Though the Wizards sit at 15-11 and remain atop the NBA’s Southeast Division, the team has dropped four of its last six contests. Washington’s defense has slipped noticeably over that span, allowing an average of just over 112 points per game which is well below the league average.
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. took the helm of the squad over the summer with a goal to instill a defensive mentality in a team that’s been lacking it for several years. Though the Wizards are still generally a good defensive team, this recent spell has been a wake-up call.
“Well, we’ve taken a step back defensively, in all honesty,” Unseld Jr. said to the Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan on Friday. “I think we’re still in a good place overall, middle of the pack in overall points per game. I think we’ve stayed under 107, like 106.”
So far this season, Washington has a defensive rating (meaning the number of points allowed per 100 possessions) of 108.3, but Unseld is correct that the team hovered under that 107 threshold before the recent losing streak. Their current mark is 14th-best in the league which is still a big improvement from last year, where they finished 20th.
“It’s all perspective, but it’s still not as good as we need it to be,” Unseld Jr. said. “We’re top-10 in defensive field goal percentage, which is fine, but just the one-on-one—taking pride in our one-on-one containment. Too many blow-byes, we’re not shrinking the floor quite as well, just the urgency to get to the 3-point shooters — all those things we’ve seen slippage in.”
So what accounts for the recent skid?
“A lot of that is compression of the season. We have practiced a ton, but just our overall mindset. We were hanging our hat on the defensive end, had a bit of a struggle scoring at times. We’ve seen an uptick in the offense, but now I think we’re relying on that a bit too much.”
Washington has posted the league’s 10th-worst points per game mark of 106.0. Their defense has been the reason they climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference at one point.
A defensive slide like the one they’ve experienced recently can only be expected over the course of an 82-game season. The Wizards have a daunting schedule ahead, taking on the Jazz at home before embarking on a six-game road stand before Christmas. Defense will be the difference between holding their ground in the East and slipping below .500.