Could the Wizards in 2011 be the Worst NBA Team of all time?

Note: Before we start some basics for new readers . Here a guide to commonly used terms on this blog from Devin at the NBeh? blog . Here’s a Guide to Calculating Wins Produced from Wages of Wins. Bienvenidos a mi blog.

Note 2: Never submit a post at 1:30 am. I’ve heavily proofed this and now it hopefully reads better. Your refunds are in the mail.

Previously, in this space I’ve talked about the worst NBA team of all time (originally noted in this blog as the 1993 Mavs) and the 30 Worst Teams since the merger. That table is here:

I bring this up because as a result of all my postseason analysis, I have a dawning suspicion that this club might gain a new member, the 2011 Washington Wizards. This is because I’ve come to the conclusion that the coming NBA season may be the most competitive of all time from a talent level point of view. 2008 to 2010 was the most stacked three year period in league history. The following graph from a previous piece (Measuring the Quality of Basketball in the NBA take 2) illustrates that:

The league is truly fantastic right now but there is a dark side to this. Stacked periods have their bottom feeders; their patsies . All time Teams can produce the NBA equivalent of the  Washington Generals and all my work (and my gut) was pointing ironically to the Washington Wizards .

Washington Generals not the Wizards

Now before I proceed, let me qualify my statement by saying I like Ted Leonsis. I just feel that he inherited a train wreck.

However, he has a proven track record as an excellent owner. I am a fan of his blog and believe he will turn this team around.   Other than John Wall (who we will talk about at length here), I love what the Wizards did with the draft. He drafted a PG and two upside late 1st round bigs ( Kevin Seraphin at 17 and Trevor Booker at 23). It’s almost a page out  my Build me a winner manifesto. For example, in the manifesto I state:

“Here are some more thoughts on drafting. I’d look for productive/athletic/high skill players who are available even if they are being passed up for some reason (character,size, being a tall white dude).  I would vet the players thoroughly (like the Republicans didn’t do for Palin). For the 2010 draft I love Cousins, Turner,Heyward and Aldrich. I Hate John Wall (too expensive and not polished enough to contribute and all see the previous point on ball handling). I love what the Celts did in drafting Avery Bradley and Luke Haragondy. They’re both chancy picks with a lot of upside. If they don’t work, you at worst lose a min salary. The draft should be treated like a penny poker game, go big or stay home.”

But as I said almost. It’s obvious that I like the athletic, high-upside bigs at the minimum level but it’s even more obvious that I would  have preferred they go another way with the number 1.

Before anyone asks, if I were the GM for the Wizards I would have:

  • Picked Demarcus Cousins number #1. The second best player in the draft according to  PAWS/40 (see here) and the best center. I simply couldn’ t pass up a possible franchise center.
  • Done as the Wizards did for the rest of day (told you I liked the cut of their jib). At the end of the day I would have wound up adding a good bet at franchise Center with Cousins, two cheap lottery tickets for a good PF  in Seraphin and Booker, and a proven and underrated  NBA 1/2 in Kirk Hinrich.
  • The upside of this is that it would have allowed me to try to salvage something out of the Gilbert Arenas albatross around my neck and given me a starting five of Hinrich, Arenas, Josh Howard, one of the rookie power forwards and Cousins with JaVale McGee as my sixth man. While not a world-beater in 2011, this would have been  a competitive team with lots of potential in the frontcourt and trade pieces to follow the OKC team-building thru the draft model.

Since this didn’t happen and my magical pony is still in the mail, I’m left here judging what they did. Let’s start with John Wall.

John Wall at 20

My biggest objections to the  Wall pick are that he’s too young,  not polished enough to contribute enough in the first four years of his rookie contract and not enough of a ball handler (see here for a really long series on what makes a good draft pick , short version: it’s not necessarily the best player, but the best value for the next four years) . Can I prove this? If I go into research mode, I think I can come up with some data to back this premonition. First, a table with the Wins Produced numbers for all NBA rookie Point Guards who were:

  • Less than 21 their rookie season
  • Played more than 1500 at Point Guard their rookie year.

