SAN ANTONIO — Several flaws have surfaced for the Washington Wizards at various points through 23 games this season. They’ve included committing at least 21 turnovers in seven contests, having their offense crumble in the fourth quarter on a few occasions, including a six-point meltdown against the Charlotte Hornets, and rebounding shortages.
But no defect has been as consistent, damaging or historic as their inability to defend the three-pointer. The Wizards have surrendered at least 10 three-pointers in 13 games and opponents have shot at least 36.4 percent from beyond the arc in 14 contests.
In all, Washington’s opponents have shot 41.1 percent on 25.4 three-point attempts per game this season. No team has ever allowed opponents to shoot that high of a percentage on that many attempts over the course of an entire campaign. The next closest is the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers, who had foes shoot 36.7 percent on 25.4 tries per game. The lack of resistance has been the chief reason Washington is ranked 25th in the NBA in defensive rating after finishing fifth last season.
“We’d set an NBA record if they stopped the league today,” Wizards point guard John Wall said after practice at a local church in San Antonio Tuesday. “And it’s all about simple stuff, man. Overhelping, doing too much when you don’t have to. You need to have the IQ to read certain things.”
To be fair, teams are shooting three-pointers at a historic rate this season and four others are letting opponents shoot at least 35 percent from three-point range on at least 25 attempts (the Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings). But the Wizards, who allowed opponents to shoot just 34.9 percent from three last season, have been 4.1 percent worse than the second-worst on the list, the Grizzlies, and have regularly granted opponents their best shooting performances at their own expense.
The Indiana Pacers shot 19 of 26 (73.1 percent) against them. The Oklahoma City Thunder went 15 of 23 (65.2 percent). The New Orleans Pelicans tallied a franchise-record 16 trifectas on 27 attempts (59.3 percent) on Friday, five days after allowing Wesley Matthews to drain 10 of the Dallas Mavericks’ 16 three-pointers. Washington lost each game and is 3-12 when opponents convert at least 32 percent of their threes.
“It starts defensively with us on the ball,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “When we get broken down and collapse the defense, that’s where we get hurt with the kickouts to open shooters. So we’ve got to continue to do a better job, obviously.”
Washington’s last outing may have been its most discouraging: The Grizzlies entered Monday’s meeting shooting 30.8 percent from three-point range and making 5.4 three-pointers per game. They proceeded to convert 10 of 15 (66.7 percent). After the loss, Gary Neal explained that the Wizards’ small lineup forced them to front the post, which created a domino effect of rotations early in the shot clock and forced them to endlessly scramble.
“When you’re caught in rotations early in the shot clock, with 14 or 16 seconds left on the shot clock pretty much for the game, you got to stop two or three or four dribble penetrations in recovery type of mode,” Neal said. “And I just think over a course of a game that can take a toll on us.”
On Tuesday, the Wizards spent approximately two hours watching film and practicing. The entire session focused on defense. Communication, players insisted, is the key to fixing their defensive woes and, specifically, their inability to defend the three. They’ll be put to the test Wednesday against the 21-5 San Antonio Spurs, who rank seventh in the NBA in three-point percentage entering Tuesday’s games.
“I don’t care if you don’t have the best defensive players in the world,” Wall said. “If you don’t communicate, you can’t do nothing.”