensive breakdowns when he’s on the floor, and he continues to lose points in the defense portion of PPA.
  • Beal and Webster both rate solidly below average. This isn’t a surprise — Beal’s still a kid trying to figure out his spot in the league, and Webster is basically regressing to his mean this season. But, it does mean the Wizards aren’t getting a ton of production from their SG — and both rate as below average defenders.


The Briefest of Wizards Updates

In keeping with established Wizards traditions, Al Harrington is currently the NBA's least productive PF.
In keeping with established Wizards traditions, Al Harrington is currently the NBA’s least productive PF.

Don’t have a ton of time for fancy prose — not with friend of the blog Ben Becker inviting himself to be a guest blogger next week and filling my inbox with questions.

So…here’s this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a metric I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level. PPA is a per minute stat.

Trevor Ariza 66 36.0 154 151
Drew Gooden 13 17.5 152 148
Marcin Gortat 70 32.9 147 145
John Wall 71 36.8 146 144
Trevor Booker 61 21.1 116 116
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 101
Bradley Beal 62 34.4 88 90
Andre Miller 17 14.3 75 81
Martell Webster 67 28.4 84 81
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 68
Chris Singleton 22 11.0 40 40
Kevin Seraphin 47 11.8 40 36
Garrett Temple 66 9.4 23 22
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 20
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 31 8.3 3 3
Al Harrington 24 15.0 -2 1

Unsurprisingly given the team’s record during their recent series against the Western Conference, the production of their top players was down a little across the board. Nothing major — just…the kind of thing to be expected when they face some tougher competition than they get in the East.

I don’t know how much Martell Webster’s back is bothering him, but his production is way down this season. Last season, he posted a career-best PPA of 114. This season, he’s back down at his career level. This is cause for concern.

Also, I’ve heard/seen folks in a variety of places refer to the Wizards as a “young team.” But….not so. They’re right at the league average in age, but their rotation at this point is older. I’ll probably look at this in greater detail next week, but consider this:

  • The team’s plan was “build through the draft,” but only three of their rotation players (Wall, Beal and Booker) were selected by the Wizards.
  • Those same three players are the team’s only rotation players younger than league average.
  • Once Nenê returns they’ll have more rotation guys age 30 or older (four) than they do under age 26 (three).

The team does have young players on the roster, but they’ve been decidedly unproductive this season — for much of their careers for most of them.

In keeping with Wizards tradition, Al Harrington currently rates as the NBA’s least productive PF (minimum 300 minutes). Last season, that title was held by Jan Vesely.

Wizards Update: The NCAA Tournament Edition

gooden celebrates

With the sporting world mostly focused on The High Holy Weekend of NCAA basketball, last night I took in the Wizards game. I enjoy college hoop…to a point…but, truth is that I’d rather watch a regular season NBA game than an NCAA tourney game.

Yes, I’m serious.

The tournament is fun with its single elimination format, but the level of play just isn’t there. Think about it like this: let’s say you want to hear a musical performance tonight. And let’s say you have a choice between say Beyonce (or fill the name of your favorite singer/band) or the best kid at your local college. Which one would you choose (assuming both are free)?

That said, I still love the NCAA tournament because of all the randomness. I estimated Duke as a roughly 75% favorite against Mercer, yet the Blue Devils are going home and Coach K was on the bench with that “holy crap I’m gonna get clobbered in the press for this” look on his face.

But, I’m way off topic.

The Wizards are en route to their first playoff berth in a few years, and their best season since they had guys like Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. All season, I’ve been bothered by the significant quality difference between the NBA’s conferences. Washington is a solid playoff team in the East, but would be on the outside looking in if they were in the West.

Here’s a quick look at that difference:

vs. EAST 562 457 .553 45.3
vs. WEST 455 564 .448 36.7

Pretty straightforward. When teams play against an Eastern Conference opponent, they win 55% of the time. When they play against a Western Conference opponent, they win about 45% of the time. That W82 is wins per 82 games. A perfectly average team playing against Eastern Conference opponents could expect to win 45 games over an 82-game season. That same team would win roughly 37 against Western Conference opponents.

Only four teams this season have a better winning percentage against Western Conference opponents than they do against the East — the Clippers, Miami, Brooklyn and Cleveland.

The Wizards have the league’s fifth highest East vs. West differential. Against the East, their winning percentage is .610. Against the West, it’s .370. The teams with bigger differentials: Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Portland. Against opponents in the East, Washington plays like a 50-win team. Against the West: 30. That’s significant. In other words, Washington is fortunate to be in the East this year.

