The Washington Wizards are in the middle of a season that hasn’t gone as planned. Instead of resuming their status as Eastern Conference contenders, they are the No. 10 seed, three games out of a playoff spot. But that spot, the No. 8 seed currently held by the Charlotte Hornets, earns them a clash with the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers who, at 38-14, are the class of the conference.
The Wizards instead need to be eyeing the No. 7 spot held by the Chicago Bulls, or even the No. 6 seed currently occupied by the Indiana Pacers. It’s not too far fetched — the Wizards have the second-easiest remaining schedule among all NBA teams — but Coach Randy Wittman will need to work with his squad to improve one key defensive metric, effective field goal percentage against.
When Dean Oliver, sports analytics pioneer and author of “Basketball on Paper,” broke down the four factors of basketball success, shooting the ball, as measured by effective field goal percentage, was most important.
The game of basketball was set up that way more than one hundred years ago, where the objective of that first game in Massachusetts with two peach baskets was nothing more than getting the ball into those baskets. In that essence, the game hasn’t changed. Whether it’s 3-foot shots or 3-point shots, shooting the ball from the field remains the dominant means of scoring points before giving it back to opponents.
Offensively, the Wizards can put the ball in the basket — their 50.9 eFG% ranks No. 9 overall — but they allow the second highest eFG% against (52.6 percent). The biggest concern is beyond the three-point line, where Washington allows the highest percentage against (38.7 percent).
The Wizards biggest challenge is stopping a catch-and-shoot or catch-and-drive play. On those possessions, opponents score 1.04 points per possession with an eFG% of 54.1 percent, per Synergy Sports. Only the New Orleans Pelicans are worse.
Here is what it looks like. In this example, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton is able to fight through traffic — and four defenders — on a drive to find a wide open Giannis Antetokounmpo from long range.
Here is Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks dribbling off the pick and roll to find Kristaps Porzingus beyond the three-point line.
And finally, here is good ball movement by Philadelphia leading to Nik Stauskas hitting a no-dribble jumper for an open three.
The eight current playoff teams in the East all allow an effective field goal percentage under 50 percent, so if Washington has any playoff aspirations left in them, they must tighten up on defense to salvage what some are calling a lost season.