Yes, yes, Toronto’s bench is awesome, and they set a franchise record for wins and other stuff. Washington fans are bummed their team has slipped to the No. 8 seed, however. But it has nothing to do with their team getting worse. Over the past five seasons, they have been essentially the same; it’s all about the conference improving.
In that time span Washington has always made the playoffs with a win total in the 40’s. They’ve had an adjusted point differential — SRS from Basketball-Reference — that’s ranged from -0.5 to 1.4. It’s been an epic ode to mediocrity. Who else has had five seasons in a row with an SRS between -1.5 and 1.5? You have to go back to the Knicks of the 1950’s. They had seven seasons in a row, and then they fell into awful basketball for much of the 60’s before finally rebounding with the gift of Walt Frazier.
The Wizards are at the point where their core doesn’t have the kind of potential where you can see their ceiling changed, and they need the rare kind of talent infusion to take them to the next level. Until that, they will continue to run on this treadmill of mediocrity and in an improved Eastern Conference that will translate to being a first-round doormat.
— Justin Willard (@AcrossTheCourt)
Much of the focus will likely be on John Wall, whose return to action after minor knee surgery has been the subject of considerable debate. He actually missed the entire regular-season series between the Wizards and Raptors. The two teams split their four games, although Toronto had a higher net rating (+2) driven mainly by strong bench performances. In many ways, Wall is a wild card.
But his backcourt teammate, Bradley Beal, should also command the Raptors attention. Beal was productive in the four games, averaging 29 points on 61 percent true shooting and 31 percent usage. He had a few things work in his favor (most notably, he made half of his 3-pointers). Nonetheless, he kept the Wizards competitive — and he did so regardless of who was guarding him.
The following chart shows how the Raptors matched up defensively against the Wizards during their regular-season series. Each line indicates the defender who spent the most time guarding a specific offensive player on a given possession. The thicker the line, the more frequent the matchup.
Norman Powell and OG Anunoby had primary defensive responsibilities for Beal, guarding him on 29 and 23 percent of his offensive possessions, respectively. The Wizards fared comparably in both cases (about 1.2 points per possession). Powell’s minutes have waned of late — his playing time has declined from 16 to 13 minutes a game since the All-Star break — so Anunoby seems poised to assume a greater role in this matchup. But the Raptors have other capable defenders if the rookie struggles.
These charts are not meant to evaluate whether an offense is good or bad. They are designed to help illustrate how teams go about the goal of trying to put the ball in the basket. Each team’s offense is evaluated on four stylistic spectrums.
Ball movement is measured with the average touch time for each team, from the NBA’s player tracking statistics. A lower average touch time means the ball is moving from player to player more quickly.
Player movement is measured with a combination different NBA.com tracking statistics, and works out to average distance traveled per 24 seconds of offensive possession.
Pace is measured with the average length of an offensive possession from Inpredictable, a more accurate representation for how quickly a team is working than traditional pace.
Shot selection is measured with MoreyBall percentage — in this case the percentage of a team’s true shooting opportunities that came at the rim, from the free throw line, or on a 3-pointer. It’s a generalized measure but captures something about how much each team hews to the shots that are, on average, the most efficient.
On the graph below you’ll see a line for each team’s offense. As the line moves away from the center of the graph on each axis you’re seeing more of that stylistic trait. For example, shot selection shows a (hypothetically) more efficient shot selection the further you are from center. Here’s how the Raptors and Wizards match up.
The chart really shows the evolution of the Raptors. Last season they looked a lot like the Wizards, but they’ve focused on movement and stretching the floor with 3-pointers this season, one of the reasons they are looking better than ever. Washington played with a lot more movement than their season-long trend when John Wall was out and it will be interesting to see how much they revert to old habits in the playoffs.
— Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh)
To project the series, I am using my in-season game projection model. The model is trained off historical game data, and accounts for rest, travel, team strength, and matchup. Since I began using the model to predict outcomes, I have been able to correctly identify the winner in about 70 percent of games.
The Raptors earned their way to the top seed in the East, and thus matchup with a Wizards team that has struggled as the year progressed. The Raptors are favorites to win in five games, with a nearly 21 percent chance to sweep the series. If you are looking for an upset, it is not likely to come from this 1-8 series. The Wizards badly need to push the Raptors into a long series, and while the Raptors are yet to win a Game 1 in the playoffs, it’s less likely than ever that the Wizards will be able to steal a game in Toronto. The newly redesigned Raptors offense will get its first playoff test, and every indication is they will survive, winning the series in 85 percent of 10,000 simulations.
— Jacob Goldstein (@JacobEGoldstein)