Some great names on this list but if you’re a Wiz fan you have to be asking yourself who does Wall compare the best to? If I pull the available data from Draft Express for all the players drafted from the NCAA on that list we get:

You’ll note that Wall is only first in Possessions per game and Turnovers per Possession not good signs. So we have a high usage (read ball-hogging), turnover prone point guard who is an inefficient scorer. Were these six players available right now in an imaginary draft, based on just their  last year in college, I would have to rate Wall fifth behind Westbrook at four (a fourth pick in 2008 ironically) and ahead of  Flynn at six ( who was, you won’t believe it, a sixth pick in 2009).  I won’t deny the potential for the future is there but I have a hard time with him as the number one overall pick. I’d group him with Westbrook who I think is a great player and with Flynn who’s in Minny so who knows what he is right now. Potential is great but the immediate problem for the Wizard is 2011 and what John Wall can give them in the near term.

Projecting the Wizards

Now we come to the main event, the title question: Could the Wizards in 2011 be the Worst NBA Team of all time? To answer this question, I’m doing a simple projection based on:

  • The players on the roster
  • 2010 performance for non-rookie players (except for Josh Howard)
  • My guess at minute allocation based on the ESPN depth chart and past years’ minutes played
  • A simple projection for the rookies

For the Rookies, I’m doing two scenarios:

The Sunny day scenario has me using Russell Westbrook’s rookie season to project John Wall, assuming both Booker and Seraphin will average out to a .075 WP48 player (better than average) and using Josh Howard’s 2009 numbers for his projection.The Not Cool scenario has me using Jonny Flynn’s rookie season to project John Wall, assuming both Booker and Seraphin will average out to a .025 WP48 player (worse than average) and using Josh Howard’s 2010 numbers for his projection. The projections look like:

So my best case projection has about  a 22 win team in Washington and my worst has them as the all time loser in the NBA. Both projections certainly put them on the 30 Worst Team list since the merger. Definitely, not good times for basketball fans in DC.

I initially had Strasburg here, but yeah...

Regardless of the coming catastrophe , Washington fans have cause for hope in in the long term. They have the seed of a good organization, I just feel like inexperience trapped them in an untenable position.  Public expectations and all the experts said Wall was the can’t miss number one pick and when faced with the tide of public opinion, the Wizards front office blinked. They  made, not the best basketball choice for their franchise, but the one they felt was the best Public Relations choice for their them in the face of their fans.  We have to hope that this current Wizards regime can do better than the last Wizards front office with adversity. Why? Because the answer to the titular question of this post is yes, they really could be the worst NBA team of all time in 2011.

And click here for part 2


  1. DW
    September 12

    Try running a grammar check every once in a while.

    Too = also, in excess
    two = 2
    to = all other uses

  2. September 12

    You’re being a little snarky but you have a point. Never submit a post at 1:30 am. I’ve heavily proofed this and now it hopefully reads better. Your refund is in the mail :-)

  3. September 12

    You got linked by Ted Leonsis, that’s kind of cool. I’m excited that he reads your stuff. And Arturo, I basically would have said the same thing. Not going to be a fun year for us Wizards fans.

    • September 12

      Yeah, imagine my spit take this morning. I do actually think they have hope but it’s a multi year plan (and it involves the draft lottery next year).

  4. DaveJ
    September 12

    This is a ridiculous post. 22 games? Yes, the talent level is higher .. but still half the games played are against the have nots like the 76ers … this isn’t going to be that horrible of a year.

  5. September 12

    How many games did the Wizards win the last two years? Gilbert Arenas is coming back from major injuries and a jail sentence. Derrick Rose is very young, which will influence his skill regardless of how good he may eventually become. Also have you forgotten the Wizards conference? Orlando, Atlanta and Miami and Charlotte. That’s four teams that made the playoffs last year and in the offseason Miami entered a cheat code. I am not saying Arturo is right (but I would bet on his stuff over most other peoples work, including my own. . . ) but based on the offseason not a lot happened to increase my optimism for the Wizards this year.

  6. September 12

    Sorry I said Rose when I meant Wall :) I was thinking of last year’s model of overhyped PG.

  7. September 13


    Are you projecting low minutes for Arenas due to injury? If he’s healthy, I have a hard time seeing him play fewer minutes than Hinrich (deservedly or not).

