Wizards Update: About to Be Tested

At 21-8, the Wizards are off to the second best start in franchise history. Check out the very bottom of the table in that link and note that Washington had its worst start in franchise history just two seasons ago. The front office’s strategic shift to proven veterans combined with a historically weak Eastern Conference to bring about an abrupt about-face in the team’s record.

While the Wizards have enjoyed the league’s easiest schedule so far, things are about to change. To this point in the season, Washington’s opponents have been 1.32 points per game worse than average. Over the next 19 games, their competition will be about a point per game better than average.

To say it another way, Washington’s average opponent so far this season has been the equivalent of a 37-win team — a lottery squad in either conference most years. Over the next quarter of the season, their opponents will be the quality of a 44-win team — a near-lock for the playoffs in either conference.

The next five games will likely be the toughest stretch of the regular season. Over the next week, Washington has road games against Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New Orleans — and the schedule includes two sets of back-to-back contests.

The Wizards will be underdogs in all five games, and their average competition this week will be equivalent to a 50-win squad. It won’t be easy.

I ran the numbers in my “who’s gonna win?” machine. The machine projects Washington to go 9-10 over the next month, including a five-game skid starting tonight. This will likely test the faith of Wizards fans, but I think reality for Washington is that they’re a solid team in a weak conference.

Based on how teams have performed to this point in the season, The Machine predicts Washington will go 33-20 over their remaining games to finish the year 54-28. This would be tied with the 1978-79 Bullets for the third best mark in franchise history. Fans my age might recall that the 78-79 team went to the NBA Finals where they lost to Seattle. I suspect fans of any age would be ecstatic if this year’s team reached the Finals and got thumped by a top-shelf Western Conference opponent.

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 10-Nov 18-Nov 24-Nov 3-Dec 8-Dec 17-Dec 23-Dec PPA
Marcin Gortat 29 29.7 181 186 170 175 179 178 178 173
John Wall 29 35.8 185 180 180 168 167 175 171 171
Paul Pierce 28 27.0 140 138 165 134 134 154 142 143
Rasual Butler 25 22.8 60 131 116 128 155 140 134 123
Kris Humphries 28 21.9 46 87 90 82 109 100 88 109
Bradley Beal 20 33.0 122 63 69 94 90 98
Nene Hilario 22 24.2 108 102 68 67 83 94 96 97
Andre Miller 29 12.4 72 69 92 103 102 101 89 85
Otto Porter 28 19.0 97 106 101 95 84 81 84 82
Garrett Temple 25 14.4 121 112 96 100 98 91 90 75
Drew Gooden 18 13.3 42 40 59 78 64 47 47 44
Kevin Seraphin 28 15.3 38 13 17 12 28 34 45 36
DeJuan Blair 9 4.6 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47 -46 -34
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113 -111 -111

Plenty of stability in this update as several players seem to have established their performance levels.

Humphries went back into “above average” territory with two outstanding games off the bench this week.

Butler’s production seems to be coming back to earth after preposterously torrid shooting for the first 20 games of the season. Hopefully, whatever’s lost from his return to norms will be offset by improvement from Beal.

After improving his PPA in three consecutive updates, Seraphin spent the past week Seraphining. Over his past three games, Seraphin played 40 minutes. During those minutes on the floor, he scored 20 points (yay points!) while getting three rebounds, one assist, no steals or blocks, but four turnovers and seven fouls.

He did shoot 10-20 over those three games, but he got to the free throw line just once (he missed). His 50% shooting isn’t bad — league average efg is .499. But, add in the turnovers, the lack of offensive rebounds and the inability to get to the free throw line, and his offensive rating (points produced per individual possession x 100) was just 81 — 25 points below league average, and nearly 27 points below the Wizards’ average over the past three games.

With the schedule getting tougher, it’s time for the Seraphin experiment to end.


Wizards Update: Best Start In Franchise History

These are strange and enjoyable days for Wizards fans. The team is 19-7, tied for the best start in franchise history, and metaphysically certain to make another trip to the playoffs. They’re in a tight race with the Atlanta Hawks for first in the Southeast Division. And John Wall is probably going to make his second All-Star game appearance in February.

