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Wizards Turnaround

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Despite early-season injuries to key players, an ineffective bench, and a terrible 2-7 start to the season, the Washington Wizards managed earlier this week to obtain their first winning record in over four years, the first time in John Wall’s professional career.  As opposed to past seasons, the Wizards were able to remain in the hunt for a playoff berth despite these early season issues; usually Washington’s postseason hopes would be over early on or even before the season had begun.  However, a couple of factors conspired to allow Washington to deal with its various maladies and remain a competitive and dangerous team in the league.  First, the Eastern Conference was simply incapable of winning games.  Two months into the season, only the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers had winning records.  Second, John Wall, the former top pick in 2010 and Washington’s most important player, had managed to avoid the injury ailments that normally put him out of commission for the early part of past seasons.

As the NBA season progressed, Washington’s starters returned to health, Randy Wittman’s bench rotation began to produce results, and the Wizards started inching ever so slowly towards the .500 mark.  Another piece to Washington’s turn around, however, may lie with a slight change with their superstar point guard’s results on the offensive end of the floor.  Per NBA’s stats page, Wall’s usage rate (percentage of a team’s possessions that the player finishes with a shot, drawn foul, or turnover) has increased while his assist percentage (percentage of teammate’s field goals assisted) and assist ratio (number of assists averaged per 100 possessions) have fallen at approximately the same rate as the season has progressed:

Date              W-L Record                        Wall USG%                     Wall AST%                     Wall AST Ratio 

11/19/13              3-7                                      23.9                               40.3                                   32.7

12/09/13              9-11                                    27.0                               39.8                                    28.7

01/03/14              14-16                                  27.4                               39.2                                    27.8

01/20/14              20-20                                  27.2                               37.7                                     27.4

02/05/14              24-24                                  27.4                               37.9                                     27.3

What do these numbers mean?

  1. John Wall is looking to score more, as his usage rate has climbed by 3.5 percentage points since mid-November.  The biggest increase, which came between mid-November and early December probably coincided with Bradley Beal, Nene, and Trevor Ariza all missing time due to various injuries.  However, Wall’s usage rate has still climbed slightly from December.  Another reason for Wall’s increasing usage on the court may be due in part to Wall’s shot returning as the season has progressed, which has allowed John to become a more dynamic threat on the offensive end.
  2. At an almost equal rate, John Wall is setting up his teammates for baskets less.  His assist ratio has dropped by nearly 5.5 per 100 possessions as the season has gone along, and again, while the early season injuries might have caused a dip in the assist ratio, his continuing drop shows that Wall simply does not seem to be looking for the assist as often as he was to start the season.
  3. Wall’s teammates are scoring without his direct help.  Washington’s offense is starting to include successful plays that do not use Wall as the direct passer.  While John’s assists have dropped per 100 possessions, his teammates have also been more successful not relying on Wall’s ability to create spacing for his teammates.  Rather, other players have begun to make more passes leading to assists, decreasing John’s share of assists when on the floor.

Though Washington dropped a game to the visiting San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday in double overtime, the Wizards have shown marked improvement in the past month, notching wins at home against Chicago, Miami, Oklahoma City, and Portland as well as victories over Chicago and Golden State on the road.  And if Washington plans to continue their winning ways for the rest of this season, they may be wise to continue with the emerging trend of asking Wall to be a more aggressive scorer supplemented by his passing than an aggressive assist man supplemented by his scoring.

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