The Key to the Wizards Winning Ways: Martell Webster?


Here's the story of the Wizards resurrection the past month, according to the Official Narrative Machine: John Wall makes the Wizards better. End of story.

And while this narrative has become truer over the past few games than it was when the Machine started cranking, it's obscuring another factor that's at least as important in the team's turnaround: the stellar play of Martell Webster.

For much of the season, Webster's performance was bobbing along at a level a bit below average. He was playing decently for a guy who'd failed to find a role at other NBA stops, and at age 26 was on the cusp of being out of the league completely. Working on a minimum salary deal with the Wizards, Webster seemed like the classic "not bad" player on a crummy team.

And then he abruptly started shooting better. A lot better. From the beginning of the season through January 6 -- a span of 31 games and 216 field goal attempts -- Webster had an effective field goal percentage of .493. Since January 7 (18 games and 148 FGA) his efg has been .662.

I can hear the Official Narrative Machine grinding into gear. "See," the Machine might say, "It's proof that Wall makes his teammates better."

Except...Know what happened January 7? A PG did come back from injury. But, it wasn't Wall. It was A.J. Price.

The numbers show that Webster has indeed played extremely well with Wall since the former #1 pick returned on January 12. But, the numbers also show he's been just as good when Wall's been off the floor during that time span.

Here's a handy table showing what Webster has done since January 7, courtesy of NBAwowy.com.

STAT OVERALL w/WALL  w/oWALL  w/PRICE  w/NEITHER 
efg  .662  .652  .674  .685  .625 
Usg  17.4 17.1  17.9  17.3  23.5
3pt%  .500 .481  .531  .519  .750 
POSS  1011 578  433  383  56 
           

Since, January 7, Webster has produced an insanely efficient 17.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per 40 minutes (pace adjusted) -- with an offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) of 134. During that time frame, Webster's Player Production Average (PPA) is 148 -- which would rank among the league's top 40 players.

(PPA is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that don't. PPA accounts for defense, adjusts for pace, and includes a "degree of difficulty" factor based on the level of competition the player faces when he's on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, and higher is better.)

Wall's PPA since he returned remains below the league average.

The Official Narrative Machine has posted several versions of on/off stats to demonstrate Wall's impact on the Wizards. And I'm not here to dispute them. Rather, I'll post a table showing on/off impacts per 100 possessions for both Wall and Webster since January 7.

PLAYER  GMS  MIN  w/OFF  w/DEF  w/NET  wo/OFF wo/DEF wo/NET NETNET
Webster  18  29.3  107.3  100.6  +6.7  95.8  99.7  -3.9  +10.6 
Wall 17  28.4  104.0  97.1  +6.9  101.6  103.5  -1.9  +8.8 
                   
What these numbers show is that during the Wizards 11-7 run the past month, the team has been pretty good offensively when Webster has been on the floor, and has completely fallen apart when he's been on the bench.

The numbers are a little more challenging for the Official Narrative Machine because of the story that's told: that Wall makes the Wizards better because of what he does for his teammates on offense. The on/off numbers would suggest that the team has been a little better offensively since January 7 when Wall has been in the game, but that they've been far better defensively when he's playing. I've still heard few arguments that Wall is a difference maker on defense, and based on my own observations, I wouldn't make that argument myself. 

But, I digress. I have come to praise Webster, not criticize Wall -- I think Wall is doing okay for a guy coming back from a three-and-a-half month layoff due to a knee injury.

Back to the point: Martell Webster is playing terrific basketball. He's had a month-long shooting binge to rival nearly anyone not named Lebron James. His preposterous offensive efficiency has been critical to the team's winning record. Let's expand that spotlight a bit, and crank up a new Official Narrative. Webster deserves it.

Oh, and just as a PS -- If you're looking for a scary good player combination, try Webster and rookie Bradley Beal. Since January 7, the team has an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 114.1 when they're in the game together; 88.3 when they're both out of the game. That's a difference of 25.8 points per 100 possessions.