The team is fairly deep in terms of solid players, though Wall and Pierce (the team’s top producers) still fall short of the game’s elite. The Wizards have benefited so far from playing the league’s easiest schedule. That’ll change somewhat when they make their trips to the West, but they’re in the Eastern Conference so their competition isn’t going to get much more challenging.

That said, the Wizards have no control over the schedule or the state of other teams. Their job is to beat whoever’s in the other color jersey, and they’re doing a good job of that so far this season.

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 10-Nov 18-Nov 24-Nov 3-Dec 8-Dec 17-Dec PPA
Marcin Gortat 26 29.5 181 186 170 175 179 178 178
John Wall 26 36.1 185 180 180 168 167 175 171
Paul Pierce 25 27.4 140 138 165 134 134 154 142
Rasual Butler 22 22.3 60 131 116 128 155 140 134
Nene Hilario 19 24.6 108 102 68 67 83 94 96
Bradley Beal 23 32.9 122 63 69 94 90
Garrett Temple 17 15.6 121 112 96 100 98 91 90
Andre Miller 26 12.2 72 69 92 103 102 101 89
Kris Humphries 25 21.5 46 87 90 82 109 100 88
Otto Porter 25 19.6 97 106 101 95 84 81 84
Drew Gooden 16 14.8 42 40 59 78 64 47 47
Kevin Seraphin 25 15.6 38 13 17 12 28 34 45
DeJuan Blair 8 4.6 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47 -46
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113 -111

Production rates are stabilizing for many on the team. This week, most of the ratings edged down slightly — that was the case for Wall, Pierce, Butler, Beal, Miller, Temple, and Humphries. Nenê and Porter edged up a bit.

The biggest improver was Kevin Seraphin, whose rating for the season rose to replacement level.

Wizards Update: Is Wall A Top 5 PG?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To this week’s PPA update…

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

PLAYER GMS MPG 10-Nov 18-Nov 24-Nov 3-Dec 8-Dec PPA
Marcin Gortat 19 30.2 181 186 170 175 179 178
John Wall 19 35.9 185 180 180 168 167 175
Paul Pierce 19 27.3 140 138 165 134 134 154
Rasual Butler 15 21.6 60 131 116 128 155 140
Andre Miller 19 12.4 72 69 92 103 102 101
Kris Humphries 18 22.0 46 87 90 82 109 100
Nene Hilario 13 33.2 108 102 68 67 83 94
Bradley Beal 10 24.6 122 63 69 94
Garrett Temple 17 17.0 121 112 96 100 98 91
Otto Porter 18 20.1 97 106 101 95 84 81
Drew Gooden 12 15.9 42 40 59 78 64 47
Kevin Seraphin 18 15.3 38 13 17 12 28 34
DeJuan Blair 6 4.6 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56 -47
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114 -113

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

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

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

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

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

Wizards Update: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


Over the past week, the Wizards rolled to convincing wins over the hapless Lakers and the not-awful Nuggets, and then lost a shoulda-won game against a middling Celtics squad. And, in the grand tradition of players having good games shortly after I rip them, Kevin Seraphin had probably his best game of the year against Denver.

Meanwhile, John Wall climbed into a tie with Rajon Rondo for having the biggest defensive impact for a point guard in my rating system. Wall shows up in my numbers as having the biggest defensive impact on the Wizards so far this season. Not bad for a guy who I still think has room for improvement on the defensive end.

Other positive defenders: Marcin Gortat, Nenê, Kris Humphries, and Garrett Temple.

The “about average” grouping includes: Otto Porter, Rasual Butler and Paul Pierce. Pierce, had gotten off to an excellent start defensively, but his individual performance seems to have slipped a bit over the past couple weeks.

Bradley Beal and Drew Gooden are in the “bad defensive impact” category so far. Kevin Seraphin and Andre Miller are defensive dumpster fires to this point in the year.

