Despite the Washington Wizards bolstering their offensive system, the team’s defensive efforts are still very much lacking early in the 2019 NBA season.
Prior to the start of the 2019-2020 NBA season, Washington Wizards Head Coach Scott Brooks told The Washington Informer that when it came to defense during the team’s 2018 regular season, “Whatever we did last year, we didn’t do good enough. This year, hopefully we can do much better.”
The Wizards’ 2018-2019 campaign saw Washington rank 27th in the league in both defensive rating per game (112.9, only three teams were worse) and 21st in opponent points off of turnovers per game (17 points), according to official NBA statistics.
Washington also gave away 14.1 second-chance points, 14 fast-break points, and 52.1 paint points per game (second-to-last in the league for that last statistic). Additionally, the Wizards ranked 27th in the league in defensive rebounds per game (32.7).
Washington finished the year with a 32-50 regular-season record, finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference and missing an appearance in the postseason.
As a remedy for these defensive vulnerabilities, the Informer article said that Brooks would incorporate “more switching on defense and pressuring of perimeter players to stop penetration into the paint.”
The question remains, have the Wiz strengthened their defensive efforts thus far this season, and if so, how?
For anyone who has been watching the Wizards during their opening stretch, it is clear that Washington has much room for improvement on defense. Herculean offensive showings have not been enough to enable the Wiz to earn wins consistently.
The Wizards have work to do when it comes to getting to the line (20.3 free-throw attempts averaged, good for 27th in the league) and 3-point accuracy (11.9 converted 3-pointers on average; 34.4 averaged 3-point attempts per game).
These are solid offensive numbers for the most part, showing an increased emphasis on 3-point shooting and a more efficient offense overall.
If their defense locked down on opponents, the Wizards would coast to wins if the team continued to average these numbers. However, the opposite has occurred in 2019.
Washington currently sits at a 3-7 record following a road win last night over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wizards have allowed an average of 119.6 points per game, third-most in the league, according to Basketball Reference. They have also given up an average of 43.4 opponent made field goals per game, good for sixth in the league, and averaged 11.7 opponent offensive rebounds given up, ranking fifth in the league in that category.
Additionally, the Wizards have allowed a 47.4 percent opponent field-goal shooting average, placing fifth in that metric as well. Over their last five matchups, the Wiz have allowed an average of 117.8 points.
Thus far, Washington has held only two opponents to under 100 points: the Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons.
The 2019-2020 Washington Wizards are emblematic of the NBA’s increasing value placed on both offensive efficiency and three-point shooting. What to make of these statistics, in my opinion, is that defense is still necessary in order to win games, and ideally, championships.
If a team plays smothering defense, that can often lead to opponent turnovers, fast-break points, and offensive plays that can impact a game.
With that written, balancing strong offensive efforts with stingy defense will always be best to ensure an NBA team’s success.
The Wizards’ defensive system must be fine-tuned to ensure success and more wins in the long run.
Washington’s November 13 matchup with the Boston Celtics marked guard Isaiah Thomas’ first start at TD Garden since being traded from the Celtics in 2017. Despite a 133-point scoring effort, including All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal’s 44 points, the Wizards lost that game 140-133.
For Isaiah Thomas, the defensive struggles of his team were not lost on him, judging from a postgame quote from the Washington Wizards’ game recap.
“If we continue to work and continue to figure out what we’re not doing right and correcting those things, we can be a better defensive team,” Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas said. “But until then, it’s going to be hard to win if we are giving up 140 points in regulation.”