The Washington Wizards are finding success by going to a big man lineup

Daniel Gafford of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Daniel Gafford of the Washington Wizards (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

After falling to 11-20 following a 10-game losing streak, the Washington Wizards have seemingly righted the ship. They have now won four out of their last five, including the last three. All of these wins came against playoff caliber teams in the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Philadelphia 76ers. What should we make of this run? Should this newfound success change how the Wiz approach the rest of the season?

What have the Washington Wizards done differently during this short run?

The biggest change preceding the winning streak came when coach Wes Unseld Jr replaced Deni Avdija with Daniel Gafford in the starting lineup. Playing Kristaps Porzingis, who has had an incredible season so far, as the power forward next to Gafford or Taj Gibson in these more traditional two-big lineups bore fruit so far. In the 247 possessions where Porzingis plays next to Gafford or Gibson this season, the Wizards are outscoring the opponents by 21.1 per 100 possessions.  The Wiz may have found something here, albeit a small sample size.

In the past few games, the Washington Wizards had Gafford or Gibson defend the opposing centers like Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, or Deandre Ayton. This frees Porzingis up from the physical toll that comes with guarding centers all game. As good of a rim protector as Porzingis is, defending in the post, rebounding, and being physical is not his strong suit. Having Gafford or Gibson do the dirty work helps Porzingis conserve his energy for the offensive end.

Despite more teams are trying two-big looks this season compared to the last decade, the vast majority of NBA teams still prefer going smaller. There is an advantage to zigging when others are zagging. Starting a long and physically imposing frontcourt in Kyle Kuzma, Porzingis and Gafford take opposing teams by surprise. It also helps you dominate on the boards and in the paint.

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In the 247 possessions of the new-look-Wizards, they have an offensive rebound rate of 35.8% and a 76.7% defensive rebounding rate, both numbers would rank number one in the league in that category. In the last 5 games, the Wizards are also shooting a league-best %82.8 around the rim.

It is undoubtedly exciting to see that the Wizards have a new identity. It is equally promising that Daniel Gafford is giving them solid starting minutes before his three-year, 40-million-dollar contract extension kicks in next year.

Yet, it is of utmost importance to not overreact to this winning streak. This team is still 15-21 and 12th in the Eastern Conference. They have a long way to go from becoming a playoff-level team. The logical path is still to be sellers at the trade deadline, tank, and keep your draft pick in the 2023 Draft.

At the same time, it is safe to assume that this front office will not choose the logical path. They will more likely continue chasing the 8-seed. But at least now, they have an identity and a template for success. That is something you can build on

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