Can the Washington Wizards Fix Their Early-Season Issues?

Washington has opened the season with a brand new style of play on offense, but through eight games they are only 4-4.

Washington has opened the season with a brand new style of play on offense, but through eight games, they are only 4-4.

While they own the fastest pace in the NBA, they are also giving up 109 points per game. Some teams in the NBA have resisted the league’s switch to a faster pace, and while the Wizards have jumped in feet first into playing faster, head coach Randy Wittman hasn’t seemed to figure out the best rotation to give Washington the best mixture of offense and defense.

Our own Brett Weisband took a look at this some this offseason. Last year in the playoffs, Washington played much better when Paul Pierce and Otto Porter were on the floor at the same time, with Porter playing the four.

While they didn’t utilize the two together at all during the regular season, Wittman broke the small ball lineup in the playoffs. The Wizards posted an Offensive Efficiency of 107.9 during their playoff run, and Porter averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds and had an Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of 51 percent.

Even though their results were night and day, this season Wittman has seemingly gone right back to playing Porter exclusively at the three, while still trying to play a lighting fast pace with two bigs on the floor. So far this season, Washington’s starting lineup is -7.8 in net points per 100 possessions, and Wittman has had two bigs on the floor in over half of the Wizards' available minutes this season.

Porter has played only three percent of his minutes at power forward so far this season opposed to 45 percent in last year’s playoffs. Their resulting play may be suffering because of it.

Small Ball Works

With Washington’s Offensive Rating hovering at 101.4 so far this season, the Wizards are going to have to make some changes.

Starting Jared Dudley and moving Porter to the four might be the most pressing. With Dudley in the lineup instead of Kris Humphries, the Wizards have an Effective Field Goal Percentage that’s +.118 better than their opponents. They are also +18.2 points, and an astonishing +13.6 steals better with that lineup on the floor. While the sample size is small, the results speak for themselves.

Spreading out their opponents and using a small lineup might also help improve the efficiency of the Wizards' other key players, who have been struggling some as well.

For instance, according to NBA Wowy, Bradley Beal has an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 64.3 percent and is averaging 1.45 Points Per Possession (PPP) when Porter is playing the four and Dudley is in the game at the three. Compare that to the Wizards starting lineup with Humphries and Marcin Gortat, and Beal has an eFG% of 43.6 percent, and his PPP drops from 1.45 to 0.85.

John Wall's numbers also see similar drops with two bigs on the floor. Wall’s averaging 1.35 PPP and an eFG% of 57.1 percent when the Wizards play small ball, compared to a 52.7 eFG% and 0.94 PPP with two bigs out there with him.

Despite the fact that the insertion of Dudley might not help the Washington defense, Humphries isn’t enough of an upgrade to justify the big hit it takes on both of Washington’s stars, as well as their entire team offense. Opponents have an eFG% of 52.2 percent when Humphries is resting, compared to 49.4 percent when he is on the court. However, the Wizards' Offensive Rating with Dudley on the floor so far this season is 110.3, compared to 96.8 when he is off the court.

If the Wizards want to continue playing faster and more open, they are going to have to open up their rotations to playing Porter as a stretch four more often. If you look at other teams that have gone through the same transformations this season, floor spacing is key when trying to go smaller and faster.

Golden State learned this in the NBA Finals last season against Cleveland when they inserted Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup, and Chicago is also finding out that the floor spacing of Nikola Mirotic helps their guard’s efficiency as well. While it might not help their defense much, if Washington can go back to playing small like they did in the playoffs, it will surely help their struggling offense.