Projection: Wizards to Win 42

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

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

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.

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.

Wizards Update: Bouncing Back?

sessions

After a lengthy stretch of losing basketball, the Wizards have won four of their last six. Have they shaken off their mid-season swoon? Are they poised to win like it’s November or December?

No, and not likely.

While the Wizards have played better over the past six games, their offense has remained below average, and their defense has been unsustainably fantabulous. During this 4-2 stretch, Washington has allowed its opponents just 96.5 points per 100 possessions. If they managed to do that over a full season, they’d be one of the 15 best defenses since 1973-74 when the league began collecting the stats necessary to calculate defensive rating. For the season, the Wizards are allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions.

Another factor: they’ve had the good fortune of meeting injury-depleted teams. And even then, the results have been mixed. They lost to Chicago, which was missing Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson. They eked out a two-point victory against Miami, which didn’t have Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade or Luol Deng. And, they beat the snot out of Memphis, which lacked Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph — also known as the Grizzlies’ four best players.

I know Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld have said the Wizards just need to play better on defense and work harder. I respectfully disagree. Their defense — even during the period of sustained losing — wasn’t bad. The decline has been on offense, and it still needs to be fixed.

Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

2015-03-13 -- wiz ppa

My apologies for the format. The spreadsheet has reached a width that WordPress struggles to accommodate.

Good weeks for Gortat, Wall, Pierce and Gooden. Not so good for Beal, Temple, Porter and Butler.

Ramon Sessions provided hope with a couple decent games.

Martell Webster isn’t able to physically compete at an NBA level, presumably because of his back.

I’ve thought all season that DeJuan Blair should have been playing ahead of Kevin Seraphin, but Blair looks unable to compete physically at an NBA level because of too much eating and insufficient exercise.

Wizards Update: Death Spiral

wall wtf

When the NBA entered its annual All-Star break, I started work on a piece intended to look at how teams similar to this year’s Wizards throughout league history fared when they reached the playoffs. At the time, Washington was 33-21, and their Simple Rating System (SRS) — a measure of team strength that combines scoring differential with strength of schedule — was +1.67 per game.

In the six games they’ve played since the break, they faced opponents with a combined scoring differential of -1.15. Even an average team would have been expected to win four of the six. The Wizards went 1-5 and were outscored by a whopping 86 points. That’s 14.3 points per game. Even if I throw out the 38-point loss to Cleveland as an aberration, Washington lost the other five by 9.6 points per game. Their SRS now stands at -0.02.

All season, I’ve been writing variations on the theme of “The Wizards Just Ain’t That Good,” but I’m still surprised by their catastrophic collapse since the All-Star break. What’s scary: their remaining 22 games don’t look as easy as they did just a few weeks ago.

Fourteen of their remaining contests are against likely playoff teams. And, the key statistical indicators of team strength I watch are all dipping. This recent stretch of horrific basketball could merely be a rough patch for an average team, but it could also be a signal of an aging group that’s about to flat line.

When I run the numbers through my “who’s gonna win” machine, the results are…well…bad. In a worst-case scenario, the Wizards would limp into the playoffs with just seven wins over their last 22. I think they’ll be better than that, but it’s hard to find more than 11 wins the rest of the way (which, by the way, would give them a final record of 45-37, which happens to be what I projected for them back in October). Barring a miracle about-face, those dreams of a 50-win season will remain just that.

As long as I’m fretting, here’s another reason for Wizards fans to be concerned: this interview of team president Ernie Grunfeld by radio guy Dave Johnson. Presented with respectful softball questions by Johnson, Grunfeld offered his thoughts on how his team could pull out of its skid — and thoroughly misdiagnosed what’s wrong.

In the interview, Grunfeld suggested the team’s biggest problem has been a decline in their defense. He said their results will improve when they play better defense, get out on the fast break and “compete” on a nightly basis.

