Just a couple weeks ago, the Wizards looked like they might have finally been finding their way a bit offensively. After posting an offensive rating (points produced per 100 possessions) around 95 through December (vs. a league average of about 105), the team's offensive efficiency surged to 101.2 in January and a 102.3 in February.
On back-to-back nights in February, the Wizards posted offensive ratings of 120 vs. Denver -- their best mark of the season -- and 115 against Houston -- their third best offensive performance of the year.
But, with an injury to rookie guard Bradley Beal, continued inefficiency from John Wall, and a significant slip in production from Nene, the Wizards have regressed offensively in March. Their defense has continued to be good, which is what's keeping them in games.
Here's a quick look at the team's offensive and defensive efficiency by month this season:
As I've been writing since January, the difference-maker for Washington has not been Wall. The team continues to be no better offensively with him in the lineup since his return. The team's offensive game-changers are Bradley Beal and Martell Webster.
Here's the latest update on the team's production through the prism of Player Production Average (PPA) -- a per-minute stat I developed that credits players for things that help a team win and debits them for things that don't. PPA adjusts for pace, accounts for defense, and includes a "degree of difficulty" factor based on the quality of the opposing lineup during a player's minutes on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level.
When I look at the numbers on Nene, I think it's safe to start wondering if the foot and shoulder are more bothersome than the team has admitted publicly. Last year with the Wizards, Nene's PPA was 180 -- an All-Star level of production. In 2010-11, his final full season in Denver, he posted a 176. The year before that: 163. And so on. This guy has been extremely productive throughout his career.
At age 30, and hobbled by injuries, he hasn't been the same player this season in Washington. Unfortunately, the reserve bigs have been uniformly horrible, which leaves the team little option but to keep running him out there and hoping he'll feel good enough to perform well. Nene and Okafor are critical to the Wizards excellent defense the past couple months. The team would likely collapse without Nene on the floor.
These numbers also call into question the coaching staff's lineup selections. With Beal sidelined by an ankle injury, Randy Wittman has turned to Temple in the starting lineup, and Temple has responded with horrible play. He doesn't belong in the starting lineup. The team would be better off starting Webster and Ariza, and finding a reserve wing type off the D-League scrap heap than they would be starting Temple.
It's good to see Wall recover a bit from a bad stretch and approach the league average mark again.
And finally, it's a point I've made before (but worth repeating), but...it worries me that the team's young players are so unproductive. The improved play over the last couple months has been built on good play from a pair of 30-year old big men (Okafor and Nene), a scrap heap SF on a one-year contract (Webster), a short-term SF who will almost certainly be gone after next season (Ariza), good play from a teenage rookie (Beal), and below average play from a former number one pick who's nearing the end of his rookie contract (Wall).
Beal and Wall are the only players who could remotely fit into the team's long-term plans, and Wall hasn't been playing well enough to warrant mention as a building block. Of the team's other former first round picks, Booker rates solidly below average, and Singleton, Seraphin and Vesely are below replacement level.
This is not the stuff of a quality rebuild. They're going to need some major renovation in the offseason.