NBA preseason stats are kind of like county fair tickets. They sort of mean something, but once the games are over, they don't count for anything at all.
So, it should be taken with a moderately sized grain of salt, but the Wizards are showing improvement in a key category they have emphasized early in head coach Wes Unseld Jr.'s tenure. Through three preseason games, they are one of the best teams at protecting the ball.
Averaging only 12.7 turnovers per game, the Wizards rank second in the NBA. Last season, they were 20th with 14.4 giveaways per game.
It's not a major difference, but it matters when the margin between wins and losses is thin, and that type of stinginess could have domino effects Unseld Jr. is looking for.
"It has been [a focus]. I think it obviously helps your defense, but also we want to get a good shot every time," Unseld Jr. said. "There’s a thin line between being too conservative, so I think we can quicken our pace a little bit, get into the frontcourt and initiate our offense a little sooner. But that doesn’t mean we want to play frenetic. I think taking care of the ball gives ourselves a chance."
Unseld Jr. is trying to create a defensive structure that makes the Wizards more consistently competitive and limiting turnovers can help. That's because fewer turnovers mean fewer fastbreaks for the opponent. The less the Wizards have to scramble back in transition to stop potentially easy baskets, the better.
The quest to limit turnovers will start at the point guard position where the Wizards have replaced Russell Westbrook with Spencer Dinwiddie. Westbrook, though he had a monster year overall, led the NBA in turnovers last season with 4.8 per game, a full half-turnover more than Luka Doncic, who was second.
Dinwiddie, meanwhile, averaged only 2.7 turnovers per game during the 2019-20 season, when he played 31.2 minutes per game as the Brooklyn Nets' starting point guard. And this preseason, he has posted a solid 4.00 assist-to-turnover ratio, which would have placed fourth in the NBA last regular season.
That's not bad for a guy returning from an ACL injury and, presumably, not all the way back yet in terms of rhythm and game shape.
"It’s something that every coach speaks to, but I don’t know if there are any drills that are particular to not turning the ball over. I think throughout my career I’ve been a good assist-to-turnover type of basketball player. I feel like I have that effect on the group," Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie is unlikely to produce some of the assist and rebound numbers Westbrook put up, but he may be able to help lead a more efficient Wizards offense. Last season, they were third in points per game, but 17th in offensive rating. They played very fast, ranking No. 1 in pace (they are 15th this preseason), but at times they played with a recklessness that led to turnovers.
As Unseld Jr. mentioned above, they need to find the right balance between playing fast and protecting the ball. The goal is to have as many efficient possessions as possible. It's early, but they are off to an encouraging start in that regard.