WASHINGTON -- The Wizards head into the offseason with 3-point shooting as undoubtedly one of their biggest needs, but to what degree may be an interesting question for their front office to consider given the team showed progress over a decent sample size to close the season. That progress was also achieved by players who are likely to be back next year, including young players who could continue to improve significantly in that regard.
While the Wizards were dead-last among 30 NBA teams in threes made per game (10.5) in 2021-22 and 26th in percentage (34.2%), after the Feb. 10 trade deadline they ranked fifth in percentage (38%). While they only averaged one more three per game during that stretch, the percentage increase was over a span of 29 games, so more than a third of a season.
That might suggest it was a sustainable uptick, though team president Tommy Sheppard would like to see more volume.
"We need to shoot more threes and we need to make more threes next year," he said.
That cause may be helped simply by having their current roster play more. Rookie Corey Kispert shot 35% for the season, but he shot 39.7% over the final 25 games and set a rookie franchise record for total threes made.
Rui Hachimura accounted for a big part of the late-season improvement for the Wizards. He didn't play until January, but ended up leading the team by shooting 44.7% from three for the season across 42 games. Unless that was a complete fluke, just having him for a full 2022-23 season should help the 3-point shooting effort.
Having Kristaps Porzingis over a larger sample size should also improve the Wizards' 3-point shooting numbers. He only played in 17 games for them after coming over at the trade deadline and then rehabbing a knee injury. But he shot 36.7% from three on 4.6 attempts per game, really good numbers for a starting center.
Then there's Bradley Beal, who appears more likely than not to re-sign and be back with the team on a new contract. Beal shot a career-low 30% from three this season, far below the 34.9% he shot the year before, which at the time was a career-worst clip. Even having him shoot in that range would change the calculus for the Wizards' 3-point shooting numbers, given the volume he shoots.
The front office will ultimately determine how they can supplement those players with more shooting, but head coach Wes Unseld Jr. thinks the late-season progress was more indicative of what the Wizards are as a 3-point shooting team. He cited several factors that could have held them back early in the season like the NBA switching to a new brand of basketball, which matched up with a league-wide dip in scoring. The players also had to adjust to a new offensive system, as he was hired last summer.
"Some of [the improvement is] ball movement, but also the law of averages. We were so bad early, a lot of the shots were very similar in nature," Unseld Jr. said.
"[We weren't] running anything dramatically different early in the year. Guys just didn't shoot it well... I think we are better than we were early in the year."
The law of averages was perhaps reflected in how they shot on wide-open threes, which are defined by the NBA as when the defender is six feet or further away from the shooter. Before the trade deadline, the Wizards hit only 35.8% of those shots, while that number jumped to 39.6% afterward. For the season as a whole, the Wizards shot 37.2% on wide-open threes, which was 21st in the league.
A similar trajectory was seen in catch-and-shoot threes. The Wizards shot 33.6% on those plays before the trade deadline, good for 28th in the NBA, and 39.4% after the deadline, which ranked fourth.
The numbers demonstrate what Unseld Jr. suggested, that the same shots just started falling. And those shots were the types that the Wizards, and most NBA players for that matter, usually make at a higher clip.
Unseld Jr. also mentioned the team's ball movement as a catalyst for their 3-point shooting increase. They saw their average passes per game go up from 282.9 (17th in NBA) before the deadline to 301.4 (sixth in NBA) after. The same went for their assists per game; 24.0 (16th in NBA) to 27.1 (eighth in NBA).
Whether the Wizards can sustain that type of ball movement may depend on their personnel. They played after the deadline without Beal, who was 16th in the NBA in usage rate this past season. Kyle Kuzma was also third on the team in the category behind Porzingis and Beal. It was likely easier to share the ball when Porzingis was the only player on the floor used to taking a high volume of shots.
Where the Wizards can make an obvious improvement in 3-point shooting this offseason is at point guard. Spencer Dinwiddie started the majority of games there while shooting 31% from long range. In fact, the Wizards saw the fewest threes made per game (4.6) from guards of any team in the NBA and the fourth-lowest percentage (33.7).
As they look to add a point guard and other pieces this summer, the Wizards will surely have 3-point shooting in mind. They are going to need to improve quite a bit from what they produced last season just to be league average.
But they may also be able to bank on some improvement from within, which was on display over the final two months of the season.