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

PLAYER GMS MPG 10-Nov 18-Nov 24-Nov 3-Dec PPA
Marcin Gortat 19 30.5 181 186 170 175 179
John Wall 19 35.3 185 180 180 168 167
Rasual Butler 15 20.3 60 131 116 128 155
Paul Pierce 19 26.6 140 138 165 134 134
Kris Humphries 18 19.7 46 87 90 82 109
Andre Miller 19 12.6 72 69 92 103 102
Garrett Temple 17 20.2 121 112 96 100 98
Otto Porter 18 21.9 97 106 101 95 84
Nene Hilario 13 25.5 108 102 68 67 83
Bradley Beal 10 30.4 122 63 69
Drew Gooden 12 17.3 42 40 59 78 64
Kevin Seraphin 18 15.2 38 13 17 12 28
DeJuan Blair 6 5.7 -41 -40 -40 -74 -56
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117 -117 -114

The first thing I wondered about when perusing the table above was the lack of change in Wall’s PPA. My feeling was that he had a terrific week. But, the game log shows that he shoot poorly (efg of just .395) and that he committed 14 turnovers.

Rasual Butler had another week of outlandishly good shooting. In non-shooting categories, Butler’s numbers are all within established career norms. So far in Washington, he’s shooting .579 from 2pt range (vs. a career average of .435), and .545 from 3pt range (vs. a career average of .364).

I know fans want to attribute this to The Wall Effect, but a) only about half Butler’s minutes have been with Wall; b) he’s shooting with outlandish accuracy (and more often) when Wall’s on the bench; and c) his shooting numbers in Indiana last season were also significantly better than his previous career norms.

Butler efg usg
with Wall .765 13.8%
w/o Wall .700 20.3%

It may simply be that Butler worked hard and improved his shooting late in his career. And, it may be that he’s ripe for a regression. Sample sizes are still small: just 304 minutes and 112 shot attempts so far this season.

I’d like to see the Wizards continue to start Humprhies and bring Nenê off the bench. The starting lineup doesn’t appear to have suffered with the change, which isn’t surprising considering how little Nenê was producing. I suspect Nenê’s production will improve going against bench bigs. And, bringing him off the bench, gives the coaching staff options at PF and C, which means they can drop Seraphin from the rotation.

Despite the loss to Boston, the week was a positive one for the Wizards. Good teams win games convincingly. They don’t necessarily have the best record in close games, because they often avoid close games in the first place. That Washington won three in a row (including the win against Miami) by double digits may be a marker of the team getting stronger.

Wizards Update: Rolling in the East

It’s good to be a Wizards fan right now. The team is 9-3, and reasonable forecasts suggest they’re probably the second best team in their conference. That the conference is historically weak isn’t their fault. The front office put together a solid, veteran squad, and the rest of the conference backed up.

So far this season, the NBA’s collective record vs. Eastern Conference teams is 111-85. That’s a .566 winning percentage, which works out to about 46 wins over an 82-game schedule.

Against the Western Conference, the NBA’s collective record is 86-112, which is a .434 winning percentage. That means about 36 wins over an 82-game schedule.

In other words, we would expect an average team facing the East to win about 46 games…which is what Basketball-Reference forecasts for the Wizards. To highlight the relative power differential between conferences, Basketball Reference predicts the Wizards will finish the season as the second best team in the East, but with an SRS (a robust and “simple” rating system that combines a team’s scoring differential with that of its opponents) that would land it 11th in the West.

But, this is a “moment in time” snapshot. The picture changes a bit with every game played. And there are still a ton of games on the schedule.

Before I get to this week’s stat update, I wanted to address a recurring sentiment I’ve been hearing from an array of Wizards fans. Basically, it’s some variation on the theme that Kevin Seraphin is having a good season or a breakout game or a coming out party or developing into a valuable reserve.

He’s not. At least not so far.

In fact, he’s playing poorly, even compared to his previous performances, which ranked him as the league’s least productive center (per minute) two seasons ago, and the second least productive center last season.

On offense, he’s shooting a good percentage this season, but continues to be a poor passer and a turnover machine. He rates as having very little defensive impact,because of his anemic defensive rebounding and rampant fouling.

The measuring stick on Seraphin is so off that one fan (who later suggested it was the beer talking) tweeted a rave about Seraphin being a revelation on a night the big fella shot 2-7 from the floor.

Here’s Seraphin’s game-by-game PPA scores for this season:

1 7.7 -202
2 1.9 -1003
3 22.1 184
4 13.9 -84
5 18.1 64
6 19.5 139
7 16.7 -70
8 16.1 -36
9 10.6 -36
10 23.4 83
11 13.1 -29

In PPA, 100 = average and higher is better. In 11 games, Seraphin has managed an above-average production rate twice. He’s been a net negative seven times — six, if you prefer to throw out the two-minute stint in the second game of the season.

