Wizards Must Try Not To Let Success Go To Their Heads

Seen on Twitter the past few days is the heady news that the Washington Wizards went .500 in November — tied for the franchise’s third best winning percentage for month in the past 30 years. Forgive me if I don’t join the parade. For a team like the San Antonio Spurs — a good team that competes for championships — the same record would be their ninth worst in the same time span.

A .500 record for a month is not cause for celebration. The Wizards have a good starting group, but an awful bench. The net result: precisely average. The team is improved, but that’s not the same thing as being good. In a weak East where several teams are tanking, even a meh team can make the playoffs.

All that said, let me reiterate — the Wizards are improved. John Wall is the best PG in the East, and currently ranks 7th overall at his position. The team is getting well-above average play from Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Nene. The team’s depth makes any success feel tenuous, but they have a core of good players for this season.

One common thread of Wizards discussion I’d like to address before posting the weekly PPA update is this notion that PG Eric Maynor was at some point “good” and that he’s abruptly and inexplicably gotten worse in Washington.

The facts are that Maynor has been a sub-par player throughout his career. That people believed otherwise is testament to attributing to Maynor that which should have been attributed to his teammates. In other words, folks believed Maynor was causing (or contributing) teammates to be better when, in fact, those other players were producing on their own.

The reason I’m addressing this topic is that asserting that Maynor was at some point “good” or “serviceable” is to let the Wizards’ front office off the hook. In reality, signing Maynor was a terrible waste of resources, and evidence that Ernie Grunfeld and his team still haven’t figured out how to evaluate players. They thought they were getting a steal. Instead, they were getting a lemon. And what’s head-bangingly frustrating is that fairly rudimentary look at the numbers would have told them so.

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

PLAYER GAMES MPG LW PPA
John Wall 17 37.6 158 169
Martell Webster 17 33.6 144 156
Marcin Gortat 17 34.4 139 152
Trevor Ariza 12 35.6 123 146
Nene 14 33.3 127 133
Trevor Booker 9 14.0 102 96
Bradley Beal 13 40.2 82 81
Jan Vesely 11 17.9 81 75
Chris Singleton 3 8.7 51
Eric Maynor 16 10.5 50 35
Al Harrington 7 18.6 7 6
Glen Rice Jr. 6 6.3 -5 -10
Garrett Temple 15 11.5 -18 -14
Kevin Seraphin 13 8.5 -39 -27

What jumps out? On the plus side, the team has a good group of starters. Wall appears to be doing what I predicted at the start of the season — making The Leap to becoming a top-shelf PG. Webster, Gortat, Ariza and Nene round out a quality lineup.

On the down side, there’s the rest of the team. Booker has dipped below average for the first time this season on scant playing time. So far this season, the team falls apart on defense when Booker is on the floor.

Vesely appears to be the beneficiary of lowered expectations from fans. He was so inept last season that anything positive gets exaggerated. He is better than last season in that his play hasn’t been a total train wreck. But, he remains well below average.

Some fans (and perhaps the Wizards as well) hoped that Singleton would provide some kind of significant contribution when he returned from a foot injury. Thus far…not so much. Very small sample size, however.

Maynor’s production has slipped below replacement level. Seriously, the Wizards would do better (or at least do no worse) giving his minutes to someone from the D-League. What’s scary: as bad as he’s been, Harrington, Rice, Temple and Seraphin have been worse.

The Wizards will need to either a) get some level of production from The Bench That Grunfeld Built, or b) bolster the bench with a trade or from the D-League. Without radical improvement from its reserves, this team seems perfectly constructed for a first-round playoff ouster — regardless of the opponent.

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Wizards Off To Even Worse Start Than Last Season

wittman face

If you thought last season’s horrific start by the Washington Wizards couldn’t be duplicated, think again. Through their first three games of the years, the Wizards have been even worse than they were last year.

Season Ortg Drtg Diff PytW82
2013-14 102.7 112.4 -9.7 18.1
2012-13 92.3 99.0 -6.7 22.5
Change -10.4 13.4 -3.0 -4.4

Ortg = points scored per 100 possessions

Drtg = points allowed per 100 possessions

Diff = ortg – drtg (scoring/efficiency differential is a better measure of team strength than a team’s record)

PytW82 = “Diff” translated into projected wins if that differential was maintained over an 82-game schedule

As you can see from the table above, the Wizards have been 10.4 points per 100 possessions better offensively this season than last, BUT they’ve been 13.0 points per 100 possessions worse on defense. The net result: through three games, they’re -3.0 in efficiency differential — a change of 4.4 wins over the course of a full season.

Last season, the team was missing PG John Wall. This year, they’re missing both Nene and Emeka Okafor — two of the team’s more important defenders last season. Marcin Gortat, an adequate defender at best, has been slow to grasp the team’s defensive scheme.

Unfortunately, there probably aren’t any quick fixes to the defense. The team emphasized that end of the court during training camp, but it’s challenging to overcome the loss of quality defensive big men — they’re the linchpin of every good defense in the NBA.

Which, of course, leads to the obvious question: Why did the Wizards go through an offseason without addressing the critical need for depth behind its 30+ year old front line?

Which, of course, leads to another obvious question: Why does Ted Leonsis continue to let Ernie Grunfeld run his basketball team?

