The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks met four times during the 2016-17 NBA regular season. They meet again in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs starting with Game 1 Sunday at Verizon Center. We can break down the previous meetings and the upcoming series many ways. This way will be with some key stats.
Both teams are excellent at forcing miscues. Washington finished tied with Golden State in opponent’s turnovers (14.8) with Atlanta (14.7) in third. On the other side, the Wizards ranked 20th in turnovers this season with 13.5 per game, but things would have been worse if they faced the Hawks more than four times. Washington players averaged 18.8 turnovers against Atlanta, easily its most against any opponent. That number wasn’t the result of one or two brutal games. The miscues were steady:
· Oct. 27 at Atlanta, Loss – 19 (John Wall 5, Jason Smith 4)
· Nov. 4 at Washington, Win – 19 (Bradley Beal 5, five players with at least two)
· Jan. 27 at Atlanta, Win – 18 (Markieff Morris 5, Wall 4, Smith 3)
· Mar 22 at Washington, Win – 19 (Wall 4, Beal/Ian Mahinmi 3)
Washington went 11-5 this season when committing 18+ turnovers. Don’t count on such a robust winning percentage in the postseason if the miscues remain at that level. When the Wizards and Hawks met in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, Washington committed six and 13 turnovers in its two wins. In the four losses, 16, 16, 19, 11. Pace tends to slow in the playoffs which means fewer possessions which
The Wizards acquired Markieff Morris ahead of the 2016 NBA trade deadline for all kinds of reasons, though unlikely for anyone specific head-to-head matchup. But if they had, the one against Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap would be the one. Before Morris, Washington didn’t have a player capable of guarding all spots on the court. Millsap’s 3-point range put big men like Nene and Kris Humphries in uncomfortable situations on the perimeter. The 246-pounder’s strength can overwhelm small forward types like Otto Porter. Morris has the physical tools to handle either scenario. The biggest issue often is his level of engagement. Against Atlanta, Morris was up to the task this season.
In four games, Morris averaged 17.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.0 block while shooting, 41.7 percent from 3-point range. Millsap, who missed the fourth and final matchup against the Wizards, averaged 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists while shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. During the 2014-15 season, Millsap posted a net rating (points per 100 possessions) of 11.8 during the regular season and 3.0 in the playoffs against Washington. This season, -10.4. If Washington wins this matchup or at least doesn’t let Millsap dominate they should roll.
· Millsap is Money
The Wizards finished six games ahead of the Hawks in the East standings. Credit to the Chinatown 15 for winning the most single-season games in franchise history since the 1978-79 campaign. However, don’t view that six-game edge as truly defining considering the health of both teams. Millsap missed 13 games this season primarily due to synovitis in his left knee. Atlanta finished 3-10 in those games.
· Also, don’t expect Morris post-ups against Millsap. According to NBA.com, Millsap allowed 0.59 points per possession when defending post-ups, the best mark among 28 players who defended at least 100.
Wall and Beal
Several interesting numbers from NBA.com’s series preview, including this one about the on-off numbers for the starting backcourt.
Outscored their opponents by 6.1 points per 100 possessions in 2,362 minutes with both John Wall and Bradley Beal on the floor, and by 1.5 points per 100 possessions in 322 minutes with Beal on the floor without Wall. But they were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions in 474 minutes with Wall on the floor without Beal and by 6.7 points per 100 possessions in 810 minutes with neither on the floor.
There will be some moments where Washington plays without Wall (1,805 points this season) or Beal (1,779), but it will be rather rare when neither takes is on the court now that we’ve reached the postseason. The Wizards have a strong edge in the backcourt even though Tim Hardaway Jr. was among the most improved players in the league and Dennis Schroder led Atlanta in scoring after the All-Star break.
- Locked on Wizards podcast guest Mike Lynch from BasketballReference.com provided this nugget. Since 1980 only four starting backcourts have each scored at least 1,700 points during a single season: Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway (1991), Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (2014-2017), Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (2016-17), Wall and Beal (2016-17). That it this happened five times in the last three seasons and just once in the previous 34 speaks to the game's evolution with the 3-point shot and away from big men.