5 Things the Washington Wizards Must Achieve During 2015

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2015

5 Things the Washington Wizards Must Achieve During 2015

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    The Wizards still have a few kinks to work out before the playoffs roll around.
    The Wizards still have a few kinks to work out before the playoffs roll around.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    At 24-11, the Washington Wizards currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. But if their recent road trip is any indication (they went just 2-3 and lost to the Dallas Mavericks in a 114-87 blowout), they still have plenty of improving to do.

    Fortunately, it's just January. The Wizards have time to work out their issues and (hopefully) grow into legitimate title contenders.

    Let's take a look at some of the things Washington needs to achieve over the rest of the season and how it might go about doing so.

Shoot More Threes

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    Washington has been lights-out from three-point range.
    Washington has been lights-out from three-point range.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    The Wizards are shooting 39.3 percent from deep this season, the top mark in the league. Since Bradley Beal's return, they're hitting an even better 41.1 percent, a mark that just a handful of teams have ever approached over the course of a season.

    Unfortunately, Washington isn't exactly launching threes at a historic rate. The Wizards are averaging just 15.6 shots from deep since Beal's return, the second-lowest rate in the NBA over that span. That's simply bad offense, as a few more threes could give them a big boost on that end.

    Only a few teams can cobble together top-10 offenses while shelving three-point shooting to the extent the Wizards have. And those teams are almost always low-post juggernauts that maul opponents in the paint (the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans come to mind this season).

    Washington just isn't that type of squad. It's not trading threes for shots at the rim; it's trading them for mid-range (or deeper) jumpers.

    That's what's really frustrating. John Wall is arguably the league's cleverest passer. The Wizards should be generating tons of open looks from deep through Wall-Marcin Gortat pick-and-rolls alone.

    As it stands now, opposing defenses can pack the paint and ward off Wizards ball-handlers without being punished from outside. A few more threes would go a long way toward opening up the floor for Washington.

Work Martell Webster Back into the Rotation

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    Martell Webster will be a big rotation piece for the rest of the season.
    Martell Webster will be a big rotation piece for the rest of the season.Glenn James/Getty Images

    Martell Webster has played 37 total minutes this season, so it's hard to really evaluate where he's at as a player. What is clear is that the Wizards need him reacclimated and at 100 percent by the time the postseason rolls around.

    Otto Porter has been a pleasant surprise for Washington this season, but the Wizards would be in some trouble if they had to lean on him in the playoffs. A huge chunk of Porter's offense comes from deep or mid-range twos. He was on fire from that distance early in the year but has since cooled off. If healthy, Webster is a sizable upgrade.

    Even with Rasual Butler's miracle season in full swing, Washington is thin on the wing. Outside of Butler, Beal and Paul Pierce, no one on the roster screams “playoff ready.” Fair or not, they need something from Webster that at least approaches his production last season.

    In 2013-14, Webster shot 39 percent from three, was enormously efficient overall and was a part of some killer offensive lineups.

    None of that has rung true yet this season, though he obviously has tons of rust to shake off. Washington will have to do some tinkering to figure how he best fits on the current squad (thus far, it's been massacred with him on the court). It will take the next few months to figure that out.

Tighten Up Fourth-Quarter Defense

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    Nene and the other Wizards need to shape up late in games.
    Nene and the other Wizards need to shape up late in games.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    The Wizards have one of the best defenses in the league, but for whatever reason it has slipped badly in the fourth quarter this year.

    Washington has surrendered 110.4 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter this season, the third-worst mark in the league. That's over 10 points per 100 possessions worse than their overall defense and would be the worst rate in the league on a per-game basis.

    It's not as though Washington is just failing in one defensive area during the game's final quarter—it's practically falling apart defensively. The Wizards are struggling to defend the rim, getting blitzed from outside (opponents are shooting 38.6 percent against them in the fourth) and fouling at a massive rate.

    Their late-game woes on that end are head-scratching at best, especially considering who the culprits are.

    Some teams have poor defensive numbers in the fourth quarter because they start the period by playing bench lineups for long stretches. The Wizards employ that same strategy, but their main bench lineup is actually playing well defensively.

    The problems have emerged when the starters are filtered back into the game—even the vaunted starting lineup has been toasted.

    The Wizards aren't slacking off in the fourth. And they're so good defensively as a whole that their lapses on that end are likely just a combination of bad luck and a small sample size. Even so, it's something to monitor moving forward, especially if it's still a problem as the playoffs draw near.

Post Up Kevin Seraphin More

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    Kevin Seraphin needs to see more touches on the low block.
    Kevin Seraphin needs to see more touches on the low block.Glenn James/Getty Images

    Kevin Seraphin's offensive numbers are just so-so this season. He's averaging 6.5 points per game on 54 percent true shooting, and ESPN's real-plus minus system has him pegged as an overall detriment on that end.

    However, there's reason to believe that he's being somewhat misused in the Wizards' offense. Washington more or less treats Seraphin like it does its other bigs—he's mostly a pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop finisher—when it should do little else but post him up on the offensive end.

    Seraphin has connected on a whopping 73.6 percent (!) of his hook shots dating back to the 2012-13 season, per nbawowy! That's an absurd number. It's also not a fluke brought on by a small amount of attempts—he's taken 265 hook shots over that span.

    That's what makes his role in the Washington offense so puzzling. Over 56 percent of Seraphin's looks over the past three years have been mid-range jumpers. He's hitting on just 30 percent of them, per nbawowy!

    You can pick nits in Seraphin's post game. He's still not great at establishing position on the low block. And he sometimes ignores his hook shot in favor of countermoves “simply out of boredom,” per The Washington Post's Jorge Castillo.

    Even so, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Seraphin is deadly on the low block. He should be down there much more often.

Start Playing Small

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    Paul Pierce is deadly at the 4.
    Paul Pierce is deadly at the 4.Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    The Wizards are built to play big, and they've been very successful doing so this season. That doesn't mean that they should punt small-ball altogether though, especially considering how successful their small units have been.

    Pierce has played just five percent of the Wizards' minutes at the 4 this season, and they've been phenomenal with him there, per 82games.com.

    That's obviously a small sample. But we also have an entire season of data (from 2013-14) suggesting that Pierce is a potent small-ball 4. The Wizards have a ton of shooters, and given all that, it's very surprising they haven't gone small more to this point.

    Washington is almost certainly trying to protect Pierce's health and limit the amount of time he has to spend banging with opposing bigs. That's a smart strategy, but it's also a bit limiting. The Wizards are scoring at blistering rates with him at the 4. It's well worth investing at least some time into those lineups, even if doing so comes with some risk.

    The Washington offense often grows stagnant, especially against the league's best defenses. Going small could help counteract that.

    Even just opting to go small for short stretches would be nice. A handful of Eastern teams (like the Chicago Bulls) have rim protectors at the 4 whom Pierce could pull out of the paint, opening up driving lanes for the Wizards' ball-handlers.

    Washington doesn't have to go crazy with small lineups but should at least make sure it's comfortable with a few smaller units. They could pay big dividends come the postseason.

    All statistics accurate as of 1/8/2015 and courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com unless stated otherwise.