    • September 13

      Arenas is the biggest X-Factor on this team. See his numbers
      Arenas for
      2006: 3384 MP Age 24 WP48 .158 ADJP48 .295 Wins 11.14
      2007: 2942 MP Age 25 WP48 .170 ADJP48 .313 Wins 10.42
      2008: 425 MP Age 26 WP48 .066 ADJP48 .232 Wins .58
      2009: 63 MP Age 27 WP48 .198 ADJP48 .366 Wins .26
      2010: 1169 MP Age 28 WP48 .078 ADJP48 .237 Wins 1.9
      If he plays like the 2008 to 2010 Arenas he will actually hurt the team if he gets more minutes than Hinrich. I think he will start but I went low because he hasn’t been able to stay on the court in three years.

      • September 13

        So if Arenas plays like he did when he was injured then he will hurt the team. Brilliant analysis.

        Also if you re-sort your data adjusting for specific age you notice a couple trends: 1) 18 yr old guards tend to turn the ball over a lot. High usage freshman guards even more so, since opposing defenses can load up to stop them, understanding they will be carrying the ball more; 2) turnover rates tend to improve as a player ages.

        If PAWS40 has a flaw it’s that it fetishizes turnovers and emphasizes judicious use of possessions. That is, a player who shoots rarely but efficiently and who never turns the ball over, will look more effective than a player who tends to be a little more helter skelter.

        Not bad. You end up with a team of careful players who value each possession. Which is a fine thing.

        Thus a cat like Mike Miller looks like a great catch. He lead the league for much of the year in 3pt%, made smart passes, and even rebounded pretty well for his position (depending on how you define that position). Problem is it was non-useful to the team since he would never shoot.

        It also means you end up trumpeting Joey Dorsey as the next great frontcourt monster since he rebounded pretty well, and never turned the ball over since he never passed, and his eFG% was pretty solid since he’d only shoot if he could dunk it. Didn’t quite translate to the next level though since he was 6’5″ tall in pumps, needed to adjust his game to battle the true bigs, and worse yet, had a piss-poor attitude. This last is key. In the NBA you will be given opportunities and the benefit of the doubt if you listen to coaching well and apply yourself to improve.

        The capacity, opportunity and willingness to improve or adjust are what truly take the raw materials of athleticism and on-court IQ and forge them into longterm lasting success. BY all accounts a guy like John Wall has the above qualities in spades: Athletics, requisite size, intelligence, and good attitude.

        Consider also the assist rate of PG prospects entering the Flip Saunders Hawk offense. Players like Marbury, Billups, etc saw their TOs drop and assist rates spike. Here we have a good mesh of attitude + offense + coach.

        Consider also that Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans registered a less than stellar PAWS40. Yet both seem to be pretty decent players in the NBA. The common thread is that all 3 played under John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense as heavy usage freshmen, and that Coach Cal has particular ideas about the role of his PGs.

        Suffice to say as a Wiz fan I’m not terribly concerned that this team will challenge for all-time worst status. The overlooked Andray Blatche is a nice fit for the Flip Saunders modified Hawk offense (in the jr KG/Sheed role as mid-range skilled Big). And John Wall looks to have the capacity to take all the work and teaching he can get from coaches like Flip and midrange master Sam Cassell.

        And with a pissed off Gilbert as an X-factor. Never know, kid made his name proving doubters wrong. When healthy he’s league-wide one of the toughest players to handle. If your primary selling point for your argument is based on stats when he was injured, well, nice try, but it lacks intellectual rigor.

        • September 13

          I’m projecting Wall to be as good as Westbrook his rookie year in one scenario and Westbrook is an exceptional player right now. He can learn but his production of wins will not be that great while he learns and gets used to NBA speed.

          I have to think 29 Year old Gilbert will more closely resemble 28 Year old than 25 Year old Gilbert. At best, I think Gilbert might be good for 2000 minutes, a .120 WP48 and about 3 extra wins but I’m also assuming Josh Howard reverts back to form. One spontaneous rejuvenation might happen but two is very unlikely.

