Among all NBA teams, the Wizards rank 29th out of 30 in three-point defensive field goal percentage, which has been largely a result of their performance in first quarters, in which they are allowing opponents to connect on 43.3 percent from the arc. The Wizards' three-point defense helps explain why they are often climbing out of deficits. After the first quarter, Wizards' opponents average a lead of 4.0 points, second highest in the league.
On Wednesday, Washington (8-13) lost to a New Orleans Pelicans team that doesn’t rely so heavily on the three. The Pelicans made only 3 of 10 in the opening frame, but continued the trend among Wizards' opponents by building a double-digit deficit and leading 29-15 at the 1:54 mark of first quarter.
“We just kind of went to old habits tonight,” Bradley Beal said following the Wizards' 125-104 loss.
Earlier this week, the starters displayed the worst of their habits as they couldn’t stop the Houston Rockets from making their first seven threes at the start of the game. Though Washington went on to win 135-131 in overtime, Houston’s early three-point barrage forced the Wizards to play catch up before clicking again on the defensive side.
The Wizards' defense does typically steady as the game goes on. By the fourth quarter, Wizards allow 35.4 percent from the arc, which still ranks near the bottom in the league but an improvement compared to the start of games. For some reason, the Wizards' starters — a unit that has been revamped with forward Kelly Oubre Jr. and center Thomas Bryant — play their worst when their legs should be fresh and the opponent’s scouting report should still be on their minds. Beal doesn’t have an explanation.
“Teams like to make three-pointers in the first quarter against us, I guess,” Beal said. “I feel like teams like to make three-pointers on us, period, but we got to do a better job of taking them away. But I can’t attest to what quarter they’re making or not making the shots in.”
Only a year ago, the Wizards defended the three and held opponents to 34.9 percent overall, which ranked as sixth best in the NBA.
“We want to make sure that [opponents] don’t get hot from the three-point line,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “We were great last year. Not good — we were great last year. This year we’re bad. That’s probably a softer word than I would really use.”
This season, with most of the core intact and a few new additions, the Wizards have forgotten their discipline around the perimeter. When an opponent takes any type of jump shot, Washington struggles to defend it. Considering how many teams have shifted in offensive principles to take threes or twos at the rim, this doesn’t bode well for the Wizards' defense.
According to Synergy Sports, the Wizards have defended three-pointers 67.3 percent of the time, way more than any other jump shot on the floor, and have surrendered 1.124 points per possession on the shot (29th in the NBA).
“We’ve been bad and we have to make sure that we make these guys miss,” Brooks said. “We can’t have guys taking warm-up shots.”
Washington now moves on to play the Philadelphia 76ers for the first time this season. For a second consecutive game, the starters won’t have to panic from the perimeter because the Sixers attempt just over seven three-pointers in the first quarter. Still, their lagging defensive energy at the start of games remains a concern.
“We have to find it,” Brooks said. “On the road, we haven’t played consistently for 48 minutes. We still have to try to figure it out and we need to do it soon because we have a bunch of road games coming up in this month.
“There’s a difference in the energy and intensity,” Brooks continued, “and we have to be able to match it whenever we play on the road.”