Peruse the NBA leaderboard for the season and you will by-and-large find the usual suspects near the top. The Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks are first and second in defensive rating. The Bucks and the Houston Rockets are both sitting squarely in the top five in offensive rating. All is as expected in the association.
Except for one double-take inducing placement, of course. As of today, the Washington Wizards are currently sitting at second in offensive rating. Those Wizards, led by All-Star Bradley Beal and several castoffs from around the league, are blitzing opponents to the tune of 113.6 points per 100 possessions over their first 14 games.
If a psychic revealed that number before the season, most would guess it was the result of Bradley Beal putting on a James Harden mask and going supernova.
While Beal has been great — he is averaging almost 30 points per game on 58.3 percent true shooting — the offensive explosion has been triggered by multiple players excelling at a role and playing within the offense. The Wizards are fifth in the league in passes and first in assists per game, per NBA.com.
How did Washington build this Spursian offense? It starts with the signing of the former Spur himself, Davis Bertans.
Bertans is scorching the net from beyond the arc this season, hitting 47 percent of his three-point attempts. He is also second in points scored per game off catch-and-shoot plays, trailing only Paul George, per NBA.com.
Bertans’ lightning-fast release — and his seemingly limitless range — stretches out defenses to dangerous lengths. He frequently pops to multiple feet behind the three-point line out of the pick-and-roll. If a defender slows down on his close-out, believing that Bertans could not have the audacity to shoot from that far away, the marksman flings with ease.
Starting center Thomas Bryant has also been key to the prolific scoring. The Wizards have scored the second-most points per game with a pick-and-roll roll man, which is where Bryant has excelled.
Bryant is finishing 75 percent of his shots around the rim and has developed strong chemistry with Beal. He is bouncy — yet surprisingly coordinated. Bryant can find a way to contort his body around defenders and score from difficult angles. Better, the big man also has very sure hands and can catch tricky passes while diving into the paint.
Additionally, Bryant has also been a force on the offensive glass. His offensive rebounding percentage is up to 9.3 percent and has the Wizards be near the top of the league for points per missed shot, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Backing up Bryant — and having a stellar season of his own — is Moritz Wagner. Wagner was sent to the Wizards from the Los Angeles Lakers in a move to clear cap space. Early in the season, Wagner has proven to be more than just cap fodder for Washington.
The German has been a beacon of efficiency, shooting nearly all of his shots at either the rim or from three-point range. Surprisingly, Wagner has converted 79 percent of his attempts at the rim and is shooting 50 percent from deep.
Wagner is averaging 1.25 points per possession as a pick-and-roll roll mna, per NBA.com. Naturally, he leads the Wizards in this department, slightly ahead of Bryant at 1.20 points per possession.
A lot of the pick-and-roll production from the Wizards’ bigs can be attributed to Beal, who has taken his passing to another level this season. His timing on pocket passes has been excellent — frequently waiting for the opponent to take that one deadly step forward before hitting the roll man for an easy layup.
The Wizards are also featuring a rejuvenated Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has struggled the last few seasons following his hip injury and departure from Boston — but now, the point guard has been a solid offensive contributor in Washington.
The strong-willed scorer is having the best three-point shooting season of his career thus far, hitting 42 percent of those attempts. While the former All-Star doesn’t get to the rim as he could in Boston, the stellar shooting is a sign of a renewed confidence for Thomas.
The Wizards are playing at a fast pace — the fifth fastest in the league — but they are not playing a ton in transition. Per Cleaning the Glass, Washington is only in the 29th percentile in points added out of transition.
Their half-court offense has been very fast, usually using just one pick-and-roll to generate a good look. With Bryant and Wagner as the usual centers, the Wizards can usually trot out five willing and able shooters. In turn, this spacing leads to a wide-open paint.
The assist rate and half-court production lead to the conclusion that this offense, barring an injury, should be here to stay. There is potential for some shooting regression, but those statistics aren’t currently out of the ordinary. The Wizards are 13th in the league in three-point attempts and hit 37.9 percent of those shots.
Still, however, Washington will have a very difficult time making the playoffs. They are the second-worst defensive team in the league ahead of only Golden State. Worse, the Wizards particularly hemorrhage points when their best offensive units are on the court.
That said, Washington has carved out a niche as a fun-to-watch young team with a few veterans in the midst of career-best seasons. The spacing and passing on the court have made for a great developmental playground for both Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown.
There is also another upside to the Wizards’ productive offense. The inflated statistics could increase the trade value of the veterans as contenders look to make win-now moves at the deadline. With Washington likely headed to the lottery, it may be wise to shop some of these players for draft capital as the team tries to build around Beal going forward.
Either path the Wizards take, the team’s offense has been one of the most fun surprises of the season.
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