Here’s a look at the Wizards pre- and post-All-Star break:

TIME PACE ORTG DRTG
Pre-ASB 93.5 105.4 102.9
Post-ASB 96.7 93.4 108.3
CHANGE 3.2 -11.9 -5.4

What the numbers show is that the Wizards have played faster since the All-Star break, but have been worse. Grunfeld gets partial credit on the “play better defense” portion of his prescription since that would be a good thing to do. However, The drop in offensive efficiency is more than double their change in defensive efficiency. That means the team’s struggles are first and foremost because of its offense.

In case you were wondering, forgetting the debacle against Cleveland doesn’t change the analysis. Their defense the past three games has been excellent and yet they lost two because their offense was a horror show. If the Wizards want to start winning, they do need to get better on both ends, but their most important fix will be on offense.

There’s another issue with Grunfeld’s prescription — the data show the team’s offensive and defensive efficiency are uncorrelated. I’ve been tracking offensive and defensive efficiency by pace for years now, and this season’s result is the same as every other year. Good defense doesn’t cause good offense. Good offense doesn’t cause good defense. It’s almost as if offense and defense occur at different ends of the floor.

This season, if the numbers suggest anything it’s the Wizards show a very slight tendency to play better defense when they’re worse on offense. In terms of pace effects, Washington has a very slight tendency to play worse on offense in faster-paced games. But these “effects” are so small they’re basically meaningless.

Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

The numbers under each date represent the player’s PPA for the entire season to that date. The number in the far right column (labeled PPA) is the player’s current PPA through games played last night. For a look at how players on other teams rate, visit here.

2015-03-03 -- wiz ppa

My apologies for the format. The spreadsheet has reached a width that WordPress struggles to accommodate.

Early returns on the Andre Miller for Ramon Sessions trade aren’t good. As the table above shows, Miller had a PPA of 80 with the Wizards; Sessions has managed a Maynor-esque 13 so far. Meanwhile, Miller’s PPA with the Kings is a robust 90 (good for a backup PG). Sessions in Sacramento posted a 16 PPA.

Unsurprisingly for a team that barely ended a five-game losing streak, production for most guys was down. The biggest decliner was John Wall, but he was hardly alone. The team also saw drop-offs from Nenê, Garrett Temple, Rasual Butler, and Kevin Seraphin.

Perhaps the Wizards can turn things around, but it’s an old team that doesn’t have a ton of upside. Over the season’s final 22 contests, Wall will likely play more like he did earlier in the season, but it’s not realistic to think any of the team’s older players have much room for improvement. Maybe Beal or Porter can play better to close out the season, but neither looks ready to provide a surge in production.

Realistically speaking, if the Wizards can go .500 the rest of the way, I’d call it a success. But, winning just seven or eight of their remaining 22 is a realistic possibility as well. That would leave them with 41 or 42 wins, which would almost certainly relegate them to the sixth seed. Where they’d probably draw Cleveland and get bounced from the playoffs in the first round.

So. Wizards.

Wizards Update: Designed to Piss Off Charles Barkley

Drew Gooden celebrates being the biggest improver in this week's Player Production Average update.
Drew Gooden celebrates being the biggest improver in this week’s Player Production Average update.

Charles Barkley doesn’t like analytics. His argument works out to this: “I don’t know anything about analytics and I never will. Also, you stat people never played the game and couldn’t get girls in high school.”

Partial credit to the new number one on my list of people I’d like to meet at a poker table — I didn’t “get girls” in high school, perhaps because I was too busy playing basketball.

Of course, if we apply Barkley’s fatuous logic that only people who have played the game are qualified to offer opinions about the game, then only people who have done analytics would be qualified to offer opinions about analytics. Which means, by Barkley’s own Rules of Living, we should all shut the hell up — on a lot of things. Hmm, maybe he’s on to something.

Despite Barkley’s assertion that “analytics don’t work,” the facts are that in recent years, top teams have made extensive use of analytics to improve their teams. Of course, there are crappy teams that use analytics, but the same was true when teams were built by Men Who Stared At Players.

