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The Wizards can still beat sub-30 win projections

SB Nation logo SB Nation 4 days ago Kevin Broom
Isaiah Thomas holding a basketball: Isaiah Thomas entering the starting lineup hasn’t change Wizards fortunes. © Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images Isaiah Thomas entering the starting lineup hasn’t change Wizards fortunes.

On the eve of the 2019-20 season, I posted my stat-based forecast of the Wizards 2019-20 season. The numbers said the Wizards would win around 30 games this season. I added a couple losses for some late-season tanking and settled on 29 wins.

I also suggested that young try-hard teams like this year’s Wizards are often fun to watch. Seven games into the campaign, the Wizards appear to be what they were expected to be. The team can score (tied for the league’s sixth most efficient offense, and just 0.7 points per 100 possessions behind the fourth place Clippers), but is a defensive horror show (fourth worst defense, and likely to fall — two teams trailing them in the defensive standings are Houston and New Orleans, which both figure to have more capacity for near-term defensive improvement than the youthful Wizards).

The bright side: Washington has lots of room to improve. The dark side: Washington has lots of room to improve.

Is it too early for this kind of analysis? Almost certainly. At this stage of the season, it’s mainly to establish a benchmark by which the team’s future performance can be measured.

The Wizards have been good offensively through the first seven games. They shoot the ball decently, avoid turnovers and have been effective on the offensive glass. Their low free throw rate signals that they aren’t stressing opposing defenses much — possibly because Washington is so bad at the other end.

On defense, the Wizards struggle in what have been the two most important defensive factors: making the other team miss and getting the rebound. If they were decent on defense, their lack of fouling would be a good sign. Given how bad they’ve been at making the opposition miss and defensive rebounding, it could just be a sign that they’re frequently out of position and not playing with sufficient aggression. Per NBA.com/stats, the Wizards have allowed the ninth most wide-open shots per game so far this season.

The team’s 2-5 start can’t be chalked up to challenging opponents — their strength of schedule thus far ranks 20th. The next seven figure to be relatively easy by NBA standards. Currently, their only opponent during that stretch with a positive scoring differential is the Boston Celtics. “Easy” isn’t always “easy” for a team at the bottom of the standings. Despite the relative weakness of their upcoming opponents, the Wizards are currently favored to win three games during the stretch. After that, the schedule could be punishing.

So, what does the full-season forecast for the remainder of the season say? My model blends together two different prediction approaches:

  • A prediction of each individual game remaining on the schedule based on team performance so far this season. This approach accounts for “schedule effects” like home-court advantage and back-to-back games. The method has the Wizards favored in 23 games the rest of the way, which would mean they finish 25-57.
  • An aggregate record based on the quality of opponents remaining on the schedule. This approach predicts the team will win 28 of their remaining games to finish 30-52.

To these prediction approaches, I add a forecast of what an average team (scoring differential of 0.0, which would predict a 41-41 record) would do against the remaining schedule. This is because there’s a tendency for teams to move towards the middle over the course of an 82-game schedule. An average team against Washington’s schedule would be expected to win 37 more games and finish the year 39-43.

The Mashup Forecast: 32-50 for a second straight season. Of course, this number can and will fluctuate as additional games are played. At this stage of the season, it serves as a reference point to gauge the team’s improvement or decline.

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