By the way, I’m not saying the Wizards need to apologize for their schedule. All they can do is play who’s on the calendar for that day, and they don’t have control over opponent incompetence or organizational tanking decisions. Even if the league seeded the playoffs without regard to conference affiliation, Washington would make the post-season (as the 15 seed, but still).

Here’s this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a metric I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level. PPA is a per minute stat.

Trevor Ariza 63 36.0 159 154
Drew Gooden 10 17.1 149 152
Marcin Gortat 67 32.9 149 147
John Wall 68 36.8 144 146
Trevor Booker 58 21.2 114 116
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 103
Bradley Beal 59 34.3 94 88
Martell Webster 64 28.6 90 84
Andre Miller 14 13.9 96 75
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 69
Chris Singleton 22 11.0 45 40
Kevin Seraphin 45 12.2 42 40
Garrett Temple 63 9.9 21 23
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 30 8.6 3 3
Al Harrington 21 14.7 -6 -2

Drew Gooden has been an excellent scrap heap pickup for the Wizards. He’s played just 171 minutes so far, but those minutes have been at a borderline All-Star level. Very bad things have been happening defensively when he’s in the game, which bears watching. Bad defense has been a rap on him throughout his career.

The Wizards saw production dips this week from Bradley Beal, Martell Webster and Andre Miller. Al Harrington continues to get minutes, and continues to play very badly. I’d hope that the Harrington experiment ends when Nenê returns.

If the big man comes back healthy and ready to play, head coach Randy Wittman will have a nine-man rotation of Wall and Miller at PG, Beal and Webster at SG, Ariza and Webster at SF, Nenê, Gooden and Booker at PF, and Gortat, Nenê and Gooden at C. That still probably won’t be enough to win a first round series, but it should be good enough to at least make things competitive and fun to watch.

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.

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:

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.

Should the Wizards Give Wittman A Sympathy Firing?


Here’s how weird things have gotten for me as I follow the Washington Wizards: I feel sympathy for a coach I never would have hired in the first place. Team president Ernie Grunfeld and owner Ted Leonsis awarded the full-time coaching job to Randy Wittman, who’d done a solid job as interim coach when they fired Flip Saunders. According to reports at the time, they neither considered nor interviewed other candidates for the position. Had it been my call…well, Wittman wouldn’t have been the choice.

Despite the howls of fans angered by a three-game losing streak, Wittman isn’t a bad coach. He isn’t a good one either — at least not by NBA standards. He’s standard issue NBA coaching material. Good at some things, not so good at others. On balance, probably on the “below” side of average, but close enough to the league standard that he’s not a drag on his team’s performance. When he gets fired by the Wizards, he could take a year off, go down to college and be great at that level. Sure, a guy like Phil Jackson, Pat Riley or Greg Popovich would win a few more games with the same roster, but a) those guys aren’t coming to Washington, and b) the Wizards wouldn’t be title contenders even with an elite coach.

I’m not saying it would be pointless to fire Wittman and replace him with Someone Else — maybe Mr. Else could get an extra win or two from this team over the remainder of the season. But no coach is going to transmogrify this group into a title contender for one simple reason: the roster is inadequate. They’re good enough to avoid missing the playoffs in the misbegotten East. They might even be good enough to win a playoff series if they’re reasonably healthy and they can avoid a first round matchup with Indiana or Miami. But there isn’t a coach on the planet who could get them further — not with this roster.

As you’ll see in the table below, Wittman has been given a team that’s effectively six deep. Bradley Beal could be a seventh, if he starts performing the way he did in the second half of last season. Wittman’s options are further diminished by minutes restrictions for Beal and (more importantly) Nene.

There are plenty of things I’d love to see the team do differently — starting with taking fewer two-point jump shots. (Umm, fellas — those shots are open for a reason.) Maybe better coaching could change some of those things. But, NBA reality is that everyone knows what everyone else is doing strategically. Coaches come up with stuff to surprise each other now and then, but most games are decided by overall talent and execution.

A coach’s most important job is getting lineups on the floor that maximize his team’s chances of winning. Those lineup decisions have largely been taken from Wittman by the team’s wafer-thin roster. Unless Nene’s Achilles gets better or someone on the Wizards bench radically improves, the coaching staff is stuck with few options to patch over the lack of depth. That this situation was entirely predictable (in fact, was predicted before the season) makes it no less frustrating.

