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Wizards' historically bad defense starts with a big problem in the paint

Wizards' historically bad defense starts with a big problem in the paint

The Wizards are charting towards history on the defensive end and not for good reasons. They currently have the worst defensive rating in the NBA (115.7), which would rank second-worst all-time over a full season. They are also allowing the most points, 122.7 on average, the most by any team since the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets.

Though they struggle in many areas on defense, including locking down the perimeter, arguably their most glaring issue is protecting the paint. The Wizards are allowing 53.3 points in the paint per game, most in the league. That is more than any team since NBA.com began tracking the stat back in 1996-97.

One reason for that is second-chance points, where the Wizards rank 25th in the NBA. They aren't a good rebounding team and putbacks are a byproduct of allowing offensive boards.

The Wizards have also had trouble stopping shots at the rim, allowing the eighth-most field goals within five feet of the basket and the seventh-highest field goal percentage from that range.

Interestingly enough, that is not the biggest reason. According to NBA.com's tracking data, they are much worse at defending shots in the five-to-nine feet range from the rim. They allow the second-most made shots from that area and the third-highest percentage.

That suggests the Wizards have holes in the midrange. Their players are either overcompensating at the rim and the perimeter, or they aren't covering enough ground to take away those spots.

Tracking data doesn't suggest it is because they spending too much time defending threes, however. They are merely average in contested threes per game, placing 16th in the NBA. And that is with one of the league's best in the category. Bradley Beal is third in the NBA in contested threes (4.6/g) and this season and is annually near the top of the leaderboard.

Ultimately, the points in the paint issue fall on the Wizards' big men, including their starting frontcourt of Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. Hachimura is not big for the four positions and has never been mistaken for a rim protector. Bryant has some skills that suggest he could be a solid rim protector, but he hasn't been able to do it consistently yet.

While Bryant ranked as one of the top shot-contesters in the NBA early this season, he has fallen off considerably. Bryant currently ranks 51st in contested shots per 36 minutes among qualified players.

The Wizards' trouble with paint points has been keyed in on by opponents in recent games. The Lakers are second in the NBA in the stat and on Friday night outdid the Wizards 56-36 in the paint. The Clippers are fifth in points in the paint and dropped 66 of them on the Wizards in Sunday night's blowout. Kawhi Leonard had 20 of them by himself and Montrezl Harrell had 18.

There are no easy answers for the Wizards in the paint. But they will need to do something there to improve their defense.

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5 takeaways from Wizards-Pelicans, including Rui Hachimura's breakout

5 takeaways from Wizards-Pelicans, including Rui Hachimura's breakout

The Washington Wizards lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 118-107 on Friday night in Orlando, officially eliminating them from the playoffs. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

Yet another loss

The playoffs were always going to be a longshot for the Wizards and now those hopes are officially a thing of the past. They were eliminated from postseason contention on Friday night with their loss to the Pelicans, who used a 12-point advantage in the third quarter to coast to victory.

Now it is fair to ask if the Wizards will win a single game in Orlando, as with this loss they fell to 0-5 in the restart games that count and 0-8 if you include their three exhibition games before that. Making matters worse is that their three toughest opponents still await.

Their final three games are against the Thunder, Bucks and Celtics. Unless any of those teams rest star players, it will require a major upset for the Wizards to leave Orlando with a victory.

Sure, it's more about player development than anything. But zero wins would be unexpected.

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Rui bounced back

After three games in which he fell short of double-digit points and shot a total of 8-for-29 (27.5%), Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura finally broke through with a big offensive performance. He wasted no time either, with nine points in the first quarter and 15 by halftime. 

Hachimura finished with 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting with six rebounds. It seemed like the Wizards tried to spread things out a bit more to give him space. It didn't hurt the team was able to knock down some threes.

Head coach Scott Brooks explained recently how the team's lack of 3-point shooting has limited Hachimura's ability to go to work in the midrange. He had more room to operate but also hit some tough shots that just didn't fall for him in previous games.

It was good to see, though, because the Wizards only have three more games in Orlando. If any of their young players are going to get something out of this experience, they better do it sooner than later.

