At 28-34, Washington Wizards Still Overachieving

How bad are the 2022 Washington Wizards? A team that started 10-3 is 18-31 since then, including a Friday night loss to the Atlanta Hawks that was a must-win for Washington if they hoped to remain in shouting distance of the bottom end of the play-in game race in the East. Their Net Rating of minus-2.8 on the season is seventh-worst in the league, and on paper they’re actually worse than the New York Knicks (25-38) and Indiana Pacers (22-43) below them.

That’s right. The Wizards, at one point in November the Eastern Conference’s top seed, is even at 28-34 still playing two games better than their win expectation, and their continued collapse is not in any statistical way due for a break.

So what happened?

Well, for starters, we’ve talked about this team twice already this season on this site—nothing gets the attention of this publication quite like stats that don’t match up to the scoreboard.

The first time, we examined the Wiz at 5-1, when Montrezl Harrell—who got shipped to Charlotte at the trade deadline—was in the midst of making an MVP case in the guise of a Sixth Man of the Year run. Harrell has since cooled off—he’s put up just .162 WS/48 for the Hornets in eight games so far—but he ended up with a career-best .229 in DC. Those are honest-to-gods superstar advanced stats, especially for a bench guy.

Here’s what I wrote about the Wizards at that early juncture of the season.

“The Wizards are the weakest 5-1 team so far. Not only are they ninth in Net Rating, but they haven’t really beaten anyone. Their five wins have come against Toronto, Indiana, Boston (twice), and Atlanta—that’s a combined opponents’ record of 12-20. Their loss was a 14-point mauling at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets.”

Prescient? Perhaps.

Especially when you consider this, which came in the examination of the NBA’s overachievers later in the season, an examination of Washington and Chicago that pointed out both teams were on historic runs as far as exceeding their win expectation.

“The Wizards started 10-3. Since then, they’re 12-17. And in terms of the math, they’re not even that good. Prorated out to 82 games, their expected record is more like 35-47.”

That, as it turns out, might even still have been over-optimistic.

The Wizards made their early-season success on a freakish record in one-possession games. At that 42-game point of the season, when they were 22-20, they were 8-2 in games decided by three points or fewer.

So let’s look at the games since then, in which the Wiz are 6-14.

Three of those wins—against Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Detroit—were by a combined seven points, as they won by 3, 1, and 3 respectively. Beating the Sixers in a close game is one thing. Beating the collapsing Nets and the woeful Pistons close? That’s quite another.

Meanwhile, the Wiz have lost by one to the Nets, one to the Clippers, and three to Atlanta. That takes their overall record in one-possession games to 11-5 on the year. There’s room to regress there. A team’s record in close games should track in a small way with its overall record. Good teams should be worse in close games than their overall mark—“great teams win big and lose close” and all that. The 1996 Chicago Bulls were just 5-3 in such contests, a 51-31 prorated 82-game record for a team that went 72-10.

But 11-5 when your overall record is 28-34?

That’s way out of sync even for a bad team and it’s a sign that the Wizards have a couple more gut punch losses in the tank for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, in this latest 20-game stretch, the Wizards have just two double-digit wins, against—really, you can’t make this stuff up—Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

That makes them 2-6 in games decided by 10 points or more in just the last month and a half.

Overall for the season, Washington is 7-17 in double-digit-margin contests.

Great teams win big and lose close. Bad teams win close and lose big. These stats are self-demonstrating.

Washington was shaky early in the season, getting off to a big start without putting up big numbers and while playing against other bad teams on top of that.

Those chickens have come home to roost big time. Divided into three roughly equal quarter-season chunks, the Wizards’ records have been 13-7, 9-13, and now 6-14. There’s been a steady downward trend, and if they go 7-13 the rest of the way, there’s that 35-47 team that the stats said we’d get back at the halfway mark.

Regression’s a beast.

And frankly, Harrell was Washington’s best player. Now that they’ve traded him away, the sky may be the limit but the floor is only the beginning on the path to this team’s season being six feet under.