  8. nate33
    September 13

    The Wizards went 9-22 last year following the Jamison/Butler/Haywood trades. That’s a 23-win pace. With Blatche, McGee, Young and Thornton returning, this team is pretty similar to last year’s team with the following changes:

    Wall replaces Shaun Livingston
    Arenas replaces Foye
    Hinrich replaces Mike Miller
    Howard replaces Cartier Martin
    Yi Jianlian replaces James Singleton
    Hilton Armstrong replaces Oberto
    Thornton replaces Quinton Ross
    Seraphin replaces nobody

    All of these are upgrades with the possible exceptions of Hinrich/Miller and Yi/Singleton. There’s also a reasonable expectation of improvement out of McGee and to a lesser extent Blatche and Young.

    Finally, this being Flip’s second year in DC, there won’t be the growing pains of the introduction of a new offensive and defensive system.

    The way I see it, even without Arenas, the Wizards should be moderately improved from last year, something on the order of 27-30 wins.

    Arenas is indeed the wildcard. You have assumed the Arenas of the past 3 seasons, but I say that’s not really appropriate. Arenas played 13 games in 07/08 on one leg. He played just 2 games in 08/09 rendering the sample size meaningless. Last year, he played bad in his first 15 games while shaking off two year of rust, but played pretty well thereafter. He averaged 25 points, 8 assists and 5 boards over his last 17 games prior to the suspension (with a .540 TS% which isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either). A skeptic might call it a hot streak, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that he was just rounding into form after a long layoff. Basically, once Arenas found his rhythm, he was a couple of FG% points off of being Prime Arenas. If he gets that TS% back up into the 56-57 range, then I don’t see why the Wizards can’t win 35-40 games. Reports are that he is fully healthy and looking explosive in workouts.

    • nate33
      September 13

      Sorry. Should read Booker replaces Quinton Ross

      • September 13

        Interesting points, I’ll address them.
        I project John Wall should at best give you break even with what you got from PG last Year (at worst, well you know)
        I’ll give you Arenas over Foye
        Hinrich is most definitely not an upgrade over Mike Miller
        Howard did not look good at all last year and blew out his ACL in February this is not typically a one year injury
        Yi and Thorton are no good (and in fact the team would be better served by playing the rookies ahead of them but then we run into growing pains again)

        The Wizards do not have one player who has put up a season at league average (.100 WP48) at the 4 or 5. This is a formula for disaster. You need effective big men to win (see LA,Orlando,Phoenix,Boston,San Antonio, Milwaukee,Chicago, Cleveland,Denver etc. last year) and the Wizards don’t have a one other than maybe McGee, maybe (and you would be much happier with him as your seventh or eight guy and not your starting Center).

        As for Arenas, players rounding back to form at 29 Years Old are rare indeed.

        • nate33
          September 13

          I say that the evidence from last season (after the first 15 games) suggests that Arenas could certainly round back into form.

          Also, I think you are overlooking Andray Blatche. Yes his WS is sub .100, but that’s because he was a 4th option role player for most of the season. Once Arenas, Butler and Jamison were gone, the offense flowed through him and he held his own (22 points per game with a TS% of .530 despite being the only legit offensive weapon and the focus of opposing defense). With Wall feeding him the ball and Arenas taking some defensive pressure away, I think Blatche will prove to be an above-average big man this year.

          I agree with your criticism of McGee and Yi. Yi has been hot garbage for most of his career, and McGee is the type of player who posts good numbers but hurts the team. Both guys are freak physical specimens however, and both have performed very well in the offseason (FIBA’s for Yi and Summer League for McGee) which at least leaves open the possibility of dramatic improvement. One usually sees a great deal of improvement in big men in their 3rd and 4th seasons.

          And regarding John Wall, I’ll just reiterate doclinkin’s analysis.

          I’m not expecting the Wizards to be world beaters, but I really don’t see any way they could be in the conversation for worst team ever. Like I said earlier, it’s basically the same team as the post Jamison trade team last year, which played at 23-game pace. Forget all the bit players. Arenas, Wall and Hinrich are bound to be better than Foye, Livingston and Miller; and the Blatche and McGee of 2010/11 are bound to be better than the Blatche and McGee of 2009/10. How can the team be worse?

  9. September 13

    LOL on the Yi comment.
    Blatche is entering his sixth year in the NBA and has not sniffed a .100 WP48. Also with Wall, Arenas, Howard and McGee (and Hinrich off the bench) he’s going back to being a 4th or below scoring option.