Responding to Ted Leonsis “Wizards Add Talented Big Man” Post

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis weighed in at his blog with his thoughts on the team’s acquisition of center Marcin Gortat. As usual, I’m not sure whether Leonsis actually believes what he’s saying, or if he’s merely careless with words, or if he’s applying PR spin, or if he’s being cynical. Either way, I thought some of what he wrote was worth a response:

Leonsis opened his blog posting with this:

The Wizards made a trade to add a talented big man to our roster Friday night — and Marcin Gortat will contribute right away to our team. It was important to our franchise to enter this season at full strength and to have depth and show upside and improvement.

Lots here. Yep, Gortat is talented, and he will contribute immediately. Part of that is because the other guys on the roster at power forward and center are so awful. More on that in a moment.

That second sentence is one of those that make me wonder if he’s being careless with words or whether he’s really that cynical about fans of his team. In sports-speak, “upside” means potential and “depth” means having more than one good player at a position.

Maybe I’m just THAT stupid, but I can’t figure out how trading for a 29-year old center on a one-year contract can count as “upside.” If Gortat does his job, the team will likely get to the playoffs, which won’t mean much unless they re-sign him, which they really don’t want to do because of Leonsis’ previous chest-thumping about signing a “brand name” free agent.

His “depth” comment is a face palm moment. Why wasn’t frontcourt depth important to “show” during the summer? With a solid small forward on the roster for another year (Trevor Ariza) and two more swingmen joining the team through the draft (Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.), why spend the mid-level exception on yet another SF (Martell Webster)? With an acceptable backup point guard easily re-signed for the league minimum (A.J. Price), why rush out the first day of free agency and burn the bi-annual exception on a scrub (Eric Maynor)?

As for that “improvement” thing — it’s kinda hard to know what he means. Does he mean the team’s record? If so, then I’d sort of agree. The team should win more games this season. It could be an illusory improvement, however because Gortat and Ariza are on expiring contracts and could depart whether the Wizards want to re-sign them or not. Plus, as mentioned above, Leonsis is hoping to attract a free agent — something that can’t happen if the team re-signs Gortat and/or Ariza.

Moving on:

We traded a protected first round pick to get the deal done. We have many young players on our team today and we believed that  using our conditional pick to get the deal done was the prudent  move for our franchise at this time in its development. Of our 15 players under contract 8 players have been drafted by us in the first or second round in the last 4 off seasons. We are a very young team still.

We have noted that we would use the draft, first and foremost, to rebuild our team. 8 players and make trades to bring on vets such as Trevor Ariza, Nene, and now Gortat — or free agency such as Martell Webster, Eric Maynor and Al Harrington. We dipped into the D league for Garrett Temple.

This kind of claptrap has me leaning more toward the conclusion that Leonsis is being cynical. Leonsis is suggesting that the team is actually building through the draft and that they’re just bringing in a few veterans here and there to kinda supplement these wonderful young players, who dangit arejust too young to carry the burden themselves.

But let’s go through who these eight draftees he’s talking about:

  1. John Wall — Consensus number one overall pick. Woefully inefficient on offense throughout his career (terrible shooting and lots of turnovers). Had a month last season where he played like a potential league MVP candidate. While he received a maximum salary contract extension, Wall has been more potential than production through his first three seasons.
  2. Bradley Beal — Third overall pick last season. Struggled at first, but played at a borderline All-Star level for a stretch until he had to sit due to a leg injury. His rookie season statistically looked a lot like Ray Allen’s.
  3. Otto Porter — This year’s third overall pick has been injured. In my pre-draft analysis machine “YODA,” Porter rated as a top five pick in most drafts. When he was selected, Cody Zeller and Nerlens Noel rated as better prospects. Porter should be a good pro, however.
  4. Glen Rice Jr. — The team trade two second round picks for the second round pick they used on Rice. His amateur/minor league career has been…interesting. He rated poorly as a draft prospect in college, but played well in the D-League last season. If he’d done in the NCAA what he did in the D-League, he’d have rated as a mid-first round pick. Assuming his off-court baggage is abandoned, he could make for a solid reserve SG/SF.
  5. Trevor Booker — The team made a draft-day trade to acquire him three years ago. The big issue with Booker: health. He’s been solidly productive when he’s played, but he’s missed substantial time due to a series of injuries.
  6. Kevin Seraphin — Obtained in a 2010 draft-day trade, Seraphin’s awful play was a big reason why the team had to trade a future first round pick to get a good player at center when Okafor got hurt. Last season, he was the league’s least productive center (minimum 500 minutes).
  7. Jan Vesely — Chosen sixth overall, Vesely has been an abject disaster. While Vesely has been awful, others chosen later (like Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic and Kenneth Faried) have thrived. In my analyis, Vesely last season rated as the league’s least productive power foward (minimum 500 minutes).
  8. Chris Singleton — Chosen 18th in the same draft that brought the Wizards Vesely, the team’s braintrust picked Singleton over Faried, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler and Chandler Parsons. This was not a good decision. Singleton has been almost as bad as Vesely. Last season, he rated as the league’s second least productive power forward (ahead of only Vesely).

So, to recap, these young building blocks include a potentially good PG, a potentially good SG, a potentially good SF, a probable rotation swingman, a decent rotation PF, and three of the worst basketball players in the league. And oh yeah, Booker and Seraphin are on expiring contracts, and the team just declined to pick up the fourth year options on Vesely and Singleton. In other words, half of these eight draft picks that make this team so young, will be gone after the season. In effect, the team already released Vesely and Singleton. And, any money they spend re-signing Booker or Seraphin would cut into their salary cap space, which would hinder their pursuit of a “brand name” free agent.

Here are some additional clips regarding the trade.Check them out here,here,here, and here.

Shocking that he didn’t include my analysis.