In actuality, neither side of the court is more important than the other. In the 1990s and at the beginning of the millennium, offenses were extremely simple and teams with successful defenses were able to dominate with a little offensive ingenuity (see: Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls). In 2005, however, there were significant rule changes to open the floor up and speed up the pace of basketball games. That, along with continued development of NBA offense by the likes of Mike D’Antoni, George Karl and Gregg Popovich led to a splurge in scoring and scoring efficiency among the NBA’s best offenses. Then, Tom Thibedeau revolutionized NBA defense and that combined with teams like Miami and San Antonio perfecting the art of NBA offense as it currently exists brought us to where we are now. An NBA team has little chance to win a title if they are masters on the defensive end, but inept on offense (Indiana, Memphis); and similarly offensive juggernauts will struggle to go deep in the playoffs if they cannot consistently come up with stops (Houston, New York). If a team has real aspirations of winning a championship they will have to show elite levels of play on both ends — Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers were the only teams in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive rating last year, per NBA.com. However, in order to be a real threat come playoff time, a team only needs to be great on one end and above average on the other — Memphis, Indiana, and Denver are examples of this type of balance.
It is still unclear whether the Washington Wizards will be able to pull off above-average offense this season. If they are able to pull off that level of offense though, the hope is that their defense carries them into contention in the East. For the 2012-13 campaign Washington posted a 100.6 defensive rating, good for eighth in the NBA. That number drops to 98.3 when Nene is on the floor and 97.1 when Emeka Okafor and Nene are on the floor together. With a fully healthy lineup consistently getting paint protecting minutes from Nene and Okafor, the Wizards project to be just as good or better on that end this year.
The Wizards accomplished their defensive success by doing a good job forcing teams away from the paint and into mid-range jump shots. Playing at an average pace, the Wizards’ opponents only took 24.8 shots in the restricted area per game (fourth-lowest in the NBA). In the paint but outside of the restricted area, the Wizards’ opponents only made 4.2 shots per game (third-lowest) on 11 attempts (sixth-lowest). And Washington’s opponents shot 25.4 shots from the mid-range (fifth-highest). Those mid-range attempts are the least efficient shot in basketball and those restricted area attempts are the highest. More advanced defenses are working to keep teams out the paint and influence opponents to take more mid-range shots (San Antonio did this to great extent in the Finals against Miami). Washington fit that mold last season and did a good job of keeping the ball out of the paint.
Washington was not as great defending the 3 ball, however. Washington relented 7.5 made 3s per 100 possessions during the season (17th highest). They did a decent job defending the 3 ball — 34.9 percent, good for 10th — but allowed teams to shoot too many 3s. The best defenses last year held opponents to a low number of 3-point attempts and a low 3-point percentage. With the evolution of NBA offense the coaches are discovering the value the 3-point shot has over less efficient in-between shots, and the great defenses work hard to limit an offense’s perimeter success. Washington allowed 21.5 3s to be taken per 100 possessions last year. That was the 15th highest number in the NBA and while that is not horrible, if the Wizards want to become a truly elite defense they will have to do a better job defending the 3 ball.
Washington could also be a little better at defending shots at the rim. The Wizards do a good job keeping the number of shots taken from that area low, but opponents shot 60.1 percent on those shots (16th highest). Washington did hold team’s to 37.7 percent from the paint outside the restricted area, though (tied for ninth lowest). They also defended the mid-range shot well, holding teams to 38.3 percent from that area (10th). Overall Washington’s defense against opponent shots was good, but can improve if they do a better job of running teams off the 3-point line and forcing more misses around the paint.
Washington could also improve on restricting the opposition’s scoring opportunities. The Wizards only forced a middling 15.3 turnovers per 100 possessions (16th) and allowed 11.6 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions (15th highest) last season. Generally, rebounding is slightly overrated as an impact stat. A team can be effective on either end while struggling on the defensive boards. However, those teams that have success despite not being great rebounding squads make up ground in the possession battle in different ways — dominating the turnover battle, mainly. However, Washington only earned a 0.3 advantage in the turnover category per 100 possessions last season.
They will have to get better in terms of possession, as well as their defense of the paint and ability to limit the 3-point line next season. They already have a very good defense, but with their offense having a low ceiling, they will have to be great to be a legitimate threat come playoff time this year.