Strength of schedule
Comparisons between the Washington Wizards’ current season and the 2016-17 campaign remain primarily due to the team’s record. This tracking is bizarre.
2016 and 2018, Wiz record after 5 games: 1-4— Rudy Gersten (@DCBarno) December 6, 2018
2016 and 2018, Wiz record after 10 games: 2-8
2016 and 2018, Wiz record after 15 games: 5-10
2016 and 2018, Wiz record after 25 games: 11-14
*2016/17 finished 49-33 with their only division title of last 40 years
Washington reached 11-14 with the current three-game winning streak. Lapses within each should prevent anyone from suggesting Washington has completely turned a corner, however. New York nearly rallied from a 16-point deficit late in the fourth quarter Monday while Atlanta scored 45 points in the third quarter.
To buy into this group matching the 49 wins from the 2016-17 squad, the Wizards must add consistency of focus and energy to the equation.
They also need to take advantage of the softness of their 57 remaining games.
According to Tankathon.com, the Wizards have the third-easiest schedule remaining. Their remaining opponents have a combined .472 winning percentage. Yes, the Eastern Conference, while intriguing at the top, sports a deep group of clear lottery-bound teams.
Washington is currently feeding off of those squads. After wins over Brooklyn (8-18), New York (8-17) and Atlanta (5-20), the Wizards play at Cleveland (5-19) Friday.
The Wizards enter Thursday one-half game behind the Hornets for the eighth seed and 3 ½ back of the fourth-seeded Pistons.
The ball is moving and the Wizards are making moves in the Eastern Conference standings. This is no coincidence.
Five times this season Washington has finished a game with 29 or more assists. Three of those instances have come in the last six games, including a season-high 35 in Wednesday’s 117-103 road win over the Hawks.
“(The ball movement) was good,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Washington’s third win in a row. “The last three or four games, we’ve been doing a much better job of moving the basketball and making shots. Today just continued that play.”
“It was great. This is how we need to play,” said Bradley Beal who had 36 points and eight assists. “We have to play fast and that was easier because we got stops defensively, we were able to get out in transition and get some easy ones. We just continued to move the ball and share it. Everybody was moving tonight and that is the way that we need to play every game.”
Playing this sharing is caring type of hoops consistently would improve the offense. It also might mean running fewer isolation plays. Based on early results, that’s a good thing.
Ahead of the Nov. 30 game at Philadelphia, 76ers coach Brett Brown was asked about the specific offensive challenge the Wizards present with their All-Star backcourt of John Wall and Beal. He immediately noted that Washington runs the second-most isolation plays in the league (The James Harden-Chris Paul-led Rockets easily trump all others).
“When you study them they run the second most isolations in the NBA. Those two feature in a very large majority of that team statistic,” Brown said. “When you admit that, it comes down to the obvious stuff. Can you guard your man?
“There are not many isolations, but it’s deeper than that. Its where are the other teammates. Where does the help come from if you do get beat? … That dynamic with those two guards with that stat on isolation basketball will be a real, real big part of our defensive success or lack thereof tonight.”
What Brown failed to mention is that while Washington runs more isolation plays than 28 teams in the league, the Wizards only rank 21st (0.80) in points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. The Rockets, rode an iso-heavy offense all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season, average 1.12 points per isolation possession, second in the league behind the Bucks (1.16).
Philadelphia cruised past Washington 123-98 as Wall and Beal combined to shoot 10 of 28 from the field.
Since that loss, the Wizards have strung together three quality outings.
The addition of Tomas Satoransky into the starting lineup at the start of the current uptick put another true passer on the court from the jump. Wall and Beal are certainly willing passers and Otto Porter plays with a team-first mentality almost to a fault at times. That lineup combination over time could perhaps lead to Brooks’ pushing for a more free-flowing approach. Getting defensive stops and running the court would do that as well.
There’s no place like the road
Brooks recently mentioned the oddness of Kelly Oubre Jr.’s home-road shooting splits. Things have become far weirder.
Over his last four road games, Oubre 24 of 49 (48.9) overall is 12 of 23 (52.2%) on 3-pointers. Those numbers boosted his overall road percentages to 46.3 and 38.9 respectively. If only Oubre could play his home games outside of Capital One Arena, where he shoots 37.1 percent from the field and 20.5 percent from beyond the arc.
One frustrating aspect of Oubre’s game remains no matter where he plays: Poor shot selection.
He finished 5 of 10 overall and 2 of 5 on 3-pointers against Atlanta despite some rough time and place choices in the fourth quarter. Oubre was the only Washington player that entered the game before the final minute not to record an assist in a game the Wizards set a new season-high. That’s five of the last six the forward has gone without an assist.
Simply focusing on his shooting percentage and points misses the mark with Oubre’s game, especially with free agency looming this summer. He clearly has the athletic tools. Oubre puts in the work. His basketball instincts remain underdeveloped. Better choices on the court would boost his value, keep him high in the rotation, and help those shooting percentages. Maybe even at home, though based on this season’s weirdness, who knows.
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