Wizards Doppelgangers: The Enigmas

otto porter

In case you missed them, I’ve done two installments using my Statistical Doppelganger Machine to look at the player seasons most similar to Wizards (similar production at similar age):

Here’s a look at low-minute Wizards for whom finding comps was challenging because of their scant playing time: Otto Porter, Glen Rice Jr., and Garrett Temple.

Let’s start with the guy likely to play the biggest role for the team this season: Porter.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Otto Porter SF 2013-14 20 WAS 100 15 15
Lance Stephenson SG 2011-12 21 IND 87 14 116
Cory Joseph SF 2011-12 20 SAS 86 18 94
Jumaine Jones SF 2003-04 24 BOS 86 24 98
Quincy Pondexter SF 2010-11 22 NOH 86 38 67
Shawne Williams SF 2006-07 20 IND 85 39 53
Kareem Rush SG 2002-03 22 LAL 85 3 53
Brandon Bass PF 2005-06 20 NOK 85 37 116
Kevin Martin SG 2004-05 21 SAC 84 32 162
Kedrick Brown SF 2002-03 21 BOS 84 44 97
Gerald Henderson SG 2009-10 22 CHA 84 36 99

Wizards fans know Porter had what amounts to a lost rookie season. He missed training camp with a hip injury, barely played, and was terrible when he did play. When I post my projections Wednesday, I’ll go through a couple different ways I dealt with predicting his performance, but the exercise today is NBA similars.

The list of similars was something of a pleasant surprise. It’s basically a list of players who had a disastrously bad season and then (for the most part) went on to become contributors. That said, “contributors” is a broad term. As a group, Porter’s similars tended to peak young (average age 23.4) and low (average peak PPA: 88). But, they all improved the following season — generally by a bunch.

And, the list includes Kevin Martin, who’s been a good player for nearly a decade, and Lance Stephenson who became an above average performer this season — and is likely to continue improving.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Glen Rice Jr. SG 2013-14 23 WAS 100 20 20
Scott Padgett PF 1999-00 23 UTA 90 20 96
Will Barton G/F 2012-13 22 POR 87 28 60
Quincy Douby SF 2006-07 22 SAC 86 34 34
Orlando Johnson SG 2012-13 23 IND 85 60 60
Reggie Jackson G 2011-12 21 OKC 84 32 101
Bostjan Nachbar SF 2003-04 23 HOU 84 24 84
Ronnie Price G 2006-07 23 SAC 84 40 54
Thabo Sefolosha SG 2006-07 22 CHI 84 31 129
Nolan Smith G 2011-12 23 POR 84 10 10
Kevin Brooks SF 1992-93 23 DEN 84 18 34

While Porter’s comps were somewhat comforting, it’s difficult to say the same about Rice’s. Like Porter’s list, Rice’s similars tended to peak early (average age: 24.0), but even lower (average peak PPA: 62). But, Will Barton and Reggie Jackson are both still works in progress. And, a few more had a productive season or two in which they helped their team, and one (Sefolosha) became a decent role-playing starter.

All that said, Rice played just 109 total minutes last season. The players who performed like him (similar age, similar production) isn’t a list all-time greats, but that shouldn’t be expected from a second round pick. There’s little reason to think Rice will be unable to work himself into being a contributor.

PLAYER POS SEASON AGE TEAM SIM SCORE PPA SEASON PPA PEAK
Garrett Temple G 2013-14 27 WAS 100 24 60
Rick Carlisle G 1985-86 26 BOS 89 28 28
Pace Mannion SF 1987-88 27 MIL 88 30 61
Pace Mannion SF 1983-84 23 GSW 88 32 61
David Wingate SG 1994-95 31 CHH 88 32 89
Dudley Bradley SG 1985-86 28 WSB 86 60 102
Jason Hart PG 2005-06 27 SAC 86 13 119
Ronnie Price PG 2012-13 29 POR 86 14 54
Randy Brown PG 1995-96 27 CHI 86 50 86
Royal Ivey PG 2006-07 25 ATL 86 38 38
Reece Gaines PG 2003-04 23 ORL 85 11 20

Temple may have been the most difficult player to project because so many of the guys who produced like he did last season didn’t have a follow-up year. In other words, the league took a collective look at players like Temple, and decided to sign Someone Else.

Players like Temple peaked low (average peak PPA: 65) and fairly young (25.5). Two of the 10 most similar got significantly worse the following season, four got better, and four stayed about the same. The list certainly doesn’t offer much hope for improvement.

Later today: Bump and Bruise.

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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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

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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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:

OPPONENT WINS LOSSES W% W82
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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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.

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.

Andre Miller Is A Big Upgrade

wall dribbles

No time for anything in-depth today, but I wanted to get the numbers up. The Andre Miller trade is paying off already. In his first three games (and 44 minutes), Miller has been a bit more than four times as productive as Garrett Temple on a per minute basis.

John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat had good weeks. Trevor Booker did not. Martell Webster’s production declined for a seventh consecutive update.

