Wizards Turnaround: A Tale Beyond the Arc

An explanation for the Washington Wizards rejuvenated play this season — better spacing due to more 3-point attempts.

On December 12 the Wizards lost on the road to the Miami Heat. The loss brought the Wizards’ record to a disappointing 9-14. High preseason expectations of a deep postseason run waned rapidly as the Wizards sat in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only the Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. Since that Heat loss, the Wizards are 24-7 and now find themselves behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics in the East. Given Cleveland’s injuries and Boston’s rebounding woes, there are whispers of the Wizards challenging for the top seed in the East or making a stealth finals run. Despite their improved play, it's hard to pinpoint the reason for the Wizard’s rejuvenation. Team health and outstanding contributions by John Wall and Bradley Beal certainly help, as does the continued improvement of Otto Porter. Even the bench has improved from dreadful to merely mediocre. One simple explanation for the turnaround is this: the Wizards are shooting more 3-pointers.

The Wizards attempted a paltry 22.0 threes per game in their first 23 games of the season (through the Heat loss). This 22.0 attempts per game would rank 29th in the NBA today, ahead of only the shooting-challenged Chicago Bulls and far behind the league-leading Houston Rockets, who attempt an all-time NBA record 39.8 threes per game. During that span, the Wizards attempted 15 or fewer threes in a game four times, a number practically unheard of in today’s NBA where teams emphasize spacing and outside shooting. Unsurprisingly, the Wizards lost all four of those games. Since the Heat loss, the Wizards have markedly upped their 3-point attempts, launching a respectable 25.2 per game. During this hot streak, the Wizards have attempted 30 or more threes on eight occasions, going 6-2 in those games.







Through 12/12 Heat loss






Post 12/12 Heat loss






Making threes improves a team’s chance of winning, and the Wizards have shot the ball well recently. The Wizards rank fifth in the NBA in 3-point percentage, converting 37.3 percent of their attempts. However, the Wizards don’t always shoot more accurately when they shoot more threes. The Wizards have attempted fewer than 25 threes in 28 games this season, shooting 39.2 percent in those games (this would rank second in the NBA). In the 26 games in which they’ve shot 25 or more threes, they have shot 35.9 percent, which would rank 15th in the NBA. 





< 25 3PA





25+ 3PA





Shooting more threes is a team effort for the Wizards. Porter leads the league in 3-point percentage at 45.9 percent but has not sacrificed efficiency for volume, upping his attempts from 4.0 per game in November and December to 5.4 in January and February. Beal ranks eighth in the NBA with 7.2 threes attempted per game and has increased his attempts to 8.7 in February. Off the bench, Kelly Oubre has seen an increase in minutes based largely on his ability to spread the floor, doubling his 3-point attempts per game from November to January. The Wizards employ four 3-point threats on the floor at all times, as Markieff Morris has recently shot well from the power forward position (41.4 percent in January), a pleasant sight after Randy Wittman’s failed attempt to morph Kris Humphries into a 3-point threat last year.

Spacing the floor with 3-point shooters behind the arc helps the Wizards by giving Wall room to attack the rim. Wall is having a career year, averaging career highs in points (22.4) and assists (10.6) and leading the league in steals (2.1).  Per NBA.com, Wall ranked 22nd in the NBA last year in drives to the rim with 8.0 per game. This year, he has upped his drives to 11.3 per game and now ranks fifth in the NBA.  Additionally, Wall is becoming more adept at penetrating defenses and finding an open shooter beyond the arc, increasing his assists per game in every month this season. The biggest beneficiaries of these drives are Beal and Porter, as both rank in the top ten in catch-and-shoot points, shooting above 40 percent beyond the 3-point line in such situations (per NBA.com).

There is renewed optimism in Washington, and deservedly so. The Wizards are third in the Eastern Conference, and Wall routinely receives M-V-P chants at the end of games. First-year head coach Scott Brooks struggled out of the gate but deserves credit for transforming the team offensively.  Harnessing Wall’s attacking ability and the 3-point shooting prowess of Beal, Porter and even Morris have turned the Wizards into legitimate Eastern Conference contenders.

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