How far can the Washington Wizards go in the NBA playoffs this season?
Last year, the Wizards celebrated their first playoff appearance since 2008 by disposing of the favored No. 4-seeded Bulls in five games. They poured in 108.9 points per 100 possessions against Chicago’s vaunted defense, winning all three contests at the United Center—home-court advantage be darned.
However, Washington couldn’t sustain its newfound success. Indiana eliminated the Wizards during the ensuing Eastern Conference semifinals in six games, limiting Washington to just 97.6 points per 100 possessions—a mark that would rank better than only the Knicks and 76ers this season.
So that begs the question, with Washington’s offense looking invincible after sweeping the Raptors in another impressive first-round bout, how much can we really trust Randy Wittman’s crew ahead of their second straight opportunity to make a conference finals appearance?
To determine if this Wizards team is cut from a different cloth, let’s take a look at the statistical differences between how Washington played in the regular season and how John Wall and Co. dealt a devastating blow to Toronto’s core.
Otto Porter has had a bigger learning curve in the NBA than most No. 3 overall picks. But it seems as though he’s finally absorbed Washington’s defensive scheme, a major step in his development.
Porter ended up containing DeMar DeRozan better than anyone expected coming into the first round. With Porter on the floor, DeRozan shot just 34% during the series, according to NBA.com. That mark rose to 47% when Porter was on the bench.
[daily_cut.NBA]Given the dominant nature of the first round sweep (+46 point differential), you’d figure that Washington’s starters outscored Toronto. But the Wizards’ starting five (Wall-Bradley Beal-Paul Pierce-Nene-Marcin Gortat) actually had a plus-minus of -2 in 54 minutes across the series.
Instead, Washington’s small-ball lineup that switches in Porter for Nene did most of the damage to the Raptors. That group outscored Toronto by 18 points in its 31 minutes on the court together, giving it an astronomical net rating of +32.2 per 100 possessions.
With Pierce pushed to power forward, the Wizards feature four players who can drive to the basket or shoot from long distance. That combination spurred Washington to an offensive rating of 112.5 against Toronto, better than the Clippers’ league-leading mark of 109.8 during the regular season.
Though Wall and Beal are the unquestioned one-two scoring punch for the Wizards, they’re overall a very balanced offensive team, with multiple guys who can get hot and carry the load. Beal, Pierce and Gortat all led the team in scoring in separate games throughout the series.
Beal’s impressive scoring output was more a result of volume than efficiency, as he only shot 38% from the floor against Toronto. If anything, though, it’s encouraging for Washington that they still were so good without Beal in peak form. The Wizards are far better with him on the floor, and if he resumes sinking threes at a 40% clip as he did during the regular season, it’ll be bad news for whoever Washington faces in the next round.
Coach Randy Wittman has been knocked by critics who say he’s not exactly an offensive innovator. While that might be true, the Wizards have done a good job of pinging the ball around on offense under Wittman, ranking sixth in the NBA in assists per game (24.1) this season.
A lot of that progress has to be credited to Wall, who is now one of the best distributors in the game. He delivered more assists per game than anyone in the Eastern Conference, as the only player besides Chris Paul to average double-digit dimes.
Wall was even better against Toronto, outplaying fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry while piling up 12.5 assists per game in the series.
However, the stats give some credence to the belief that Toronto was “emotionally drained” and “gave into the onslaught” as the game went on, as Raptors coach Dwane Casey gently put it after Game 4.
In the clincher, a whopping 22 of Washington’s 26 three-point attempts were uncontested. They sank 13 of those open treys and 15 overall—a season high that likely won’t be replicated again.
It’s only going to get more difficult from here for Washington. The Raptors ranked No. 23 in defensive rating (104.8), ahead of only Brooklyn among playoff teams. Unless the Nets pull off a massive upset against Atlanta, Washington will be facing a much tougher defense in the second round against the Hawks, who finished No. 7 in defensive rating (100.7).
The Wizards still have to prove whether their display against Toronto was a sign of things to come, or just a temporary spectacle that’ll soon be exposed as an illusion.
More from Will Laws:
- The Most Valuable Two-Man Lineups for Each NBA Team
- Highest-Scoring Short Players in NBA History
- Every NBA Franchise’s Worst Season Ever
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