The Wizards had a problem last season that no team in the current era of the NBA would like to have. They could not shoot threes at a high percentage, and it got so bad they essentially shifted their offensive priorities to circumvent the perimeter.
The Wizards averaged 29.0 three-point attempts per game in 2020-21, 29th-most out of 30 NBA teams. But that didn't tell the true story. By the end of the season they were attempting only 24.9 threes per game in April and 26.2 threes per game in May.
For the season overall, the Wizards ranked in the bottom-third in every three-point shooting category. They were 28th in makes (10.2/g) and tied for 22nd in percentage (35.1%). That was a significant drop-off from the season before when the Wizards were tied for 16th in makes (12.0/g) and eighth in percentage (36.8).
The season-ending ACL injury to center Thomas Bryant in January didn't help their cause and he should be back healthy soon after the 2021-22 season begins. They can also expect improvement from players already on their roster. Perhaps Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans perform closer to their career averages.
But even with those factors, the Wizards needed to upgrade their three-point shooting in a big way this summer. So, it was no surprise that they added a lot of shooters via trades and the draft. In come Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Aaron Holiday and Corey Kispert, all of whom should help their three-point attack.
As far as how much they will help, well, it's difficult to quantify. The Wizards' rotation is essentially going to be half-comprised of new additions. Kispert is a hard one to project because he's coming into the league as a rookie from college. And their starting point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie, missed all but three games last year due to his own ACL injury.
Still, there are some ways we can crunch the numbers to get a glimpse at how much the Wizards did improve their outside shooting. First, here's a look at how their rotation could stack up based on how they shot the three last season, ranked in order of percentage and including how many threes per game they made:
- Corey Kispert – 44.0%, 2.8 3PT*
- Thomas Bryant – 42.9%, 0.9 3PT
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – 41%, 1.8 3PT
- Davis Bertans – 39.5%, 3.0 3PT
- Raul Neto – 39.0%, 1.0 3PT
- Kyle Kuzma – 36.1%, 2.0 3PT
- Bradley Beal – 34.9%, 2.2 3PT
- Rui Hachimura – 32.8%, 0.8 3PT
- Deni Avdija – 31.5%, 1.0 3PT
- Spencer Dinwiddie – 30.8%, 1.9 3PT**
- Montrezl Harrell – (0-10 3PT)
- Daniel Gafford – (0-0 3PT)
(*stats are from college, **stats are from 2019-20, his last healthy season)
The Wizards now have plenty of guys who shoot a high percentage from three, including four who shot higher than the league average last season of 36.7%, Kuzma being right on the line and Kispert not being included because his numbers were from college.
The Wizards, though, would also project to have a host of players who shot below league average from three, including Beal, Hachimura and Dinwiddie, all three of whom could be seen as locks for the starting lineup. If Avdija started at the three and then Harrell or Gafford at the five, their entire lineup would be below league average based on last year's stats.
So, it's going to take some balancing out by head coach Wes Unseld Jr. There may be some lineup combinations he will want to avoid.
There is also the flip-side to that, which is that Unseld Jr. can build lineups now entirely comprised of shooters, or lineups that put shooters around Dinwiddie, who is uniquely good at getting to the rim and breaking down the defense.
To get a sense of where the new-look Wizards would rank in the NBA as a three-point shooting team, you could take their likely top-8 rotation players. For the sake of this exercise, let's remove Kispert because his numbers are from college. Also, take out Gafford who has never attempted a three in his NBA career.
Let's look at these eight players: Beal, Dinwiddie, Hachimura, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma, Bertans, Harrell and Bryant. If you take their three-point shooting numbers from last season and combine them, the average percentage would be 35.9%.
If the Wizards shot 35.9% from three last season, they would have ranked 19th in the NBA in the category. If you take the average of the last five NBA seasons, they would have averaged a 14.8 ranking. So, right in the middle.
That suggests the Wizards have a good chance to be average in three-point shooting, which would be a major improvement from last season. They could be even better if young players like Hachimura and Avdija improve or if Kispert makes an impact as a rookie or, as mentioned above, if guys like Beal or Bertans shoot like they usually do.
Percentage isn't a perfect way to determine three-point shooting success, as quantity matters. But if the Wizards can shoot a league average percentage from three, then that's a good start towards turning that area into a positive.
As far as quantity goes, the Wizards may have more room to make up. The Utah Jazz were the NBA's best three-point shooting team last season (based on average ranking in % and makes) and they made 16.7 threes per game. The Wizards made 6.5 fewer threes on average and the group of eight above combined to make 12.6 last season. If they averaged that as a team, it would have placed 16th in the league in 2020-21.
Really, though, it's impossible to extrapolate how many threes the Wizards will make. Many factors will affect the overall picture between injuries, how the minutes are distributed and what each player will be asked to do in their roles.
Also, although three-point shooting is king in the modern NBA, just making them doesn't translate to contention. Among the top-10 teams last season in three-pointers made, there were plenty of contenders like the Jazz and Clippers, but also teams like the Warriors, Raptors, Rockets and Hornets.
The Wizards probably need to at a minimum be good enough so that it's not a liability and so that if they meet teams who are very good at shooting threes in a playoff series, like the Bucks and Nets, they aren't completely overwhelmed. Against the Sixers in their first round playoff loss in June, the Wizards made only 35 threes in five games compared to 57 for Philadelphia.
Add up their offseason moves and that seems unlikely to happen again. The Wizards should be improved enough from three so that it's not a debilitating weakness and, if a few factors go their way, it could even be a strength.