    Wall is a rookie, a young rookie. Wall,Arenas & Hinrich will give you about what Foye,Arenas,Livingston and Miller gave you last year.

    The Wizards problem are in the Frontcourt and not the Backcourt. The frontcourt is:
    Howard (who is recovering from and ACL and looked done before the surgery)
    Thorton (who is volcanic garbage and who will play more minutes than shown because of the Howard injury)
    Yi (Who will see time at SF)
    Two young rookies (who I like but might not crack the rotation based on history)
    McGee and Armstrong
    To me only McGee looks like he could develop into a legit NBA starter on a winning team by next season and it’s not a given. It’s the arguably the least productive frontcourt (and only because the Pacers are really bad as well and the Clippers could be if a meteor strikes Blake Griffin).

    • bball fan
      September 22

      I personally think, Blatche will be the Third option when it comes to scoring. Howard won’t be back until end of December. Also, Arenas didn’t do that well playing the point last season. So I personally believe John Wall was the perfect choice for the Wiz. Also, I think you went little bit too far when you said that Wizard’s will be on the list.

  10. September 14

    Well done, Arturo. Parts 1& 2 were very interesting.

    • September 14

      Thanks. I get all proper and analytical when I get called out. It was an interesting exercise in breaking down a roster. It went easier and faster than when I looked at the Knicks. Only have 28 teams to go before the start of the new season :-)

  11. Rashad
    September 15

    One factor not to be underestimated is regression towards the mean. I think Wins Produced (and any metric) probably has trouble at the extremes (teams that project to be really good, or really bad).

    For example, with rebounding, some Wizards rebound numbers are going to have to improve, which will help their WP48. Actually, a study of how Wins Produced retrodicts the records of extremely good and bad teams would be interesting.

    • September 15

      It’s an interesting comment. Regression to the mean seems to apply but not at a team level like in the NFL but actually at the player level (players tend to go back to who they are over time). So on average players’ rebounding numbers don’t really improve/downgrade significantly over time other than due to age. I have not done a full study but the sources of error I see seem to be related to possesions, schedule and the fact that there seems to be a hard cap to win/loss probability around 92/8 % (so a team always has some chance of winning a basketball game). The math says to expect 95% of all seasons to be between 16 and 65 wins. Take a look at the Mavs piece linked above if you want to see some of the work I’ve done on the edges of the model .

      • yop
        September 15

        Regression to the mean makes sense for established players, but maybe it would make more sense to project young players to continue along some sort of trend line. After all, most players improve during the beginning of their career, no?

        • September 15

          You’re totally right on the age factor. Take a look here for some of the work I’ve done on this. I expect John Wall to improve over the course of his rookie contract but the raw productivity of a twenty year old is about 60% of their peak (which means that they tend not to produce a lot of wins). The problem for the Wiz is that there giving a lot of minutes to bad players, players past their prime with health issues and rookie players who are a few years away probably from hitting their stride. A bad recipe all around.

          • yop
            September 15

            So, what do you get if you project the young “veterans” like McGee, Blatche, Young, Yi, etc. to follow the age vs productivity curve?

            • September 15

              I think McGee can get to .100 WP48 in his peak year but he’ll be around what he is now the rest of the time. Blatche/Young are past the point were a big gain in productivity is likely. I think Blatche could be a decent 9th guy on a winning team at best. I don’t trust Yi’s age figures but maybe he gets to be a net positive contributor (and I wouldn’t bet on it). But we’re talking marginal gains (and some of these guys will regress the other way just from injuries,situation and regression to the mean).

  12. […] is not a very popular prognostication, but there it is.  Hey, its hardly the Wizards (check out Arturo’s awesome destruction of their roster… its dead on analysis, and apparently Ted Leonisis (sp?) took exception to […]

  13. September 19

    There are two problems with this analysis: the first is the sample base used for rating Wall, the second has to do with last year’s Wizard performance. And I suppose that just about covers the whole foundation for the title’s prediction.

    The analysis for Wall is fair in itself and I don’t dispute that he’s overhyped, with just too little experiential basis, including the drawing of conclusions from a four-game “summer” league.

    However, the comparisons given in the article have pit him up against the very best of the league’s PG’s in their rookie years. Even if he ends up fourth or fifth in this group in efficiency and production it may still set him up as rookie PG #1 or 2 for this season. In other words, he won’t get on the NBA All Stars but he should make the NBA All-Star Rookie Team and perhaps ROY, though Blake with the Clippers is still the better bet.