I like Seraphin, the person. But, he’s not a good NBA player. He hasn’t become one. He’s showing very few signs of developing into one. The Wizards need to find another option as their backup center.

Below is the Player Production Average (PPA) update. PPA is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is per-minute, 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.

John Wall 12 35.7 185 180 180
Marcin Gortat 12 30.9 181 186 170
Paul Pierce 12 27.5 140 138 165
Bradley Beal 3 30.7 122
Rasual Butler 8 16.4 60 131 116
Otto Porter 11 24.4 97 106 101
Garrett Temple 12 26.8 121 112 96
Andre Miller 12 12.6 72 69 92
Kris Humphries 11 15.6 46 87 90
Nene Hilario 11 27.1 108 102 68
Drew Gooden 7 18.0 42 40 59
Kevin Seraphin 11 14.8 38 13 17
DeJuan Blair 3 3.7 -41 -40 -40
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -117 -117

This week, I’ve added a column to show each of the previous PPA updates. I’ll keep doing that as long as there’s space.

Wall seems to be settling in at a very high performance level. It’s scary to think there’s still lots of room for improvement too. Seth Partnow at BBall Breakdown did a nice job of summarizing the problem with Wall’s shot selection. Improved decision-making would likely improve the PG’s individual efficiency, and give his team a much-needed boost.

I don’t see how the Wizards could have hoped for more from Pierce, who is performing at a high level in the early going this season.

Nenê suffered a plantar fascia injury to his right foot in the win over Milwaukee. While it’s not good to lose a starter, Nenê has been playing nothing like a starter. His defense shows up as a slight net positive, but doesn’t come close to offsetting his awful offensive efficiency.

Wizards Update: Still Cause for Concern

wittman & gortat

The Wizards are 7-2 to start the season, which ought to be cause for celebration. And, judging by media reports and fan reaction, that’s mostly what’s happening. So what’s wrong with me?

I’m unconvinced that the good record is particularly meaningful. This is not to suggest the Wizards need to apologize for the competition they’ve faced. They don’t make the schedule, and it’s not their fault that the East is possibly weaker than it was last season — when it was aggressively bad. All Washington can do is keep beating whoever’s on the calendar, which is what they’ve been doing so far.

But…I’m still concerned because of the way they’ve been winning. In sports, the best teams typically have the highest scoring differentials. The Wizards this season stand 11th in scoring differential at +2.22, which doesn’t sound bad except that their opponents have a collective scoring differential of -2.52. In other words, the Wizards are winning by less than the rest of the league against their opponents. At least so far.

There’s a strong sentiment that’s something like: Hey, the Wizards are winning games they should win, which is real progress for this franchise. To an extent, I agree. But, what often happens to an average team (and the numbers are suggesting the Wizards are pretty average) is that over time, they’ll lose games they “shouldn’t.” And there are a TON of games left on the schedule.

Some have pointed out that Washington has played so far without Bradley Beal, which is true but perhaps not as meaningful as some think. Beal was pretty average last season, and didn’t project to make a huge leap this year (at least not in my preseason analysis). Much of what I anticipated he’d provide has been produced by Garrett Temple and Rasual Butler thus far.

Perhaps the best reason to think Washington might be able to win 48-50 games this season is the good fortune of playing in a historically weak conference. Just six Eastern Conference teams have a positive scoring differential so far, and the sixth (Brooklyn) is us by one point total so far this season. All that said, in Basketball-Reference’s simple rating system (which combines scoring margin with strength of schedule), the Wizards currently sit 16th overall and 6th in the East. If they want to make some noise this season, they need to play better.

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

Marcin Gortat 9 31.3 181 186
John Wall 9 35.6 185 180
Paul Pierce 9 27.4 140 138
Rasual Butler 5 19.2 60 131
Garrett Temple 9 31.1 121 112
Otto Porter 9 24.2 97 106
Nene Hilario 8 28.6 108 102
Kris Humphries 8 13.9 46 87
Andre Miller 9 12.9 72 69
Drew Gooden 6 19.5 42 40
Kevin Seraphin 8 14.5 38 13
DeJuan Blair 3 3.7 -41 -40
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120 -118

The numbers show Gortat and Wall playing outstanding basketball. Both are performing at an All-Star level. Wall could push his way into All-NBA consideration, if he continues. Gortat’s PPA is currently sixth among centers behind Tyson Chandler, Omer Asik, DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins and Robin Lopez.