No Zion

Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Hachimura go up against Zion Williamson, as the Pelicans held him out for rest on the second night of a back-to-back. Williamson, who has been treated very carefully all season, played 22 minutes against the Kings on Thursday.

That would have put the No. 1 pick from last summer against the No. 9 pick and it would have been their first meeting since college. The Wizards didn't see Williamson last July in the Summer League because he got hurt. And their other game against the Pelicans this season was canceled due to the league shutting down because of the coronavirus.

Maybe next year.

Bryant keeps producing

Few players on the Wizards have made the most of the restart quite like Thomas Bryant, who has made the most of his extra shot attempts, especially from long range. Bryant posted another strong stat-line of 22 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks. He went 9-for-18 from the field and hit two threes.

Much like Troy Brown Jr. (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists), Bryant is showing enough in Orlando to warrant some respect next year in the Wizards' gameplan. We're seeing that Brown's play-making should be incorporated into the offense, no matter the fact that John Wall and Bradley Beal will be high usage centerpieces. And Bryant's three-point shooting is begging to be utilized.

Maybe it is as simple as Bryant spending more time on the perimeter as they spread the floor with shooters. Or, he could form a deadly pick-and-pop duo with Wall, who has never really had a reliable partner in that regard in his career. Bryant can also be effective at rim-running. The potential between those two in the pick-and-roll is very intriguing.

Wagner and Robinson were off

Something doesn't seem right with Moe Wagner. He has been one of the Wizards' most disappointing performers so far in Orlando and he just doesn't appear to be himself on the floor.

Wagner had another bad game with two points in 10 minutes. He only attempted one shot.

Before the game, Brooks said he had been thinking a lot about how to get Wagner going, that he wasn't playing with the same spirit he is used to seeing. Beyond that, the numbers tell a bleak story. In five games at Disney World, Wagner has 16 total points. He's averaging 3.2 points per game while shooting 30 percent.

Is it the ankle injury he suffered earlier this year? Is something going on we don't know about? Wagner is a good player, but he hasn't looked like it in Orlando. The good news is he has three games left to change that.

Jerome Robinson had been one of the best stories of the restart for the Wizards, but he took a step back in this one. The second-year guard scored only six points on 2-for-8 shooting. Maybe he can get back going on Sunday against the Thunder.

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Could Zion Williamson be in 'a race against his own body'?

Could Zion Williamson be in 'a race against his own body'?

Zion Williamson is a puzzle that no one can seem to figure out yet. He's built like a defensive end, can jump out of the gym like Vince Carter, yet, he hasn't been able to consistently showcase his unique gifts, because he's always finding himself on the sidelines.

His injury history is well documented. From high school, to college, to summer league, to preseason, to minutes restrictions and now sitting out against the Wizards for rest in the Orlando bubble, his time on the court has been anything but consistent. 

Some, myself included, worry about the long term effects his huge frame and freight train like power will have on his career.  Then there's Dr. Brian Sutterer who tells The Athletic that Zion is in "a race against his own body." 

“If you go watch his Duke highlights compared to now, the difference is profound. In my opinion, his athleticism and conditioning have regressed substantially. He’s less explosive, less conditioned, slower on defense, has already had a portion of his meniscus removed from his knee after an injury, and he’s still under close monitoring from the medical staff.”

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Now, that's one opinion of one doctor, but still, an alarming thing to hear. It's clear the Pelicans have concerns in Williamson's ability to stay healthy based on their efforts to limit his minutes per game. But how long will this last? Will that always be the way they have to handle his playing time? 

Far too often we've seen players' careers get cut short or limited because their body just won't cooperate. The more frustrating part is that when Williamson is on the court, he's still physically dominating. Even with his limited range and lumbering style of play, defenses just can't slow him down. 

There was no way the Pelicans weren't taking Zion No. 1 overall, but it came with significant risks. Risks that we're seeing play out in Orlando. He's looked at as the future of the league, a household name by 18-years-old, but will he be able to reach his full potential?

Only time will tell, and for the sake of the NBA and it's fans, let's hope he doesn't fall short. 

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