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The 1 Thing Keeping Washington Wizards from True Title Contention

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2014

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Efficient offensive practices in today's NBA largely revolve around the three-point shot. Attempt morein lieu of mid-range jump shotsand results will generally skew in your favor. 

Why, then, have the Washington Wizards seemingly revolted against conventional analytical wisdom and functioned as the antithesis of Daryl Morey's Houston Rockets

As ESPN.com's Insider's Tom Haberstroh (subscription required) recently outlined, the Wizards are a few tactical adjustments away from becoming a near-elite offense: 

They have fired up nearly twice as many midrange jumpers as 3-pointers, despite converting identical percentages on 3s and long 2s. If one apple is healthier and more delicious than another at the same price, why the heck are you going for the rotten one?

The Wiz wield plenty of capable 3-point shooters in Bradley Beal, Rasual Butler and Paul Pierce, but they seem happy to bail out the defense and pull up in the midrange. If the Wiz shifted just 150 of their 822 midrange attempts into 3-pointers at their current conversion rates, they'd mathematically jump from being tied at 13th in offensive efficiency all the way up to seventh. Just by tweaking their shot allocation.

To expand on Haberstroh's point, NBA.com shows us the Wizards are attempting 415 shots between eight to 16 feet and another 560 in that mid-range sweet spot that resides between 16 to 24 feet. 

Threes, then, are accounting for just 434 of Washington's total attempts. On a per-game basis, only the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, clubs that rank 16th and 27th, respectively, in offensive rating, attempt fewer. 

What makes the Wizards' appropriation of triples particularly puzzling is that thanks to Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce and Rasual Butler, Washington leads the league with a three-point conversion rate of 39 percent. 

To date, here's what Washington's shot chart looks like, courtesy of NBA.com

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Washington Wizards' 2014-15 Shot Chart (Through Dec. 26)
Washington Wizards' 2014-15 Shot Chart (Through Dec. 26)NBA.com/Stats

Diving deeper, we see the Wizards have developed a serious reliance on long-range jumpers, a trend that's applicable to guards and bigs alike. 

According to Basketball-Reference.com, Drew Gooden, Kris Humphries, Otto Porter, John Wall and Bradley Beal are all attempting at least a quarter of their total shots within the danger zone. 

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards shoots during a game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2014 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

For Wall, this feels like a natural development. The next step in his progression as a stud floor general was to develop a reliable jumper. And like the speedy Russell Westbrook before him, Wall has decided to make hay via pull-up opportunities. 

According to NBA.com, a whopping 55.9 percent of Wall's shots have come via pull-up jumpers, with those looks falling through the net at a 39 percent clip. 

It's hard to knock Wall for looking to expand his game by making the pull-up mid-range jumper a major part of his arsenal. After all, he wasn't staggeringly efficient when shots less than three feet from the basket accounted for more than 35 percent of his total attempts. 

But as The Washington Post's Jorge Castillo explained last week, Wall continues to bombard defenses with jumpers because they'd rather go under screens and prevent his speed from burning them: 

With the season less than one-third complete, teams have not yet altered their strategies; defenders continue to dare Wall to shoot. Opposing players move underneath screens set for Wall rather than fight through them and surrender open shots, at least early in games until he proves he can foil the approach.

“Teams would rather see me make them before I start the game out just getting to the basket,” said Wall, who is second in the NBA with 10.6 assists per game. “Even some teams going under on Brad [Beal] and I’m thinking like, ‘Whoa.’ Some teams would rather us make jump shots early and then later on in the game try and switch it up.”

In time, it may become a pick-your-poison scenario for defenses. For now, though, Wall can only take what the defense gives him. Unfortunately, shots between 16 to 24 feet are dropping at a 36.7 percent clip, the exact same rate he converted those attempts at last season, per Basketball-Reference

However, Wall's plight is different from Beal's and Butler's. 

Knocking down a career-best 45.9 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, Beal has ravaged defenses from distance since returning from a left wrist fracture. That number even ticks up a single percentage point on catch-and-shoot three attempts, according to NBA.com

Bradley Beal's 2014-15 Shot Chart (Through Dec. 26)
Bradley Beal's 2014-15 Shot Chart (Through Dec. 26)NBA.com/Stats

Which leads us to a puzzling question: Why on earth is Beal attempting 29.7 percent of his shots from deep and 28.5 percent in the range of 16 to 24 feet? 

As Haberstroh notes, the math simply doesn't add up. There's no reason to settle for a shot that's nearly equidistant to a three when it's worth a point less. Especially when Beal is knocking down a career-worst 32.4 percent of his looks from mid-range. 

What that tells us is that head coach Randy Wittman needs to adhere a low-voltage shock collar that zaps Beal every time he launches a long two. 

The same goes for Butler, who clocks in at No. 3 overall behind Kyle Korver and Luke Babbitt with a three-point field-goal percentage of 51.2. But alas, only 40 percent of Butler's long twos have been true through 24 appearances. Overall, such attempts have accounted for 21.6 percent of his total shots. 

Rasual Butler's 2014-15 Shot Chart (Through Dec. 26)
Rasual Butler's 2014-15 Shot Chart (Through Dec. 26)NBA.com/Stats

The good news is the Wizards are protected by the cocoon that is the Eastern Conference's ineptitude. 

Safely nestled into a top-five seed at the very worst, the Wizards still have plenty of time to correct their early-season inefficiencies and emerge as a potent shooting machine capable of capturing a conference title. 

It'll just take a little discipline along the way to make the dream a reality. 

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