NBA

Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija quietly give Wizards hope

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Depending on your mood, the 2022-23 campaign could look like another ho-hum year for the Washington Wizards.

Last season, Washington fell to a 35-47 record after starting 10-3 and finishing under .500 for the fourth straight season. The Wizards have finally returned to a state of mediocrity, which defines a franchise that has surpassed 45 wins only twice since 1978-79.

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So far, the team hasn’t made a serious decision to venture out of the lower echelons of the Eastern Conference. In the 2022 NBA draft, the Wizards selected Johnny Davis of Wisconsin at No. 10 overall to provide a long-term solution in the backcourt. They also made a minor trade which I liked which added Monte Morris and Will Barton to the mix, and they would have been in the Donovan Mitchell draw on some level according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Unless a Mitchell trade materializes, however, we’ve probably seen Washington’s major moves already. That means the franchise is counting on second-year head coach Wes Unseld Jr. and a young core to keep pace in the ever-improving East.

Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija haven’t set the world on fire in 2021-22. That said, the former No. 9 draft picks are two of the leaders in Washington’s prospect pool and, despite tough seasons, they’ve featured the small leaps fans should expect.

Hachimura played just 42 games last season and only made his season debut on January 9 after a mysterious absence off the pitch. Although we can understand that this was due to personal reasons, Hachimura never detailed the issues and the wizards respected his privacy. Ultimately, the fact that he feels comfortable enough to return to play is a win for Hachimura, and we can hope he’s in a better and happier place in his life.

This absence puts Hachimura’s abbreviated season into some context. He recorded a career-low 22.5 minutes per game and started just 13 games, with Washington going 16–26 in his appearances. As winter turned to spring (and the Wizards fell out of favor), his playing time increased to 30.5 minutes per game in six April games.

During his short season, Hachimura gave us a revelation in the form of a scorching 44.7% clip from three-point range – a nearly 12% jump from 2020-21.

These shots, quite frankly, weren’t difficult. Hachimura was often left alone in transition to get his bearings and rarely faced tough closures from defenders. They challenged him to make three, and Hachimura did. Almost all of his long reach came from a stoppage; 117 of his 123 attempts did not require a dribble. But Hachimura also looked confident pulling it. He didn’t need to pull himself together or pretend to move on.

Hachimura managed to knock down a few off-balance punches where he had to rush. He’s also been featured in rare one-on-one action with guys like Avdija (see the third clip).

It’s only fair to wonder if Hachimura’s effectiveness is repeatable. Free throw percentage can be another indicator of shooting potential, and he shot just 69.7% from the charity strip in 2021-22. I wouldn’t expect another year in the mid-40s from range, but if Hachimura even hovers around the upper 30s, that’s significant for his attacking impact.

When attacking a fence, Hachimura likes to shoot for the long two. It’s an undesirable move in general that he didn’t do well with last season (35%, per Cleaning the Glass), and it’s a bad way to use his power as a driver.

Hachimura completed 75% of his edge attempts last season, in the 98th percentile among forwards. A good portion of these marks were transitional cuts and finishes, but about 46% were unassisted.

Hachimura is not a speedster or a jumper; it makes up for it with a stoic frame and an impressive balance. Hachimura can speed to the rim and just ignore opposing defenders, and has even shown his ability to finish high, as evidenced by the practice above against Christian Wood. He can beat the slow foot switch or drop the league bigs and bully the smallest shifters.

This should be the roadmap for Hachimura right now. If he can achieve a consistent, threatening perimeter presence and pair it with a commanding drive game, he will be a weapon as a complementary scorer who can bend defenses. Hachimura offers little as a passer, but luckily he has a potential partner who can close the gap.

Avdija played in all 82 games in his second season, and although he only started eight times, he had a more entrenched role in the Wizards’ rotation. His cut is almost the opposite of his ninth-choice compatriot in Hachimura.

Avdija’s box score numbers and assist rates don’t jump off the page, but he ranked extremely well in the BBall Index’s Passing Versatility (99th percentile) and Passing Creation Quality (92nd percentile) metrics. . I’d like to focus on the first, which aims to diagnose NBA players who have varying levels of passing in their arsenal.

Here’s a jam-packed clip of Avdija’s various passing readings this season. He roams the pick-and-roll, whips passes to the weak side, curls around screens and kicks, or drives and dumps. Vision, creativity and dexterity are apparent. Avdija sometimes gets too ambitious leading to turnovers but for a young player that’s not a problem as he continues to acclimatize to the league.

And playing potential isn’t even Avdija’s signature skill right now. As Stephen Cagan (aka NBA University) says, Avdija is a king of KBIF:

Avdija is 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds with a strong base and quick feet and hips. He spent over 20% of his time keeping players in the highest usage level of BBall Index. Avdija ranked at the 88th percentile for the Database Match Difficulty metric, 98th percentile in Positional Versatility, and 94th percentile in Role Versatility. Washington has placed a ton of responsibility on the shoulders of a sophomore forward, and for the most part, Avdija has been up to the task. He is also one of the best defensive rebounders in the league at his position.

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