Biggest improvers this week were Butler and Humprhies. Largest drop was from Seraphin, whose field goal percentage dropped while his rebounding, turnovers and fouling remained poor.

Wizards Update: The Worries

wall the leap

The Washington Wizards are off to a 5-2 start, tied with Miami for first place in the NBA’s Southeast Division, and sitting on pretty good odds of getting to 7-2 before they face Dallas at Verizon Center. And yet…in classic Wizards’ follower fashion, I’m actually a little worried.

Yep, it’s good they’re winning. But, they should be winning given the quality of the opponents they’ve faced so far. No, this isn’t one of those “they would be X record if they’d faced teams A, B and C” critiques. I don’t believe a team (or its fans) should ever have to apologize for the schedule, which is something they don’t control.

What has me a little worried is how pedestrian the Wizards have looked so far this season. They’ve outscored their opponents by 1.57 points per game so far this season; the league has outscored their opponents by 1.99 points per game.

I’d be more willing to buy the injury excuse if they weren’t getting career-best play from Garrett Temple standing in for Bradley Beal and Martell Webster.

But, this is this “little worry” because we’re still in the annual performance of Small Sample Size Theater. A study by Kevin Pelton, then-writing for Basketball Prospectus, showed that team-level stats tend to stabilize around the 25th of the season. Other research has shown that per minute stats for individual players begin to have validity as quick as 150 minutes. More is better, though.

Still, the early indications are that, despite the good record early on, the Wizards are an average team again this season. They’ve been good defensively, but a bit below average on offense. The hope is that getting Beal and Webster will help bolster the team offensively when they can return from injury.

Here’s the first Player Production Average (PPA) update of 2014-15. 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.

John Wall 7 35.7 185
Marcin Gortat 7 32.7 181
Paul Pierce 7 28.0 140
Garrett Temple 7 33.7 121
Nene Hilario 6 29.2 108
Otto Porter 7 24.7 97
Andre Miller 7 12.9 72
Rasual Butler 3 14.3 60
Kris Humphries 6 9.8 46
Drew Gooden 6 19.5 42
Kevin Seraphin 6 13.8 38
DeJuan Blair 3 3.7 -41
Glen Rice 5 8.6 -120

Wall and Gortat should jump out immediately (they are at the top of the chart). Both guys have produced at an All-NBA level in the first seven games. This could be The Leap from Wall that fans have been waiting for. If he keeps it up. Gortat has actually performed at a 180ish PPA for a full season (2011-12).

Pierce has been everything Washington could have hoped he’d be. Over the summer, I went hunting through the stats to find players who’d be most likely to replace what Trevor Ariza had provided. The top name on the list: Paul Pierce. His offense could be more efficient, but he’s producing at about the level Ariza did last season — and his defense has been outstanding.

Nenê appears to have picked up more or less where he did last season, and that’s not such a great thing for the Wizards. He’s still a good defender, but his offensive efficiency seems to be departed.

It’s good to see Porter hovering around average. He’s been an asset off the bench, and seems to be figuring out the NBA game. Porter hasn’t been helped much by his oldster bench mates Miller and Gooden, who have been awful defensively since arriving in Washington.

And check out Porter look-alike Garrett Temple, who has so far played at the level of an almost-average NBA starter. Major kudos to Temple for all the work he’s done on his jumper. It shows in his form — especially in the way he sets his feet for takeoff, freezes the follow-through, and plants the landing.

I know folks are going to wonder about Kevin Seraphin, who rates below replacement level yet again. Seraphin is shooting 63% from the floor, and has had a couple nice games. His offensive efficiency is above average. And yet…he continues to be plagued by the same problems he’s had since his rookie year. Specifically, his rebounding is sub-par, he’s turnover prone, and he fouls too much.

Also worth noting are Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair, who were acquired in the offseason to provide frontcourt depth. So far, they’ve been behind Seraphin on the depth chart, which is astonishing. Humphries at least has some excuse — he missed three weeks of preseason with a hand injury. Blair has apparently been healthy, but can’t get on the floor despite dreadful play from Seraphin.

