Anchored by Kristaps Porzingis, Wizards off to strong defensive start

WASHINGTON — There is an old NBA adage that you don’t know what your team really is until Thanksgiving, as early small sample sizes can produce misleading results. That is perhaps even more so nowadays when roster turnover is more common with free agency and short-term contracts.

Well, it’s Thanksgiving and the Wizards’ defense has so far been a significant strength after an offseason in which it was once again a question mark.

Through now 18 games following their loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, the Wizards place eighth in defensive rating, way up from their 25th overall ranking last season. They have been especially good in the paint, where they are tied for fifth in points allowed (45.4/g). Last year, they were 21st (48.2).

After ranking 28th out of 30 teams last season in opponents’ field goal percentage in the restricted area (67.9), this season the Wizards are tied for 11th (64.3). Washington is holding their opponents to 55.7% shooting within six feet of the rim, 5.6% lower than those teams’ season averages. That margin is second-best in the NBA only to the Indiana Pacers.

The Wizards’ success defending the paint can be attributed largely to Kristaps Porzingis, who was not on the team one year ago this time. He has played in 17 of their 18 games this season and has made a major difference with his rim-protection. Players guarded by Porzingis have shot 6.8% worse than…

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