Analytics are not an end to themselves, and they’re not intended to eliminate people from decision-making. They’re tools to help inform decisions — sorta like being able to estimate odds in poker. You’re playing both the cards and the people across the table, but it’s a sucker who wagers without a good sense for their chances of winning. Which reminds me that Barkley really sucks at gambling.

Speaking of analytics, the Wizards could use some help. Despite dominating wins over sad-sack Brooklyn and Orlando, there’s a pervasive sense of gloom about the team lately. Since starting the season 22-8, they’re 11-13. The struggles weren’t a shock — it was the toughest part of the team’s schedule.

Heading into the All-Star break, areas for concern are much the same as they were when I wrote about them more than a month ago:

  • Age — Production has dropped significantly over the past month for the team’s oldest players, Paul Pierce and Andre Miller. Nenê has been doing better, but remains below average for a starter. The team has been terrific with him on the floor, however. And, in the “no shock” category, Rasual Butler’s production has dropped.
  • No Elite Producers — No, not even Wall, at least not on a per minute basis. His PPA (see below) is 166. That would rank fourth on the Atlanta Hawks behind Al Horford (203), Jeff Teague (190), and Paul Millsap (175). Among players with at least 500 minutes this season, Wall ranks 30th in per minute production. He’s 11th in total production, so I’ll take that as an argument in favor of “elite” status, even though he’s played the second most minutes in the league this year, and seven of the 10 ahead of him have played significantly fewer minutes. Wall IS playing well. But, I think there’s still major room for improvement.
  • Kevin Seraphin — He was better in January, but seems to have flattened out in February. Overall, he continues to rate right around replacement level. I think the team can get by with him against bad teams, but will need better play off the bench when they face tougher competition.
  • Lack of Progress From The Youngsters — Bradley Beal’s PPA has been hovering in the average range; Porter’s in the below-average-but-still-useful range. But, neither guy has taken a significant step forward, and now Beal is sidelined for a third time with a “stress reaction” in his leg.
  • Health — Beal with the stress reaction. Webster recovering from back surgery. Wall with the migraines and the (maybe) Achilles soreness, and/or ankle soreness. Humphries with the back. Nothing major yet, but these bumps and bruises can affect productivity, and there are always injury concerns with older players.

Weekly Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

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.

2015-02-12 -- Wizards PPA update

My apologies on the format, but I was running out of space for the full week-by-week PPA table. By the end of the season, we’ll all need a magnifying glass to read it.

A lot of consistency at this point. Most of the guys seem to have found their levels. My biggest worries are with the old guys, who seem to be wearing down as the season progresses. Hopefully they’ll be rejuvenated by this year’s extra-long All-Star break.

Wizards Update: Just How Good Are They?

wall calls play

The Wizards continue to rack up wins — even over the last 10 games, which has been the team’s most challenging stretch of the year. Last night, they did something that has me typing words that would have been difficult to imagine typing just last season: Fueled by a strong performance from Kevin Seraphin, Washington blew open a close contest late to secure a comfortable win against the San Antonio Spurs.

It was the team’s first win over the Spurs since 2005. The team’s record now sits at 26-12, good for second in their division and in the conference. Their .684 winning percentage is that of a 56-win team over an 82-game schedule — rarefied air for this franchise.

But…are they really that good? Basketball analytics has shown that scoring differential is a better predictor of team strength than its record. Luck can push a team’s record up or down a few wins, but how much it outscores its opponents offers a truer measure of relative strength.

So far this season, Washington’s scoring differential is +2.13, a mark that would suggest a 47-win team. Add in their weak schedule (fifth easiest in the league), and their differential falls to +1.49, which would suggest a 45-win team.

That +1.49 is Basketball-Reference’s Simple Rating System, a strength rating that combines scoring differential with strength of schedule. Of teams in NBA history with a similar SRS (between +1.0 and +2.0), the Wizards have the best winning percentage. They’re at .684 so far. Next closest is the 1961-62 Lakers at .675.

Of the 115 teams in that similar SRS grouping, the average winning percentage is .554 — so, 45 wins.

Narrow the focus to an SRS between +1.4 and +1.6, and the field is cut to 17 teams. And the winning percentage drops to .541 — about 44 wins.

