Wizards' isolation defense has been elite this season


WASHINGTON -- The Wizards' defense, which currently ranks fourth in the NBA in efficiency, has been very good essentially all the way across the board, in most of the categories that matter. But there is one stat that you could say stands out on its own.

Washington is absolutely elite at isolation defense. They rank second in the NBA only to the Phoenix Suns in points per possession allowed in isolation, at 0.74. Being second is a marked improvement from last season when they ranked 21st and a huge leap from two years ago when they were 29th out of 30 teams.

Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was brought in partly because of his reputation as a defensive mind. He is very happy with their isolation defense so far this season.

"It’s a great statistic for our guys to realize that what we’re doing is working so far. We have to continue to do it," Unseld Jr. said.

Unseld Jr. was asked after Sunday's practice which players have led the charge in their 1-on-1 defense. He mentioned four guys.

"I think [Kentavious Caldwell-] Pope, [Kyle Kuzma], Deni [Avdija], even Brad [Beal]. We’ve had great clips of 1-on-1 defense," Unseld Jr. said. "It’s not just on that one guy, it’s a five-man coverage. Those guys are tasked often with guarding the most dynamic perimeter player on the floor."


The Wizards coach could have mentioned others if he wanted to. Spencer Dinwiddie, Raul Neto and Aaron Holiday have all played their part as point guards, leading the charge with initial ball pressure. Having help behind them with a rim-protector like Daniel Gafford is also important to the cause.

But the players he shouted out do show up well in individual isolation metrics. Avdija leads the team in PPP (0.54) and is 21st among all NBA players, Caldwell-Pope (0.64) is 35th and Kuzma (0.82) is 65th.

Along with their teammates, they have helped the Wizards establish the best three-point defense in the league. The Wizards hold their opponents to the fewest makes (9.3) and attempts (30.1) per game and the second-lowest three-point percentage (30.9). For comparison, the league average three-point percentage is currently 34.4.

The Wizards beat a Miami Heat team on Saturday that entered the game ranked ninth in three-point percentage. They held them to 7-for-27 from long range (25.9%), including 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter.

"Coach emphasized it and re-emphasized it in timeouts, just making sure we run guys off the line and know our personnel," Beal said. "I think that’s a big growth step for us is knowing who we’re guarding and when we’re guarding them. Certain guys we run off the line, certain guys we don’t. Certain guys we help off of strong and certain guys we don’t."

Caldwell-Pope added that the Wizards practice isolation defense on the perimeter "every day." Unseld Jr. has been hammering it home ever since he was hired to coach the Wizards this past summer.

The Wizards' isolation defense has helped them beat some of the best in the league at those plays. They can count victories against the Grizzlies (1st in isolation offense), Cavaliers (7th), Heat (10th) and Pacers (13th).

It's just one part of the Wizards' impressive rise as an elite defensive team, but one Unseld Jr. seems to be particularly pleased with.