Washington, DC — The Washington Wizards have made a major commitment to analytics this season and it is already paying off. The Wizards overhauled their front office this year, and made some drastic changes to the coaching staff supporting Coach Scott Brooks.
One of the biggest additions to the sidelines? Meet Dean Oliver. Oliver is an analytics expert with a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He went on to publish the book Basketball on Paper, which was released around the time of Billy Beane’s Moneyball. That’s how early Oliver was to the analytics game. Most notably, he is credited with creating the statistic and valuing Offensive and Defensive Efficiency Ratings. The Wizards gave Oliver a role not just in the traditional front office spot – they made him a coach, where he can implement his research and background literally on the ground floor.
Are you like most sports fans, and tired of hearing about analytics and advanced metrics? If you have ever said, “I just rely on the eye test” or “sports can’t be explained by a formula”, you might as well be your grandpa telling you “Defense wins championships” or “work the ball inside for a layup”. Analytics and data are here to stay, and only becoming more and more relevant. If any team is an example of why – it’s the Wizards.
The 2019-20 season is still young. But as most teams enter the 15-game mark, some early identities have emerged. The Washington Wizards may not sit atop of the league standings, the conference standings, or even the lowly divisional standings. However, they do stand atop the league in most Advanced Offensive Analytics categories. Maybe, just maybe, we all will appreciate these advanced stats after all. Through 12 games, the Wizards are second in the ENTIRE league in Offensive Efficiency (OEFF), the very stat that Dean Oliver himself created.
How does Offensive Efficiency (OEFF) work? It’s simple – how many points does a team score per 100 possessions? An average NBA team today has around 100 possessions per game. The fastest team (Milwaukee) averages almost 107 possessions per game, while the slowest (Orlando and San Antonio) average closer to 98. This way, OEFF accounts for some teams who play slower but potentially more efficient, or faster teams who might shoot bad shots and play recklessly.
So how do the 5-8 Wizards have such a good Offensive Rating? I asked myself the same question and did a little digging. The Wizards are top 7 in five key categories. They are 6th in Pace, with 104.5 possessions per game. They also are 2nd in FG%, and 6th in 3FG%. In other words, not only do they play fast, but they get good shots they can make consistently. How do they do this? Missing one of the league’s best point guards, the Wizards miraculously lead the league in assists per game, with 28.3. They are also 4th in FT% at 82%, so they capitalize on free points. This style of play and a roster filled with sharpshooters like Bertans, Beal, and Wagner lends itself to a team that can play fast while still being efficient.
Now comes the bigger question – why does this matter? Sure, the Wizards are one of the most efficient teams. But this only matters if they can translate this to wins. One glaring issue I have yet to mention, is they also conveniently rank worst in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency. However, I think for now, focusing on the positives with this team and what they do well is the best course of action. After all, the best metric with this team is one that doesn’t require a stat guru with a Ph.D. like Oliver to figure out: YOUTH. The Wizards play the 7th youngest rotation in the NBA, and still manage to be in the top ranks of all offensive categories.
The defense can be fixed and schemed over time as guys adjust to playing together. With that will come wins. But in this new age of advanced stats, let’s embrace the things this team is great at and hope that all our grandparents were wrong and that instead “Offensive Efficiency wins Championships.”