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The Wizards are playing a style rarely seen in NBA history, and it could work

The Wizards are playing a style rarely seen in NBA history, and it could work

WASHINGTON -- Chances are that you have never seen an NBA team quite like the 2019-20 Washington Wizards. 

They aren't good. In fact, only one team - the Warriors - currently has fewer wins than they do. But these Wizards are playing a brand of basketball rarely seen throughout NBA history.

That brand is essentially elite-level offense contrasted with arguably the worst defense in the league. It is a dichotomy not often seen to this extreme.

After beating the Spurs on Wednesday night, the Wizards rank first in the NBA in points scored (119.7) and last in points allowed (121.1). They are second in offensive rating (114.6) and 29th, or second from the bottom, in defensive rating (116.0).

Right now that combination is not leading to victories, as the Wizards are 4-8 and on pace for 27 wins on the season. But history shows their style can actually be successful if balanced correctly. As of now, it's tipped in the wrong direction, as the Wizards' point differential is -1.4.

No team has ever gone a full season with their offensive and defensive ratings as high as those of the Wizards. But the best comparison may be the 1981-82 Denver Nuggets, the only team ever to have both numbers above 113.

Those Nuggets, led by Hall of Famer Alex English, won 46 games and made the playoffs. They went a full season both scoring and allowing at least 100 points in every game. They were first in the NBA in points scored (126.5) and offensive rating (114.3) and dead-last in points allowed (126.0) and defensive rating (113.9). But both offensive numbers barely edged the defensive ones, so it worked.

Throughout NBA history, 38 teams have gone a full year with their offensive and defensive ratings both above 110 and 24 of them made the playoffs. Last season, seven teams had the 110/110 distinction and five of them made the postseason.

Interestingly enough, one of the most statistically similar teams to this year's Wizards were the 2006-07 Wizards, back in Gilbert Arenas' heyday. That team won 41 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

As statistically strange as the Wizards have been this season, their recipe could technically work. They have managed to stay in games despite their defense, as most of their losses have been narrow defeats. 

Head coach Scott Brooks, though, isn't convinced it is sustainable.

"That combination of 30th in defense and first or second in offense is not good. We all take ownership and it starts with me," he said. 

"We've still gotta focus on the defensive end to get better and give ourselves a chance to win."

What Brooks does like is the Wizards' three-point shooting. They are attempting 34.6 threes per game this season, and making 13 of them on average, both the highest numbers in franchise history.

Back in Dec. of 2017, in Brooks' second season in Washington, the Wizards tied a then-franchise record with 18 threes in a game against the Rockets. This season in only 12 games, they have already made 18 or more three times. They set a new franchise mark with 20 against the Rockets (ironically) and also made 19 against the Magic on Sunday.

"We can shoot the ball. I've been saying it all along," Brooks said.

Lots of points, lots of threes and very little defense; that is the 2019-20 Wizards in a nutshell. They aren't winning games playing that way yet, but history shows that it actually could work for them.


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Three remaining questions for Wizards in NBA's restart as they battle the Thunder

Three remaining questions for Wizards in NBA's restart as they battle the Thunder

The Wizards continue their schedule in Orlando with a battle against Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Here are three questions for the Wizards as they play their third-to-final game of the season...

Can they get a win?

The Wizards do not have a chance to make the playoffs anymore after losing on Friday night to the Pelicans. It was a disappointing result for the team, although one most of us expected. With no Bradley Beal or Davis Bertans, their odds were long in the first place, and the grading scale has been more about player development, anyways.

But now there is a distinct possibility they leave the bubble without a single win. They went 0-3 in the exhibition schedule and have now lost their first five seeding games. They have three opponents left and they are all teams with top-10 records in the NBA: the Thunder, Celtics and Bucks. A win against any of those teams would qualify as an upset, though they have already beaten two of them this season; the Thunder and Celtics.


Can Brown be a point guard?

Most of the Wizards' roster questions in Orlando as they pertain to next year fall into gray areas, but one involving Troy Brown Jr. is very specific. Whether he can serve as a back-up point guard in the Wizards' rotation is worth wondering about, as his passing and play-making abilities have been so impressive in the bubble that it seems imperative the Wizards incorporate that part of his game more moving forward. But whether they can maximize those qualities when he's sharing the floor with Beal and John Wall is hard to decipher, as both of them are high-usage players and will need the offense run through them.

Whether Brown can play some point guard behind Wall could determine some of the Wizards' offseason needs and it could have a direct effect on Ish Smith's role, as he currently projects as Wall's back-up. There are, however, two factors to consider in this. One is that the Wizards will need three capable point guards next season anyways with Wall coming back from an Achilles surgery. He is likely to be on a minutes limit to start and it seems certain he won't be playing back-to-backs, at least in the beginning. The other element here is the upcoming NBA draft class. It is loaded at point guard and combo guard. The odds of the Wizards being on the clock with the best player(s) available being point guards seem high. If their first round pick is a point guard, it would throw a wrench into all of these potential plans.


Is anyone playing their way off the roster?

The Wizards are embracing their inclusion in the NBA's restart because of the opportunity it has provided for player development. They are getting guys experience they would otherwise not receive and it has allowed them to experiment with players in new roles. Brown closing the game against Indiana as a point guard is a good example of something that would otherwise not happen if this regular season was normal.

But they are also evaluating who to keep and who not to and it's fair to wonder how much the production, or lack thereof, from their players will determine those decisions. Ultimately, it is an eight-game snapshot when these guys have the rest of their 2019-20 seasons to present as data. If the Wizards do put major importance on how players are faring in Orlando, then that is not a good sign for guys like Moe Wagner and Admiral Schofield. The good news for anyone who is struggling is that they will have another three-plus months to train for next year once the offseason arrives next week.

Stay connected to the Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.


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How to watch: Washington Wizards vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

How to watch: Washington Wizards vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

A loss to the Pelicans on Friday officially eliminated the Wizards from playoff contention and moved Washington to 0-5 in the NBA bubble. As bleak as that sentence sounds, Sunday's matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder is still important.

Though it won't impact this year's outcome, the final few games in Orlando offer the Wizards an opportunity to evaluate their young talent and start building toward the future. Role players and emerging talents will get a chance to work on their game against NBA competition and show their worth to the franchise.

Here's everything you need to know about the Wizards-Thunder matchup. 


What: Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder

Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Florida

When: Sunday, August 9, 12:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Wizards at Thunder will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Channel Finder) 

Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards at Thunder on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the MyTeams app.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM



11:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live (LIVE)

12:30 PM: Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder (LIVE)

3:00 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE



Working toward the future is the biggest goal for Washington right now. With no ground to gain in 2020, the Wizards sole concern should be giving their young roster an opportunity to grow each time out. 

Rui Hachimura had a slow start to the resumption of play but broke out of his slump on Friday. The rookie's continued emergence is an essential part of Washington's plans for the future, and the final three games offer him an opportunity to end the season on a high note and get more comfortable in his role. 

Orlando was an opportunity for Wizards players to take advantage of extra playing time, Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr. have done just that. Bryant has produced in all facets of the game while Brown has shown he can score and handle the ball. Sunday is another opportunity to show their value. 



Thomas Bryant, C, Wizards (13.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.9 apg): Bryant has been a monster in Orlando. He had three straight games with a double-double followed by a 22-point, eight-rebound performance on Friday. In the pain and out on the perimeter, he's made shots. His defense has also looked better as of late. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Thunder (19.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.3 apg): The second-year guard has come into his own with the Thunder and become a big part as to why the team is still competing in the Western Conference. His size and skill will be a lot for the Wizards defense to handle. 

Stay connected to the Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.