Below is this week’s Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is a player rating stat I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. PPA is pace adjusted, accounts for defense and includes a degree of difficulty factor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and 45 = replacement level.

John Wall 31 37.2 149 147
Trevor Ariza 26 34.2 154 146
Trevor Booker 23 22.0 118 139
Marcin Gortat 31 32.5 130 130
Nene Hilario 24 29.4 132 120
Martell Webster 30 31.2 151 120
Bradley Beal 22 34.9 84 76
Chris Singleton 11 12.9 48 66
Jan Vesely 22 15.8 53 55
Otto Porter 12 12.2 -47 23
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Eric Maynor 22 9.5 18 13
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 6
Kevin Seraphin 23 10.0 -15 2
Garrett Temple 29 10.8 -21 -2

Normally, I update weekly, but this one went a couple weeks — eight games total. The Wizards went 4-4 during that stretch, including their current three-game winning streak. The performance levels of John Wall, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat appear to have largely stabilized.

Wall’s “grade” is interesting because it’s at once encouraging and disappointing. On the encouraging side, this is the longest sustained period of well-above average play of his career. So far, he’s the most productive guard in the East. But…his per minute production is still not close to “franchise cornerstone” level. And while he’s the East’s best PG, he still ranks behind nine Western Conference PGs in per minute production.

I have a similar reaction to Gortat’s score. He’s a solid producer, but…he ranks only about 20th among centers. The Wizards need more from him, especially on the boards and on defense.

Ariza is — by some strange coincidence — playing the best basketball of his career in a contract year.

Other positives: Trevor Booker becoming a solid producer upon entering the starting lineup (though his team defense continues to be a problem), Otto Porter improved from a HUGE negative to a net positive, and Kevin Seraphin finally got out of the negative PPA range.

A word on Seraphin — the big man currently rates as the NBA’s least productive center. He managed the same “feat” last season. There seems to be some kind of a message there, but I could be over-thinking things.

Oh yeah, Chris Singleton also showed signs of life with not atrocious play in a couple garbage time appearances.

On the negative side: Nene’s production is (unsurprisingly) down as he tries to play through that Achilles injury. Martell Webster’s play declined significantly this update, as well. And, of course, the Wizards continue to get absolutely nothing from their backup PGs.

With teams now able to sign free agents to 10-day contracts, I’m hoping the Wizards front office will start bringing in D-League PGs for tryouts until they find one they like. I’d also like to see them try some PF/C types in hopes of getting even replacement level play off the bench. They can make room by releasing one or more from the group of Temple, Seraphin, Harrington and Maynor. Yes, I know there’s no way they’d just cut Maynor because of the player option he holds for next season. It could be a correct move, however.

Even 7 Isn’t All That Lucky for Wizards

Short of trading additional future assets, getting lucky with a D-League pickup, or getting radical in-season improvement from one or more players currently on the roster, there just isn’t getting around the reality that this year’s Washington Wizards is solidly mediocre — at best.

I went into this week’s update on the team trying to conjure up a “modest proposal” type of post. Best I could come up with was the notion of shortening the game to 32 minutes so that teams would need to play only their top seven. And, Washington’s top seven is pretty good.

In this imaginary “top 7” league, so far this season, Washington would move up the standings a bit. According to my estimates, their top 7 would rank 4th in the East behind Miami, Atlanta and Indiana.

Overall, their top 7 rates 12th best, which sorta gives some perspective to how weak the East is so far this season. Washington’s seven best players rate as 4th best in the East, but would be only 9th best in the West.

Just to extend the silliness to its “logical” end — in this hypothetical, Washington would win a first round series against Brooklyn only to get bludgeoned in round two by Miami. The West would be a dogfight, but (if my PPA ratings held sway — and in this alternate reality, they do) San Antonio would emerge victorious. That would set up a repeat of last season’s Heat-Spurs final. Which the Heat would win.

Of course, the league isn’t going to shorten the game time anymore than it can guarantee Washington’s top seven can actually stay healthy. The bright side: a fully healthy Wizards team might be good enough to win a first round series if they can make the postseason. The downside: “fully healthy” seems like a fantasy.

To 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.