At some point, I gotta believe they’ll end the Seraphin experiment and give playing time to Humphries and/or Blair. Based on what they’ve done on the court so far this season, it’s fair to say that neither has made a case for playing ahead of Seraphin. At least not yet.

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

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

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:

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.

Wizards Doppelgangers: The Ancients

nene fights

In the classic mode of a franchise finished with rebuilding, and ready to repeat their overwhelming success of the previous season, the Washington Wizards went out this offseason and got older. Yes, I’m sure they’d much prefer if we all thought of it as adding “veterans,” and that’s a fine way of looking at it, if you like.

Understand, I’m not against “veterans,” I’m just aware of the reality that athletes over 30 years old typically do two things: get hurt and get worse. Hopefully, Father Time will give the Wizards a reprieve until the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant is a free agent.

It could happen.

Last week, I ran the Wizards young backcourt (John Wall and Bradley Beal) through my statistical doppelganger machine. Today, let’s look at the oldsters Washington has added in recent years: Nenê, Marcin Gortat, Paul Pierce, Andre Miller, Drew Gooden and Rasual Butler. (Please take a look back at that link above for notes about the method.)

Nenê PF 2013-14 31 WAS 100 102 176
Danny Manning PF 1996-97 30 PHO 90 107 157
Clifford Robinson PF 1997-98 31 PHO 90 131 143
Ruben Patterson SF 2006-07 31 MIL 89 126 165
Mickey Johnson PF 1983-84 31 GSW 88 83 145
Elton Brand PF 2009-10 30 PHI 87 100 224
Christian Laettner PF 1997-98 28 ATL 87 127 146
Jermaine O’Neal C 2008-09 30 TOR/MIA 87 93 166
Matt Harpring SF 2005-06 29 UTA 87 105 161
Frank Brickowski C 1992-93 33 MIL 87 117 123
Antoine Carr PF 1992-93 31 SAS 87 106 109

The good news is that these doppelgangers were pretty good players. Nenê had the second highest peak PPA behind Elton Brand’s 224. He also peaked about a year later than the average for this group. Frank Brickowski and Clifford Robinson each peaked past 30.

But, Nenê’s production has slipped the past couple years, as has his availability, and there isn’t much reason to think he’ll regain something close to that peak performance. His comps offer an ideal optimist vs. pessimist test: five of his ten most similar players performed better the following season, give performed worse.

Marcin Gortat C 2013-14 29 WAS 100 154 186
Bill Laimbeer C 1986-87 29 DET 93 154 175
Mike Gminski C 1989-90 30 PHI 90 129 170
Bill Laimbeer C 1988-89 31 DET 90 144 175
Dave Robisch C 1979-80 30 CLE 90 132 132
P.J. Brown PF 1998-99 29 MIA 89 127 150
Bill Laimbeer C 1985-86 28 DET 89 156 175
Billy Paultz C 1977-78 29 SAS 89 164 164
Tom Gugliotta PF 1999-00 30 PHO 89 147 176
Maurice Lucas PF 1981-82 29 NYK 89 149 149
Luis Scola PF 2008-09 28 HOU 88 143 143

Obviously, Gortat isn’t really an “ancient.” He’s just 30 years old, he’s played relatively few minutes for a player his age, and he’s a fitness fanatic. But, eight of the ten most similar seasons to the one Gortat posted last year were followed by a less productive season.

If I throw out the two least similar seasons from Laimbeer, each of the 10 seasons most similar to Gortat last season were followed by a season that was less productive. Bright side here: it’s not like these comps became catastrophic failures. In general, they remained productive…just not quite as good.

Paul Pierce SF 2013-14 36 BRK 100 131 173
Toni Kukoc PF 2002-03 34 MIL 85 113 164
Vince Carter SF 2012-13 36 DAL 84 107 200
Chris Mullin* SF 1997-98 34 IND 84 156 182
Sam Perkins PF 1996-97 35 SEA 84 119 147
Bob Lanier* C 1983-84 35 MIL 83 152 138
Chris Mullin* SF 1998-99 35 IND 83 168 182
Sam Perkins PF 1994-95 33 SEA 83 132 147
Sam Perkins PF 1995-96 34 SEA 82 114 147
Chucky Atkins PG 2006-07 32 MEM 82 111 111
Terry Porter PG 1998-99 35 MIA 82 114 211

Gotta say that Pierce’s set of doppelgangers may be the weirdest assemblage of players I’ve gotten from The Machine. I think the challenge here is that not very many players even last to age 36 (plus), so the pool is shallow. Note that Pierce’s most similar player has a Sim Score lower than the 10th most similar for Wall, Beal, Nenê and Gortat. In other words, the list above are kinda similar, but not super close.

