The 2015-2016 Wizards campaign is just two weeks old. The Wizards currently stand at 3-3 and have turned most games into a track meet doing their best impersonation of the mid 2000’s Phoenix Suns teams who scored 115 points on a nightly basis. It’s way to early to draw conclusions, but there are some trends to keep an eye out for as the season rolls along.
1. The new pace and space offense makes this team really fun to watch
John Wall is the fastest player in the NBA. He thrived in transition last season so upping the tempo and encouraging the team to push the ball is a win-win for everyone on the team right? As stated, it’s very early but John Wall is already averaging 1.6 more points per game than last season and he’s getting to the line an average of 6.3 times per game; up from 4.6 free throw attempts last season.
Bradley Beal might be the biggest beneficiary of this offensive switch as the fourth-year guard’s scoring average is up to 22.7 points per game; making him the ninth-highest scorer in the league. Beal has the freedom to take open threes early in the shot clock or drive to the hole with the defense back peddling in transition.
With the new offense, the Wizards are averaging 104.9 possessions per game up from 95.9 possessions per game last season (Stats courtesy of NBA.com). That nets out to an extra nine possessions per game for this team. Even if the Wizards shoot just 30 percent during those extra nine possessions, we’re talking about this team scoring an extra 6-9 points per game.
This offense is still clearly a work in progress but with the up-tempo speed, the Wizards are never out of a game. Even in the Boston game where the Wizards were getting rolled, the Wizards showed that they could strike quickly utilizing a 14-0 run in just a 1:40 span to trim the lead before things got out of hand again.
It’s still a bit uncomfortable watching Kris Humphries line up for a three but so far, the entertainment value for this team is certainly there.
2. The Wizards are waiting for a consistent third scorer to emerge
With John Wall and Bradley Beal averaging 43.9 points per game, the Wizards are looking for a third scorer who can be counted on night in and night out. The top two candidates for this role are Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat. Marcin Gortat has been more consistent of the two scoring either nine or 10 points in all of the Wizards’ games played this year, but his shooting is down from 56.6 percent last season to 47.7 percent this season.
Everyone assumed Gortat would thrive in this new offense as the floor spacing would give the Polish Hammer more one-on-one matchups in the post as well as clearer lanes in the pick-and-roll game. That hasn’t been the case so far as it seems pretty clear that teams don’t respect the three-point shooting of Kris Humphries and Otto Porter quite yet. 9-10 points per game from the big man isn’t bad, I just don’t see his scoring numbers soaring until teams have to respect the outside shooting of Wizards’ players not named Beal and Wall.
That means Otto Porter: you’re the guy who we need more points from. Otto exploded for a career-high 23 points on 8-12 shooting in Atlanta including 3-5 from three-point range. But he has also had nights where he disappears in the offense (especially against Orlando and Milwaukee) where he scored just seven and six points respectively on a combined 5-15 shooting from the field.
Otto is a very good at slashing and he’s a very underrated finisher at the rim. If Otto can become more consistent and put up 13-15 points on a nightly basis and not endure extreme scoring swings, this would benefit this team greatly in the long haul.
3. The Wizards are not committed to playing defense
As fun as this new Wizards’ offense is to watch, it’s equally as frustrating to watch their defense. It’s no surprise that the Wizards rank in the bottom third of the league allowing their opponents to shoot 45.4 percent from the field and giving up an unacceptable, 108 points per game.
The downside of playing with pace is that you give the opponent more possessions as well. The Wizards are currently giving up 102.3 points per their opponents 100 possessions and this number balloons to 108.1 points in losses. The Wizards’ opponents averaged 100 points per 100 possessions last year. So not only are the Wizards giving their opponents more offensive possessions; their opponents are scoring at a more effective rate this year too.
The Wizards are giving up 11 offensive rebounds per game. Remember how the Wizards up-tempo offense has generated nine more possessions per game? Well giving up 11 offensive rebounds basically washes that out. Part of this is due to the small ball lineup so the Wizards are usually undersized on the glass but if we’re honest here; the Wizards just haven’t been giving the same effort on defense that they have on offense.
It’s clear that the Wizards’ have been more worried about pushing the ball so far this season, and it’s hurting them on the other end. You’ve still got to dig deep and get stops on the defensive end, especially late in the game. Counting on scoring 115 every night is not a winning recipe.
4. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers:
Bobby Knight once said, “The team who makes the fewest mental mistakes will win the game.” So far, the Wizards are turning the ball over 18.9 times per 100 possessions (Stats courtesy of NBA.com). To no one’s surprise, that’s worst in the league. The Wizards have an assist/turnover ratio of 1.15/1; that ranks them 27th in the league. To say the Wizards have a turnover problem would be an understatement.
Many of the Wizards turnovers are due to the up-tempo pace but just as many if not more are due to lack of focus and not valuing the basketball. In their last two games, the Wizards have turned the ball over a combined 50 times. Those 50 turnovers led to 57 points for the Celtics and Hawks.
You are not going to win very many games where you turn the ball over on nearly 20 percent of your possessions, often leading to easy buckets for the opposition. Just like their defensive woes, this is mostly due to a lack of focus. Lazy outlet passes, throwing the ball to a place where a player is supposed to be but isn’t, forcing drives, etc. The Wizards must cut back on their turnovers and do so immediately if they want to stay competitive in these games.
As stated, it’s way too early to draw conclusions about this team through just six games. We’ve seen some promising signs and an equal number of troubling signs. Fortunately, the Wizards still have 76 games to clean things up.