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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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Wizards can make playoff push with weak 10-game schedule before All-Star break

Wizards can make playoff push with weak 10-game schedule before All-Star break

After the Wizards suffered a crushing loss to the Chicago Bulls last Wednesday, guard Bradley Beal expressed frustration with the team’s culture of losing. He intimated a desire to win more, even with a general expectation that the team would struggle this season.

"I don't like losing, I'm sorry," Beal said after the loss. "Especially winnable games."

His sentiments stand in direct contrast to those of many fans, and maybe some within the organization, who would prefer the team’s losing ways continue through the season and land Washington a top pick in this summer’s draft. But with 10 games remaining before the All-Star break, a realistic path still exists for Beal’s wishes to come to fruition and the Wizards to make a playoff push.

Washington kicked off a four-game road trip with Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Southeast Division rival Miami Heat. A win would’ve been huge in sparking a climb up the Eastern Conference standings, but with games at the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-32) tonight and Atlanta Hawks (11-34) on Sunday, the Wizards still have a chance to pull to 2-1 this trip before ending it Tuesday against the powerhouse Milwaukee Bucks.

The Wizards then come home for a six-game stretch at Capital One Arena that includes games against five teams with sub-.500 records; the Charlotte Hornets (15-30), Brooklyn Nets (18-24), Golden State Warriors (10-36), Memphis Grizzlies (20-24) and Bulls (17-29). Only the Dallas Mavericks, who they play after the Warriors, have a winning record over that stretch. Finally, the Wizards visit the Knicks (12-33) on Feb. 12 before getting an eight-day break in the schedule.

The Wizards are currently 12th in the Eastern Conference but just 4 ½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. This 10-game stretch includes just two opponents with winning records, and Washington’s lowly 14-29 record is better than half of the remaining eight teams. The games against the Nets, Bulls and Hornets, three of the four teams between Washington and the eighth seed, provide ample opportunity to make up ground.

The Wizards are in the position they’re in, of course, because like many of these upcoming opponents, they haven’t been a very good team. But while this stretch won’t be a walk in the park, it’s likely where the trajectory of this season will finally be determined. If the Wizards are able to go 6-4 or better, the conversation around how this season ends could change going into the break. If they finish under .500, their long-presumed fate as a lottery team will likely be sealed.

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The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

Since acquiring Davis Bertans from the Spurs in exchange for the rights to Aaron White, the Wizards have unlocked the sharpshooter's full offensive potential. 

In San Antonio, Bertans was known more as a spot-up, floor-stretching power forward. Now? He's one of the most feared snipers in the NBA with his ability to come off screens, get his shot off quickly and drill threes from just about anywhere on the court. 

Bertans should without a doubt be invited to compete in the NBA's three-point contest at All-Star weekend. Jordan McRae is leading the campaign charge and the Wizards recently started a campaign to get him there as well. 

So as we await word on whether Bertans will be invited or not, let's lay out his claim as one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the league and how he stacks up against everyone else. 

By the numbers

Bertans is shooting 42.4 percent on 8.7 three-point attempts per game, which is absurd efficiency at that volume. 

Of the 14 players that take at least eight threes per game, nobody is shooting at a higher clip than Bertans.

He's also second in the league in three-point makes per game (3.7), trailing only James Harden. For players who make at least three triples per game, Bertans has the third-highest shooting percentage on his looks. 

If that's not enough, Bertans leads the NBA in catch-and-shoot makes from deep this season (3.2). The three-point contest closer resembles catch-and-shoot opportunities rather than shooting threes off the dribble. If Bertans were to compete in such a setting, he'd feel right at home. 

Supreme confidence

Confidence is one of the most crucial traits of a great shooter, and Bertans has no shortage of self-assurance.

He could be 0-for-7 from three and 2-of-10 from the field, but that wouldn't stop Bertans from taking a 30-footer with the game on the line. 

Speaking of 30-footers, Bertans is more than comfortable launching shots from several feet beyond the three-point line. If he ends up shooting in the three-point contest, I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to move the ball racks back a few feet just for kicks. 

After a game in which he made six threes against the Hornets, Bertans was asked if there was a three he felt was too deep for him to take. His response?

"I haven't found that yet."

The competition

Last year there were 10 participants in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant hurt this season, you have arguably the three best snipers in the NBA all sidelined with serious injuries. 

Without those three, I'm not sure there are five shooters in the league better than Bertans, let alone 10. 

As of now, there have been three reported invites to the contest. Luka Doncic (32.7 3P%), Trae Young (37.3) and Duncan Robinson (42.9), though it's not yet clear if those players will accept. 

Bertans is in line for a nice payday this summer based on his play so far this year, but his recognition around the league shouldn't stop there. 

All you need to do is watch a Wizards game when Bertans hits a few threes in a row and look at how the defense reacts to him. They abandon their entire gameplan to run Bertans off the three-point line. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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