The Washington Post

Two factors keeping the Wizards from being a 55-win team

(Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

John Wall told Sports Illustrated that the Washington Wizards “could’ve easily been a 55-win team.” That would be a 10-game swing from their regular season record of 44-38. Impossible? No. “Easily” achievable? Not according to the stats.

In his book “Basketball On Paper” Darren Oliver  identified what he called the “Four Factors of Basketball Success,” with the approximate weight he assigned to each factor:

  1. Shooting, measured by Effective field goal percentage (40%)
  2. Turnovers, measured by Turnover percentage (25%)
  3. Rebounding, as measured by Offensive rebounding percentage (20%)
  4. Free Throw rate (15%)

These factors are applied to both a team’s offense and defense, giving us a total of eight factors. Here is how the 2013-14 Wizards squad stacks up against the teams who have won 55 or more games over the past five seasons:

  Offense       Defense      
55+ win teams since 2009-10 58 0.517 13.4 25.8 0.233 0.481 13.5 25.4 0.207
2013-14 WAS 44 0.506 13.6 25.2 0.181 0.504 15.0 24.3 0.220

To start, Washington’s effective field goal percentage – which gives 50 percent more credit for made three-pointers – is lower and, as you can see in the shot chart below, is mostly average (yellow areas) with the exception of the three-point area above the break (right-side center).

Washington Wizards, 2013-14 regular season

Compare that to a team like Indiana, who won 56 games this season and is average or better all across the hardwood:

Indiana Pacers, 2013-14 regular season

The Wizards also had trouble getting to the foul line while their opponents did not. This is different than “making foul shots.” According to Oliver:

Teams that get to the line more are more effective than teams that make a higher percentage of their free throws. Game-by-game exceptions can definitely exist – there are plenty of games that are lost by a team missing its foul shots – but over the long haul, just getting to the line frequently wins a lot more games than missing a few freebies will lose.

Free throw rate is calculated by dividing  free throws by field-goal attempts. The Wizards free throw rate on offense was 1,253 / 6,920 = 0.181, and on defense it was 1,462 / 6,632 = 0.220. The 55-win teams had free throw rates of 0.233 and 0.207, respectively.

The Wizards are on a heck of a run this season but were not quite close to a 55-win team. At least not yet.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.



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Neil Greenberg · May 8, 2014