Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman has come under plenty of criticism for running an archaic offense that features a high percentage of mid-range shots, the least efficient shots in the game. Wittman has also come under criticism for not utilizing Paul Pierce as a stretch 4 throughout the regular season, despite Pierce having success at that position with the Brooklyn Nets last season.
That criticism grew louder and louder as the regular season went along and the Wizards continued to struggle on offense. Washington wasn’t particularly great offensively at the start of the year when the team got off to a hot start, but the offense was flat out bad the second half of the year.
The offense was far from bad in Washington’s first-round series sweep of the Toronto Raptors. In fact, it was downright potent, and it was largely thanks to key adjustments based on those criticisms I mentioned above.
First, the shot selection. Let’s take a look at the Wizards’ shot chart from the regular season:
Nearly 35 percent of the Wizards’ shots in the regular season came from mid-range, and the 28.9 attempts per game from mid-range was tied for third in the league, per NBA.com. Meanwhile, Washington took only 16.8 three-pointers per game, the fourth-fewest in the league.
Now let’s look at the Wizards’ shot chart from their sweep of the Raptors:
The percentage of shots in the paint in the two shot charts are almost identical, but the difference in mid-range shots and three-pointers is quite significant. In the four games against the Raptors, just over 25 percent of the Wizards’ shots came from mid-range, compared to the nearly 35 percent in the regular season. Furthermore, 30 percent of Washington’s shots against Toronto were three-pointers, compared to about 20 percent of the shots in the regular season. That certainly doesn’t seem like a Randy Wittman offense.
That jump in three-point shooting goes hand-in-hand with the decision to play Pierce more at power forward. We highlighted his impact at the 4 after Game 1, and it was a theme throughout the series. The Wizards’ most-used lineup with Pierce at the 4 in the regular season played just 37 minutes, but the lineup featuring Pierce at the 4 along with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat saw 31 minutes of action against Toronto, per NBA.com.
That small ball lineup ran roughshod over the Raptors to the tune of 131.8 points per 100 possessions. There was nothing lost on the defensive end, as that group gave up just 95.8 points per 100 possessions for a net rating of 36.0. If you replace Gortat with Nene, those numbers are 138.1, 63.0 and 75.1, respectively. (That second group played just nine minutes together in the series, but still impressive.)
Pierce didn’t put up monster numbers in the series, but his efficiency was superb and he hit multiple clutch shots. He averaged 15.5 points while shooting 57.6 percent overall and 58.3 percent from three against Toronto. As Pierce likes to say, that’s why the Wizards brought him to Washington, and they’ll need him to continue to play at a high level as the playoffs continue.
Porter stepping up was also huge for Washington. The second-year man contributed little in his rookie season and was inconsistent this season, but he saw his role skyrocket against the Raptors thanks to the increased use of the smaller units. He saw his playing time increase from 19.4 minutes per game to 32.0 minutes per game, and he took advantage by shooting 55.6 percent overall and 50.0 percent from three.
While Washington looked great against Toronto, it’ll be interesting to see if some of these trends continue moving forward. The Raptors’ defense was awful for most of the year and was especially bad in this series, which can explain some of the uptick in the Wizards’ offensive efficiency:
The concern for Washington going forward is that while most teams "give" the midrange pull up, TOR gave the 3: pic.twitter.com/k6y7oYXDre
— Seth Partnow (@SethPartnow) April 27, 2015
But perhaps Wittman and his Wizards have finally turned a corner offensively. Washington likely won’t post a 112.5 offensive rating (best of any team through this point in the postseason, per NBA.com) in any series moving forward, but if the offense can somewhat replicate what happened against Toronto, a deep playoff run for the Wizards could be in order.