    In other words, slightly worse than the very best is still pretty damn good.

    Secondly, using last year’s Wizard stats to draw conclusions about this year’s production is a classic exercise in futility. It would be hard to think of an NBA team that had more turbulence both on and off court than the 2010 Wizards. Indeed, major juggling of the on-court lineups continued right up to the end of the season and Wins Produced has greater reliability once coaches have figured out the best combination of players in the fray.

    So, what do I predict for the Wizards? Well, I’ve always had trouble with the role of Arenas as a one-man show. Yet even he admits his attempts last year at becoming a CP-like distributor caused both him and the team some major grief. Arenas has the basketball smarts to eventually work it out but Saunders is the man being paid the big bucks to impose his will. Unfortunately, we’ll probably see him indecisive once again on how Arenas fits in.

    The loss of Miller and Haywood – both of whom are widely and constantly underrated – has hurt as much as the loss of Jamieson (I can’t comment on Butler.). Still, the young guns have had flashes of brillance and you can at least say this for them: mistakes and all, they’re a tremendously entertaining team to watch, just the antithesis of the latest version of the TWolves, a natural comparison.

    I do agree that the deciding factor will be the frontcourt. For example, how will McGee’s and Blatche’s speed, spring, and agility match up against the muscle, determination, and experience of the Celtics front court? One would have to think: “Not very well!”

    The only potential remedy would be to recruit top-notch coaching a.s.a.p.. However, because of past history it’s highly unlikely Flip Saunders will swallow his pride and approach Kevin McKale, and McKale himself – even if available (sorry, I’ve been a bit out of touch with the NBA) – may not be interested, even for serious money.

    Finally, Nat33’s commentary that “there won’t be the growing pains of the introduction of a new offensive and defensive system. ” is way off-base. With six new players including the “problem of Yi”, it’s hard to think that this team will solidify enough to emerge out of their rebuilding stage to contend for a playoff spot. In an even tougher division, they will likely only rack up the same wins as last year. Yet, all things considered, rather than having the potential to disappoint, I do think they have the potential to surprise.

    • September 19

      I took all the rookie PG that qualified (under 21,1500 MP as a rookie). 4th or fifth is exactly where I have him projected.
      WP48 has high correlation year to year independent of team or player.

      Coaching with some notable exceptions (Phil and Pop) does not make much of a difference.

      • The Realist
        September 25

        Do you guys not realize that Arenas best ball was played with Larry Frickin hughes as his backcourt partner..he and hughes average like 2 steals a game that year…Wall is Leaps and bounds better than Hughes and now a Pissed off Arenas get’s to do what he does best ..SCORE!…man ya’ll are crazy thinking the Wiz won’t make the playoffs this year …yeah we are in a tough division but we have defensive minded guys on the roster now Hinrich, Wall, Seraphin,Al Thorton, Javale,Booker,all I can say is that Wall will have his growing pains but guess what this dude get’s at it on teh defensive end on some Gary Payton Circa 93 type ish!….if yoru best player and yoru point guard is locking fools up on defense it trickles down to everybody else…I can’t wait until the season starts so we can start mashing on fools…this article should have been written for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

  14. […] In other news I want to point out that Amare shot 6-11 from the field and 6-7 from the line. He also limited his turnovers to 2 and pulled down a mere 4 boards. While this may sound like a dig, this is actually great news for Knicks fans. Amare has been a one dimensional player in the last several years, namely being a scorer. If he reverts to this and the rest of the Knicks keep up their good play then 50 wins isn’t such a big pipe dream. However, for the Wizards it’s looking more and more like Arturo may be right. […]

  15. […] In other news I want to point out that Amare shot 6-11 from the field and 6-7 from the line. He also limited his turnovers to 2 and pulled down a mere 4 boards. While this may sound like a dig, this is actually great news for Knicks fans. Amare has been a one dimensional player in the last several years, namely being a scorer. If he reverts to this and the rest of the Knicks keep up their good play then 50 wins isn’t such a big pipe dream. However, for the Wizards it’s looking more and more like Arturo may be right. […]

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