But, here’s where that strength of schedule thing works in Washington’s favor. While the Wizards aren’t overwhelmingly strong, the East remains historically weak. Their schedule the rest of the way is about 0.7 points per game weaker than average — roughly the quality of a 39-win team the rest of the way. Because of that, Washington projects to finish with 51-53 wins, even without improving their scoring differential.

Weekly Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/10 11/18 11/24 12/3 12/8 12/17 12/23 12/29 1/6 PPA
John Wall 38 35.5 185 180 180 168 167 175 171 171 167 172
Marcin Gortat 38 29.5 181 186 170 175 179 178 178 173 158 157
Paul Pierce 36 26.4 140 138 165 134 134 154 142 143 148 144
Nene Hilario 31 24.5 108 102 68 67 83 94 96 97 101 112
Bradley Beal 29 33.4 122 63 69 94 90 98 102 106
Rasual Butler 34 22.7 60 131 116 128 155 140 134 123 99 101
Kris Humphries 37 21.5 46 87 90 82 109 100 88 109 103 98
Andre Miller 38 12.6 72 69 92 103 102 101 89 85 97 94
Otto Porter 28 18.2 97 106 101 95 84 81 84 82 85 82
Garrett Temple 29 12.8 121 112 96 100 98 91 90 75 73 68
Kevin Seraphin 37 15.6 38 13 17 12 28 34 45 36 35 44
Drew Gooden 21 12.2 42 40 59 78 64 47 47 44 32 22
DeJuan Blair 12 4.8 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47 -46 -34 2 16
Martell Webster 5 11.6 -150 -44
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113 -111 -111 -110 -110

It was fun to see Seraphin follow a good performance against the Hawks with an outstanding one against the Spurs. But, it’s going to take a sustained run of solid play from the big fella to convince me he belongs in the rotation. Previous analysis of Seraphin’s game log showed he has an above average game about 20% of the time. Over the course of an 82-game schedule, it’s almost inevitable that he’d have at least one two-game sequence where he performs above average in each. There’s approximately a 47% chance he’ll have a three-game sequence in which he performs above average.

In fact, he’s already done it this season against Denver, at Boston and home against Boston from December 5-8. He followed up that three-game stretch with a meh game at Orlando, two negative games against the Clippers and Jazz, and then a replacement level performance against Minnesota. If you want a sign that he’s truly improved, wait until he’s strong together four or more consecutive above average performances.

Also good: upticks in performance from Wall, Nenê, and Beal. Gortat’s performance was flat, but significantly down his production in December.

There seems to be some sentiment among Wizards fans (and maybe even the coach) that the team needs a backup PG to replace or supplement Miller. While Miller is a defensive liability, his overall performance (which is what matters) has been solid.

If the team is looking to upgrade for the second half of the season, it wouldn’t hurt to add a third PG for insurance. But, more pressing issues are Seraphin as the backup center, and perhaps a more athletic 3&D type to backup Beal.

Wizards Update: Successful Trip, But Concerns Remain

While fans worried during Washington’s three-game losing streak over the past week, the Wizards completed a successful road trip against Western Conference opponents with wins over Houston and New Orleans. Entering the trip as decided underdogs in all five contests, the Wizards were competitive in all but the Dallas game — which came the night after a gritty win against the Rockets.

Upon completion of the trip, I updated my “who’s gonna win” calculator and projected the Wizards’ final record. At the Washington Post this week, columnist Thomas Boswell did a nice job explaining why the Wizards aren’t as good as their record. Everything Boswell wrote is valid and correct, but…being in the Eastern Conference this season is incredibly fortunate for a middle-of-the-pack team like the Wizards.

Based on season performance through last night’s games, I estimate Washington will finish with 51-54 wins — the best season for the franchise since the mid-1970s.