Overall, this is a terrific group of players that tended to peak young (around age 25-26 — Pierce peaked at 24), but had long-lasting careers. As would be expected for a group of mid-30s athletes, most declined the following season. However, most remained decent players for another year or two.

Andre Miller SG 2013-14 37 TOT 100 89 172
Rod Strickland PG 2003-04 37 ORL/TOR 90 81 176
Terry Porter SF 2001-02 38 SAS 88 87 211
Mark Jackson PG 2002-03 37 UTA 86 66 181
Don Buse PG 1983-84 33 KCK 86 96 148
Toni Kukoc SF 2004-05 36 MIL 85 84 164
Muggsy Bogues PG 1998-99 34 GSW 85 111 153
Maurice Cheeks PG 1992-93 36 NJN 85 89 180
Rod Strickland PG 2002-03 36 MIN 85 95 176
Gary Grant PG 1997-98 32 POR 84 108 115
Rickey Green PG 1991-92 37 BOS 84 57 157

Miller’s comps are an interesting assemblage of good-to-great players. I was surprised to see Muggsy Bogues make the list, primarily because I’d forgotten the 5-3 Bogues played so many seasons. Just about everyone on this list had a good career, but…as should be expected for a group this old — all 10 either declined or were out of the league completely the following season.

Drew Gooden C 2013-14 32 WAS 100 106 169
Nazr Mohammed C 2010-11 33 CHA/OKC 86 98 150
Chris Wilcox PF 2010-11 28 DET 86 121 165
Antonio McDyess PF 2006-07 32 DET 86 115 175
Joe Smith PF 2005-06 30 MIL 85 89 143
Nazr Mohammed C 2009-10 32 CHA 85 150 150
Antonio McDyess PF 2005-06 31 DET 85 91 175
Jermaine O’Neal C 2012-13 34 PHO 83 83 166
Chris Kaman C 2012-13 30 DAL 83 101 130
Frank Brickowski PF 1991-92 32 MIL 83 107 123
Chris Gatling PF 1995-96 28 GSW 83 82 131

For Gooden, I wonder whether these comps are particularly meaningful given that he was signed late in the season and played in fairly few games. This group basically split between those who declined the following season and those who got better. The net effect is that the group average was “about the same.” So, it could be a case of lather-rinse-repeat with Gooden this season — albeit with more total minutes.

Rasual Butler SG 2013-14 34 IND 100 63 89
Steve Kerr PG 1999-00 34 SAS 92 59 124
Jalen Rose SF 2006-07 34 PHO 89 72 117
Matt Bullard PF 1998-99 31 HOU 87 49 98
Jaren Jackson SG 2000-01 33 SAS 87 44 90
Anthony Bowie SG 1997-98 34 NYK 86 72 97
Eric Piatkowski SG 2004-05 34 CHI 86 79 121
Rashard Lewis PF 2012-13 33 MIA 85 60 165
Steve Kerr PG 2001-02 36 POR 85 64 124
Eric Piatkowski SF 2007-08 37 PHO 84 34 121
Eric Piatkowski SG 2005-06 35 CHI 84 16 121

Last up for today: the 15th man, Rasual Butler. You’ll notice this list is heavy on Eric Piatkowski, which isn’t exactly a great thing. Piatkowski hung around into his late 30s for some reason I don’t remember. Perhaps he had a contract that was being passed around. Perhaps he’s a really nice guy. There wasn’t much reason to keep him because of his on-court performance.

Otherwise, it’s mostly swingmen who peaked at the level of an average starter (Rashard Lewis excepted) and then declined. In limited minutes, Butler will probably play a little above replacement level this season. I’d have preferred this roster spot went to someone younger and with potential to improve.

Tomorrow: the rest of the roster.