WASHINGTON -- The Wizards are accomplishing one of their goals on defense, it just not leading to the overall efficiency they are hoping for on that end of the court.
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. wants his team to take away 3-point shots, ideally leading their opponents into the midrange where they would (again, ideally) shoot contested midrange jumpers. The concept is simple: threes count more than twos and because of the aggregate percentages, midrange shots are less efficient than both threes and shots around the rim.
So far this season they have done a good job with the first step, but after that they encounter problems. The Wizards give up the fewest 3-point attempts in the NBA this year (31.2/g) and, as a result, the fewest made threes (10.9/g).
But by closing out to prevent 3-pointers, that too often leads to opposing players getting past the first line of the defense off the dribble. The domino effect is the Wizards give up the most midrange attempts in the league (14.4/g) and the third-most makes (5.7/g). They also allow the most attempts in the paint outside of the restricted area (21.1/g) and the most makes (8.6) in that zone.
The percentages are actually pretty low in those areas. The Wizards hold opponents to the 11th-lowest percentage (39.6) in the midrange and the ninth-lowest clip (40.6) in the paint outside of the restricted area. It's more of a volume problem than efficiency.
But at the rim, it's the opposite. The Wizards give up the second-highest percentage (68.0) compared to the 10th-fewest makes per game in that zone.
To sum it all up, they are creating the defensive shot profile they want, but they aren't executing their contests properly to force misses.
"I think it’s important to kind of dictate the shots we want. We have to do a better job of our rim presence," Unseld Jr. said. "Some of that is not just blocking shots, but our positional defense. [Staying vertical], taking charges, I think all those things can help. But get that number down, that efficiency number down, for those paint points."
Indeed, the Wizards struggle at preventing paint points. They are 21st in the league, giving up 48.3 per game. While they have Daniel Gafford, who ranks ninth in the NBA in blocks per game (1.5), he and the rest of the Wizards' frontcourt have not been able to lock down the middle of their defense.
That dynamic produces shot charts like the one the Phoenix Suns had on Saturday night. Though the Wizards' offense was the reason why they lost, you can see how the Suns - led by Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton's pick-and-roll combo - lit the Wizards up in the middle.
Aaron Holiday is part of the Wizards' perimeter defense, the group that is limiting 3-point shots on the front line. He said the Wizards' defense more generally can play harder and "fly around a little bit more" to make sure they are helping each other converge on shots around the rim and in the paint.
Holiday explained the role of guards in the Wizards' defensive game plan.
"You want to take away the three, force them to their weak hand and then at that point, you’re either on their side or on their back. So, you’ve just gotta try to fight and hopefully someone’s there to help and you fly out and get their man or stay on their hip and get the double-contest. I mean, it’s obviously not easy, but I think we’ll be alright going forward," he said.
It's an interesting dynamic for the Wizards defense, as they are following the analytics and part of their plan is working. They just aren't completing the process to get the overall results they want.