The table below shows the just about weekly results of my metric: 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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
Trevor Ariza 52 35.7 148 155
John Wall 57 36.8 140 147
Marcin Gortat 57 32.4 139 144
Trevor Booker 47 20.1 118 112
Nene Hilario 49 30.1 103 103
Bradley Beal 48 33.5 90 94
Martell Webster 55 28.8 91 89
Andre Miller 3 14.7 88
Jan Vesely 33 14.2 69 69
Chris Singleton 15 10.9 60 53
Kevin Seraphin 43 12.2 44 43
Glen Rice 11 9.9 21 21
Garrett Temple 54 11.2 20 20
Al Harrington 10 15.1 6 12
Eric Maynor 23 9.3 8 8
Otto Porter 24 8.9 -4 -6

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.

All-Stars and a Wizards Update

Before I get to the weekly Wizards update, I want to take a quick look at All-Stars through the prism of Player Production Average (PPA) — an overall rating system I developed. 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.

As usual, fan voting doesn’t correlate well with my metric or with what causes teams to win. I’m not one to complain much about that reality — the fan vote is a popularity contest, not a referendum on who’s best. The top vote-getter typically appears on about a quarter of all ballots cast. I first noted this phenomenon with Michael Jordan, who regularly collected the most All-Star votes. Going by All-Star voting, roughly 75% of NBA fans each year thought Jordan (wildly popular and widely considered the best player in the game — if not all time) didn’t deserve to be an All-Star.

Anyway, I’ll present the list in two ways: the first using PPA, which is a per minute metric; the second using total production (which could weed out guys who missed time due to injury).

Per MINUTE EAST WEST
G Kyle Lowry Chris Paul
G Dwyane Wade Stephen Curry
F Lebron James Kevin Durant
F Paul George Kevin Love
F Andre Drummond Anthony Davis
G John Wall Mike Conley
G Lance Stephenson Goran Dragic
F Brook Lopez Dirk Nowitzki
F Al Horford DeMarcus Cousins
F Joakim Noah Tim Duncan
G Kyle Korver Ty Lawson
F Carmelo Anthony LaMarcus Aldridge

The quality imbalance between the conferences is evident in these lists. Carmelo Anthony takes the East’s final frontcourt slot while ranking just 21st among all frontcourt players league-wide. The Wizards only All-Star, John Wall, rates as the East’s third most productive guard per minute, but ranks just 16th in the league (minimum 500 total minutes).

Here’s the “totals” list:

TOTAL PRODUCTION EAST WEST
G Kyle Lowry Chris Paul
G John Wall Stephen Curry
F Lebron James Kevin Durant
F Paul George Kevin Love
F Andre Drummond LaMarcus Aldridge
G Kemba Walker Damian Lillard
G Aaron Afflalo Wesley Matthews
F Carmelo Anthony Blake Griffin
F Joakim Noah DeAndre Jordan
F Paul Millsap Anthony Davis
G Lance Stephenson James Harden
F Chris Bosh Dirk Nowitzki

Probably the biggest surprise for me was Kemba Walker. He hasn’t impressed me much, but he’s an above average producer on a per minute basis and he plays a lot of minutes. Notice Brook Lopez and Al Horford dropping off the list in the East — their total production is down because of injury. DeAndre Jordan is another mild surprise. It’s easy to focus on his limitations, which are abundant. However, Jordan rebounds, blocks shots, and limits his offensive repertoire to things he can do well: dunks, layups, put-backs and setting screens.

Moving on from All-Stars, let’s talk Wizards. (See what I did there?)

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
John Wall 40 36.9 140 147
Trevor Ariza 35 34.6 144 144
Trevor Booker 31 21.4 137 137
Marcin Gortat 40 32.1 132 135
Martell Webster 39 30.4 109 105
Nenê Hilario 33 29.3 107 102
Bradley Beal 31 33.1 73 84
Jan Vesely 28 16.0 73 72
Chris Singleton 14 10.6 64 60
Kevin Seraphin 28 10.1 12 20
Glen Rice 11 9.9 18 18
Eric Maynor 22 9.5 13 13
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 7
Garrett Temple 38 11.2 2 6
Otto Porter 19 9.7 15 3

It’s largely status quo, which is normal at this point in the season. Players have established their performance levels for the most part so I don’t expect to see major changes week to week. Any large changes are going to show up in lower minute players for whom a one-week sample size can still be significant.

Improvers this week include Wall, Beal, and Seraphin — the big Frenchman upped his production for a fourth consecutive update. Temple also did a little better, but still has been less productive this season than even Maynor.

On the downside were Webster, Nenê, and Porter. Nenê is interesting and worth further analysis. The team continues to be better when he’s on the floor even as his personal production slides.

Now for the shameless plug: check out the FREE first chapter of my mystery novel set for publication later this month. 

Should the Wizards Give Wittman A Sympathy Firing?

NBA-Coach-Randy-Wittman-Face-Smashed-By-Basketball

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.

PLAYER GMS MPG LW PPA
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.