My biggest concerns for the Wizards going forward are these:

  • Age — Many seem to think this is a young team, but it’s not. They have the league’s 7th oldest rotation, and they’re reliant on 30+ year olds in key roles — including the 38-year old Andre Miller and the 37-year old Paul Pierce. And there’s Nenê, whose play has declined the past couple years as he’s suffered through a series of nagging injuries.
  • No elite producers — I can hear the screens breaking all over the DC area. What about John Wall?! He’s an All-Star, a top five PG, and you wrote last week that he’s the league’s best defensive PG. Well, some of that is true. But, good as Wall has been this season, he’s still well behind the game’s elite players when it comes to doing things that cause a team to win. As I’ve pointed out previously, Wall does a lot of good things when he’s on the floor, but…he also does a lot of things that hurt — specifically turnovers, missed shots and poor shot selection. To become an elite team, the Wizards need him to play even better than he already has.
  • Kevin Seraphin — The coaches keep playing him, and in games against weaker opponents he doesn’t hurt too much. Against better teams, it hurts to have Seraphin in the lineup. That was apparent in the loss against Oklahoma City. In a game the Wizards lost by seven, they were -11 when Seraphin was on the floor. For those who don’t want to do the math, that means Washington was +7 when he was on the bench.
  • Lack of Progress from the youngsters — I’m a big fan of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, but both guys have been pretty average so far. Beal’s 102 PPA (see below) is a modest improvement, but is below average for a starter (125). Porter has been okay as a backup, and is performing at a level similar to that of players with similar collegiate production. Neither guy has demonstrated they should be considered foundational players for the Wizards. And, I think Washington will need one of the two (preferably Beal) to make that leap this season if they hope to reach the conference Finals…or more.
  • Coaching — Encouraged by head coach Randy Wittman, the Wizards continue to take too many two-point jumpers. Sometimes they’re necessary, but the math is abundantly clear that they’re bad shots — exactly the ones the defense wants them to take.

Weekly Player Production Average Update

Player Production Average (PPA) is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.

PLAYER GMS MPG 11/10 11/18 11/24 12/03 12/08 12/17 12/23 12/29 PPA
John Wall 29 35.6 185 180 180 168 167 175 171 171 167
Marcin Gortat 29 29.6 181 186 170 175 179 178 178 173 158
Paul Pierce 28 26.4 140 138 165 134 134 154 142 143 148
Kris Humphries 28 21.7 46 87 90 82 109 100 88 109 103
Bradley Beal 20 33.2 122 63 69 94 90 98 102
Nene Hilario 22 24.2 108 102 68 67 83 94 96 97 101
Rasual Butler 25 22.6 60 131 116 128 155 140 134 123 99
Andre Miller 29 12.8 72 69 92 103 102 101 89 85 97
Otto Porter 28 18.7 97 106 101 95 84 81 84 82 85
Garrett Temple 25 14.0 121 112 96 100 98 91 90 75 73
Kevin Seraphin 28 15.4 38 13 17 12 28 34 45 36 35
Drew Gooden 18 13.1 42 40 59 78 64 47 47 44 32
DeJuan Blair 9 5.0 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47 -46 -34 2
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113 -111 -111 -110
Martell Webster 2 10.0 -150

No major surprises considering the team went 2-3 over the past week. Wall took over the top spot in the team’s PPA rankings because Gortat’s play dropped further.

Rasual Butler’s anticipated reversion to the mean is in progress. Hopefully, Beal’s play will improve as Butler’s dips.

Seraphin held steady…below replacement level.

For the first time in weeks, the Wizards dusted off DeJuan Blair, and he moved his PPA out of negative territory.

Martell Webster looked terrible in his return from back surgery.

Projection: Wizards Will Win 45 and Return to the Playoffs

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

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

For this estimate (and the other one, which I’ll get to later in this post), I’ve used my overall metric Player Production Average (PPA), which is calibrated to explain individual player contributions to winning and losing. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the court. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level.

Statistical Doppelganger Projection

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

MIN = projected TOTAL minutes for the upcoming season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Rating System Projection

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

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

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

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

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

DOPP PPA = projected PPA using the Statistical Doppelganger approach

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

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

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

Final Word

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

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

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