Looking at the list of the NBA's top shot-blockers, one might surmise the teams of those elite rim-protectors are also very good at defending the paint. Not so, at least for Daniel Gafford. Though he is tied for fifth in the league with 1.9 blocks per game, the Wizards are second from the bottom in the NBA, giving up 48.9 paint points on aerage.
Interestingly enough, four of the top-five leaders in blocks this season play for teams that rank in the bottom-10 of paint points allowed per game. Though all of them are uniquely skilled, perhaps it is a matter of opportunities.
For the Wizards, it's a prohibitive weakness. They gave up 68 paint points to the Kings on Wednesday night, as Sacramento got to the rim relentlessly en route to a 14-point win. The Kings erased a 12-point deficit, marking the largest blown lead for the Wizards this season.
Washington had trouble protecting the lane all night. De'Aaron Fox can be blamed for that, as the speedy Kings guard got downhill off pick-and-rolls and was consistently one step ahead of Wizards defenders. Of his 28 points, 18 came in the paint.
Center Tristan Thompson added to the effort with 12 points in the paint. The 68 total paint points were tied for the second-most allowed by the Wizards this season.
So, if they have Gafford on the backend, how are teams scoring so much on the Wizards around the rim?
"It starts at the point of attack. It's easy to say, well, that guy Gaff or [Montrezl Harrell] or a big can clean it up at the rim," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.
"That's a good thing to have, but some of it's knowing personnel and understanding tendencies. We can't let a guy continually play to his strength. We've also gotta be in coverage spots. Trust your help, don't rely on it."
Gafford's not the only asset the Wizards have who in theory should help their cause defending the paint. They have three point guards capable of ball-stopping defense in Spencer Dinwiddie, Raul Neto and Aaron Holiday. They have others like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Deni Avdija who have shown they can handle tough defensive assignments in space.
Yet, they just haven't been able to put together a sound defensive front through 29 games this season. Their biggest issues are right at the rim where they allow the third-highest field goal percentage within the restricted area (68.1%). In the paint outside of the restricted area, the Wizards actually hold teams to the seventh-lowest percentage (38.8), though they do allow the second most makes in that range (8.3/g) and the most attempts (21.4/g).
The attempts number is concerning because it shows just how often opposing players are getting into the middle of the Wizards' defense. Unseld Jr. gave his theory on why that has been the case.
"I think a lot of the time we're spread out and then now they're attacking downhill, which opens up a lot of things for them," Unseld Jr. said.
Bradley Beal, one of the guards tasked with stopping the ball, went into detail when asked how they can fix the problem.
"We can guard the ball better. As guards, we can be into the ball a lot better. And we can be more physical. We can hit bigs when they're rolling to the paint like our bigs are getting hit. Guards have to be more physical on the ball," he said.
"I think sometimes we allow guards on other teams too much freedom. Sometimes they can stop behind screens and shoot, or get down into the paint and they're untouched, unbothered and sometimes with no contest."
The Wizards' next two opponents, the Suns and Jazz, both rank top-nine in the NBA in points in the paint. It's not going to get any easier, but figuring out how to mitigate the problem may be one of the keys to getting back on track after they have lost 11 of their last 16 games.