Trevor Ariza 18 36.1 172 154
Martell Webster 22 33.0 148 151
John Wall 23 37.7 168 149
Nene Hilario 16 32.6 134 132
Marcin Gortat 23 34.6 150 130
Trevor Booker 15 20.1 114 118
Bradley Beal 14 39.5 81 84
Jan Vesely 17 17.6 54 53
Chris Singleton 7 15.6 29 48
Glen Rice 11 9.9 4 21
Eric Maynor 20 10.0 16 18
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 6
Kevin Seraphin 18 8.3 -32 -15
Garrett Temple 21 10.3 -23 -21
Otto Porter 4 12.0 -70 -47

No real surprises for a team that lost two of three since the last update (and barely won the third). Ariza, Wall and Gortat led the “decliners.” The “improvers” were of the awful to slightly less awful variety — Singleton getting to replacement level, Rice getting out of single digits, Seraphin becoming a bit less negative.

Sorta looping back to the “modest proposal” portion of this post, here’s another look at the Wizards this season — one that shows the hard demarcation between their top 7 and their bottom 8.


Wizards Lack of Depth Continues to Hurt

Get used to repeats of that old Wizards pattern — keeping the score tight (even holding a lead in the fourth quarter) only to lose in the end. The problem isn’t that Washington lacks a mystical “ability to close,” it’s that their bench can’t hold the leads its starters provide, and its starters wear down at the end of competitive games.

This is not the fault of Randy Wittman and the coaching staff. Most of the failing bench players are producing at levels consistent with career norms. Eric Maynor, a fan whipping boy so far this season, is playing worse than usual, but not abnormally so. He’s been unproductive throughout his career — that’s he’s even less productive should surprise no one. The same is true of Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Garrett Temple. They’ve established themselves as unproductive. There’s little reason beyond hope to imagine them becoming productive.

With the “make the playoffs or else” mandate, Wittman has little option but to play his key players heavy minutes and pray they don’t get hurt. And that’s exactly what’s happening. John Wall and Bradley Beal lead the league in minutes per game at PG and SG. Among SFs, Trevor Ariza ranks eighth and Martell Webster sits 15th. Marcin Gortat is second in minutes per game among centers. The fragile Nene plays the 12th most minutes per game for a PF.

If this was the playoffs, there’d be little reason for concern. But there are 62 games remaining in the regular season, and they’ve already sustained injuries to Ariza, Webster, Nene and Beal. Another injury could put the playoffs out of reach. That would be a shame (as would limping into the playoffs) because at full strength, it’s core rotation players could at least put a scare in a post-season opponent. They’ll need to get (and stay) healthy to do that, however.

For a further demonstration of Wittman’s lack of options, peruse the table below, which shows the (approximately) weekly update of Player Production Average (PPA). 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.

Trevor Ariza 15 36.1 146 172
John Wall 20 37.8 169 168
Marcin Gortat 20 34.6 152 150
Martell Webster 19 32.5 156 148
Nene Hilario 16 32.6 133 134
Trevor Booker 12 16.5 96 114
Bradley Beal 13 40.2 81 81
Jan Vesely 14 18.1 75 54
Chris Singleton 6 17.5 51 29
Eric Maynor 19 10.3 35 16
Al Harrington 7 18.6 6 7
Glen Rice 9 8.0 -10 4
Garrett Temple 18 10.1 -14 -23
Kevin Seraphin 15 7.9 -27 -32
Otto Porter 2 10.5 -70

Ariza is playing a lot like he’s in a contract year, which is to say — superbly. His production is All-Star level, though it would astonish me if he actually received the honor. But, with Lebron more a PF these days, it’s arguable that Ariza has been the East’s second best SF so far this season (behind Paul George).

Recovered from injuries last season, Gortat is producing at a good level again. Like Ariza, his timing is superb — he’s in a contract year as well.

Wall seems to have settled in at All-Star level production. PPA currently has him rated as the top PG in the East, and fifth most productive overall behind Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Mike Conley.

This week’s update shows Vesely’s production dropping off. Hopefully he can turn things around. Whether or not he does, the coaching staff would be wise to give more minutes to Booker, who continues to be an “about average” producer. That’s nothing to get excited about, but it makes him a solid reserve.

Finally, note that the Wizards have seven players who rate below replacement level so far this season. Collectively, they’ve played 823 minutes — nearly 17% of the team’s total. This is a direct result of the front office’s persistent failure to properly assess players, and their inability to address the team’s glaring need for depth. This misjudgment is costing the team wins now, and could cost them even more as the season wears on.