WASHINGTON — Randy Wittman has long cited Garrett Temple as the Wizards’ perimeter stopper.
Time and time and time again, Wittman has praised Temple’s defensive ability, often putting the former LSU guard on the opposing team’s best wing player and giving him valuable minutes over other useful perimeter players.
The problem with that reasoning is this: Advanced statistics not only don’t support Wittman’s claim, in some cases they suggest the opposite. Take, for example, the overall shooting percentage of the players Temple guards. Of all the players he guards, their collective shooting percentage rises 1.5 percent when Temple is covering them.
The most damning stat is also the most logically relevant. As a perimeter defender, it is his job to contain wings such as LeBron James, James Harden, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan. Sometimes he’ll get matched up with opposing point guards, such as Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving, but more often than not he’s lined up against a shooting guard or small forward — players that tend to shoot a lot of 3-pointers.
With Temple as the defender, offensive players shoot 8.5 percent better than their season average from 3-point range. In other words, if Temple is the defender on a 3-point shot, the shooter’s field-goal percentage goes up 8.5 percent. Compare that to Jared Dudley, who lowers opponents’ 3-point percentage by 1.6 percent, or even rookie Kelly Oubre, who allows offensive players to shoot 4.0 percent better than their season average from 3-point range.
Temple is more efficient as a defender on closer shots, keeping players 2.0 percent below their season average on 2-pointers, and 0.9 percent below their average on shots within six feet of the basket. On shots from a distance of greater than 15 feet, however, Temple allows offensive players to shoot 4.1 percent better than their season average.
The main reason for this discrepancy is Temple’s tendency to play conservative defense on pick-and-rolls, usually by going under the screen rather than over it. That explains why 38.7 percent of shots attempted by the man Temple is guarding come from behind the 3-point line, compared to 35.9 percent against Oubre and 22.2 percent against Dudley. In addition, 61.5 percent of opponents’ shots come from more than 15 feet, compared to 53.8 percent against Oubre and 40.4 percent against Dudley.
This means opponents realize they get good looks on distance shots against Temple, and they take advantage of them.
In theory, it is preferable that an opponent take more long shots against the Wizards than close shots. However, the Wizards allow opponents to shoot .374 from beyond the arc, the third highest percentage in the NBA. In losses, the Wizards give up 10.3 made 3-pointers per game, the third most in the league in losses, and their opponents get those 3-pointers on .420 shooting, the second highest percentage. In wins, the Wizards allow opponents to make just 7.1 triples per game (22nd in the NBA in wins) at a .317 clip (17th in the NBA in wins).
Put another way: The Wizards win when they defend the 3-point line, and they lose when they don’t defend the 3-point line. And their primary wing defender allows his man to shoot 8.5 percent above his season average on 3-pointers.
Temple has played 242 games over four seasons with the Wizards, including 96 starts, 42 of which have come this season. Over that time, Temple has amassed a .391 shooting percentage from the field, a .329 percentage from the 3-point line and a .712 free-throw percentage. This season has been something of a breakout season on offense for him; he’s averaging 7.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game on .388 shooting, including .329 3-point shooting and .713 free-throw shooting. His Offensive Rating (the points per 100 possessions the Wizards score when he’s on the court) is 102.3, the eighth-best on the team.
Temple has scored at least 18 points in eight games this season — three of his four games of 20 or more points came in a three-game stretch in late December — but has scored less than 15 points in his other 56 games. He has also had five games of at least 10 minutes played without scoring a point. He has 20 double-digit scoring games this season and 44 single-digit games. He hasn’t surpassed five assists in a game this season and has only reached five twice; he hasn’t surpassed six rebounds in a game this season, and he’s only reached six rebounds three times.
On paper, using traditional or advanced statistics, it’s difficult to understand why Temple has played the fifth most minutes on the team (1,625). Injuries have played a part, but Oubre (567 minutes) and Nene (790) have combined to play less than Temple.
Perhaps the best explanation of why he gets so many minutes is his work ethic. His teammates rave about his dedication and practice habits, and he’s considered a great locker room presence. But he’s a liability on offense, and his reputation as a lockdown defender appears to be unjustified.