The Wizards did not make major additions to their roster this offseason to address their league-worst defense, but general manager Tommy Sheppard is confident they can improve based on late last season trends, young players maturing and because of moves they made on the margins of their roster.
One of those moves was the signing of backup point guard Raul Neto, who last year played for the Sixers after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Utah Jazz. Neto will at best be their No. 3 point guard behind John Wall and Ish Smith. He has averaged just 13.8 minutes per game in his career.
But in those minutes, he has proven by some measures to be one of the most effective defensive guards in the league, at least in small sample sizes. Sheppard provided specifics in his free agency press conference last week.
"Some of you guys that are more analytically bent than others probably know all about Raul Neto's numbers and his last three years APM [adjusted plus-minus]. He forces misses. He helps in that regard," Sheppard said.
Indeed, Neto does show up well in plus-minus metrics. According to ESPN's defensive real plus-minus charts, Neto was 23rd among point guards last season, which means he was starting-caliber. The year before, in 2018-19, he ranked fifth at his position, and in 2017-18 he was 10th.
Sheppard pointing to an advanced metric as a reason to sign a player could be attributed to the Wizards' increased emphasis on analytics under the umbrella of Monumental Basketball, which was created last summer as the team expanded their front office. But the difference may not be the use of the stat, but more so the public acknowledgment of it.
Sheppard has made transparency a calling card of his ever since he took over and going into that type of analytic detail over a player is a new approach for the team. Whether Neto's signing ultimately works out or not, fans will know the reasoning behind it.
The question will be how much Neto can help in the role he is expected to have. When Wall and Smith are playing, he likely won't see the floor much unless the team gets creative with smaller lineups. Neto has a decent three-point shot (37.9% for his career), which could help that cause.
When Wall sits due to rest coming back from his Achilles rehab, Neto would likely become the second point guard behind Smith. But in order to secure that spot, he will need to stave off competition from rookie Cassius Winston and veteran Troy Brown Jr., whom Sheppard has said can be counted on the point guard depth chart despite him mostly playing on the wing to this point in his career.
Neto, however, may stand out defensively on a roster not often associated with that end of the floor. And if he builds trust with head coach Scott Brooks, maybe there are more minutes than one would expect from a third point guard. The Wizards are going to need to find ways to get stops however they can.