While NBA's recent infatuation with analytics hasn't always proved worthwhile for some teams, certain stats are definitely productive.
Reviewing stats from the 2020-21 season is our best bet to forecast what the next 82 games will look like, but Washington has a new look from last opening day on Dec. 23, 2020. After all, the Wizards did trade the NBA's all-time triple-doubles leader Russell Westbrook to the Lakers in exchange for three new players in a five-team trade that also landed them Spencer Dinwiddie from Brooklyn. That's not to mention the team's 15th overall pick, Corey Kispert.
The Lakers trade did give first-time head coach Wes Unseld Jr.'s squad some much needed additional depth, but how far can star shooting guard Bradley Beal carry his new surrounding cast? Only time will tell, but there are certain statistics that can help forecast this roster's success.
These five numbers from last season could help tell the story for the new Wizards season.
With Westbrook at the point and Scott Brooks at the helm, the Wizards' run-and-gun style yielded the fastest pace of play in the NBA last season. Leading the league with 106.5 possessions per game, Westbrook's knack to corral rebounds and spark transition keyed Washington's fastest paced season since Gilbert Arenas was leading the charge in 2006-07 (111.4).
Now with Dinwiddie, a combo guard having just recovered from a partially torn ACL who is more prone to attack in half-court settings, expect that pace to come down. Whether or not a slower pace, and thus more deliberate, Wizards offense can execute better than last season – in which they ranked 20th in effective field goal percentage (53.1%) – remains to be seen.
That's the number of days since Dinwiddie's last competitive action on Dec. 27, 2020 when he partially tore his ACL in his right knee in Brooklyn's third game of the season. Without Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving in town, Dinwiddie shouldered much of the offensive responsibilities himself on a Nets team that performed above people's expectations during the 2019-20 season.
Will Dinwiddie go right back to scoring north of 20 points per game and close to seven helpers per contest? Or will he struggle l to exert the same explosiveness when attacking the hoop? His preseason splits of 13.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3 rpg, and 1.8 3-pointers in 23.5 minutes per game says somewhere in between. Dinwiddie's success pairing with Beal will be paramount to Wizards wins this season.
Though Beal took a slight dip in his player efficiency rating from the 2019-20 season (22.81 vs. 23.22), he did increase his scoring average (30.5 vs. 31.3) en route to narrowly missing out on the scoring title in a hotly contested race with Steph Curry. His 2020-21 mark ranked 21st among qualified players.
The more impressive part about Beal's incredibly efficiency, though, is his incredibly high usage rate. Of the top-20 players with higher efficiency ratings, only Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (43.4), Hawks point guard Trae Young (40.4) and Sixers center Joel Embiid (39.4), sported higher usage rates than Beal's 39.3.
The Wizards gave up a league-worst 118.5 points per game during the 2020-21 season. It was the third season in a row Washington ranked in the bottom two in opposition's ppg. But with a new head coach at the helm, getting everyone to buy-in on that end of the floor will be a priority.
"If you think about being 30th and you want to get that down to 15th, cut that down by 6.5 points," Unseld Jr. told Chris Miller in the Wizards Off The Bench podcast. "Now all the sudden you're in the top-15. If you want to be greedy, cut it down another point so 7.5 points per game gets you in the top-10 from last year's numbers. That's one stop a quarter. So sometimes you feel like man we gotta climb this mountain, but you shorten that scope and say we can become a top-10 defensive team. Sometimes things feel insurmountable when you look at the raw numbers or rankings, and you don't want to put too much credence into last year because I wasn't here...It's a clean slate for everybody."
FiveThirtyEight's projection models aren't always correct, but they're usually a good measuring stick of how things should pan out. For the second straight season, their projection models have the Wizards finishing 11th on the outside looking in at the play-in spots and a 34% chance at making the playoffs.
But as NBC Sports Washington's Michael DePrisco points out, FiveThirtyEight gave the Wizards even less of a shot at the postseason last season (11%) even with Westbrook on the roster. Big offseason moves from Chicago (DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball), who finished where Washington was projected, plus two more non-playoff teams in the Raptors and Pacers are projected to finish above Unseld Jr.'s squad.