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NBA Daily: Potential Landing Spots for Al Horford

Al Horford is one of the headliners of this year’s free agent class. Shanes Rhodes breaks down which teams could be a destination for the All-Star center.

Shane Rhodes

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The last few weeks haven’t been kind to the Boston Celtics.

The Kyrie Irving debacle has completely changed the trajectory of the once-thought NBA Finals contender. As the season degraded, their chance to retain the star guard, and maintain a long-term window for title contention, did so with it.

And, now, with the free agent frenzy upon us, another big name is primed to leave Boston.

While many expected Al Horford to decline his player option and re-up with the Celtics for the foreseeable future, Horford has reportedly changed course. Now, the 33-year-old is expected to hit the open market in search of greener (and more lucrative) pastures — just not Celtics green.

Horford isn’t the top player available this summer. But, while he is often overlooked, there is a lot that he can do for a team on the court. A two-way player unlike many others in the NBA, Horford can contribute at a high level on both ends of the floor. He may not single-handedly take a team to a title, but Horford is the type of hard-working, team-first player that is essential to get there.

Any team could make use of a player like Horford, and there are plenty of potential suitors out there. But which could prove the best fit for the big man next season?

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks are building something special in Dallas.

The rising star power of recently anointed Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic is obvious. But a pairing with fellow European star Kristaps Porzingis — who, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, is expected to receive a five-year, $158 million contract from Dallas — could rocket them into contender status.

Porzingis hasn’t played in over a year due to a torn left ACL suffered in February 2018. It’s certainly fair to question how the rust from the prolonged absence could affect his game, but Porzingis was a dominant force with the New York Knicks prior to his injury and had his own look of a star in the making. Should he find that form upon his return, the pair could form one of the more dominant duos in the Association.

But, with the cap space they should have after Porzingis’ deal, why not take it a step further?

Pairing Porzingis with Horford would not only allow Horford to slide from center to his preferred position of power forward, but it would create a formidable defensive duo. Horford has proven time and time again that he is one of the best defensive players, let alone bigs, in the NBA while the 7-foot-3 Porzingis has the advantage over almost any matchup in the paint. Together, the two would almost certainly dominate.

Aside from the defensive prospects, Horford would form quite the offensive duo — and lighten the load — with the young Doncic. Horford, who averaged 13.6 points and shot 36% from three-point range last season, would be an excellent pick-and-pop partner for the soon-to-be-sophomore and could take on some of the scoring responsibilities that fell to Doncic last season, especially after the deadline deal that jettisoned Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan.

Horford, at times, could act as an offense initiator as well, providing more time for Doncic to rest as he won’t have to dominate the ball.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have big aspirations this Summer.

Namely, Kawhi Leonard.

Los Angeles has been tied to Leonard dating back to last season and, despite the fact that Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA championship, they have continued to be connected to him. Leonard, according to Frank Isola of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, is set to meet with the Clippers at the start of free agency.

Regardless of what goes down with Leonard, the outcome shouldn’t preclude the Clippers from going after another big name free agent. Whether to pair him with Leonard or otherwise, Horford would fit nicely alongside a solid Clippers’ roster in a seemingly wide-open Western Conference.

It’s not as if Horford would be the only major piece for the Clippers — three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, alongside Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet headline a talented Los Angeles roster that held their own against the Golden State Warriors in their first-round series. But it is clear that the Clippers and they just need someone to push them to that next level.

While Leonard is the dream scenario (and a pairing with Horford even better) just Horford alone could be enough to take them there.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers roster is a bit bare right now.

Of course, on the eve of free agency, almost every team has the look of an empty cupboard. But for the Lakers, who shipped out much of their under-contract roster in order to acquire Anthony Davis (and later open up another max salary slot), there is some serious work to be done.

The Lakers have the talent; Davis alongside LeBron James could dominate the court with three other players plucked off the street. But the biggest question for the Lakers now is what to do with that extra max slot: do they split the salary into multiple players, or go for the star free agent home run?

The former may be the better choice, but should Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers opt for the latter? They also, reportedly, have a meeting with Leonard, but Horford may be the best fit for the Lakers (and their only choice, should things continue the way they have thus far with Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker).

Horford, alongside Davis, James and Kyle Kuzma, would form a potent offensive foursome, regardless of whatever other pieces the team can convince to sign on. Both Horford, Davis and Kuzma can all stretch the floor, which would completely open up the inside for James to get downhill and drive to the basket. Horford could also serve as a nice pick-and-pop option for James.

As with Doncic and the Mavericks, Horford could also bring the ball up the court at times, further reducing the offensive burden on James.

Defensively, Horford could help pick up the slack for a 36-year-old James, who could look to rest on defense (as he has in recent seasons) to stay fresh for an inevitable stretch run.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans could be a tough sell to a veteran like Horford.

After a postseason appearance a year ago, the Pelicans saw their record plummet to 33-49 this season while their best player, Davis, demanded a trade.

But, after some managerial magic (and some draft lottery luck) from recent hire David Griffin, the Pelicans are poised to experience the biggest of bounce backs, armed with Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday, the massive haul acquired via the Davis trade and potentially more than $30 million in cash. An NBA title may be out of the question, but a competitive season culminating with a postseason run may not be too far off.

And, there is some interest in Horford, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times

Throwing money at Horford wouldn’t be a terrible investment, either. While he may not propel them to a title, Horford would instantly become one of their most important, multi-faceted assets. Yes, his on-court contributions would help them win games — pick and pop with Jrue Holiday and spacing for Williamson could prove integral to an offense that wasn’t exactly great last season — but his veteran poise and presence may be the most important thing someone like Horford could bring to New Orleans; despite the hype, Williamson is still a rookie, and a veteran like Horford could make a world of difference for him, fellow freshman Jaxson Hayes and the other youngsters coming in via Los Angeles.

At this stage in his career, Horford may be championship or bust. If that’s the case, don’t expect much out of the bayou. But, the money would seem to be there for the taking, it’s on Horford to cash in.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings could be in the market for a center.

Willie Cauley-Stein ‘needs a fresh start’ according to his agent, a move that would leave a void at the center spot in Sacramento. Of course, they have a plethora of young bigs that they could try at the five, but Harry Giles is an unproven commodity while they may opt to deploy Marvin Bagley III at the four-spot.

Enter Horford, who could not only serve as an impact starting center, but a level-headed veteran in the locker room of one of the youngest teams in the NBA.

The Kings were a major surprise last season; expected to be one of the worst teams in the Association, the Kings were in the postseason hunt until the last days of the regular season. Similar growth from their home-grown talent — Bagley, De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, etc. — plus the addition of Horford could launch them into the thick of the Western Conference playoff pack, something huge for a team that hasn’t seen the postseason in over a decade.

That lack of success could also be a deterrent though. Should Horford look to ring chase in his next contract, an upstart Kings team (not unlike the Pelicans) may be a tough sell. But the fit is there and, if rings are secondary (i.e. Horford is looking for his last chance to cash in big), the Kings could be an ideal landing spot for him.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder showed interest in Horford back when he was a free agent in 2016 and, looking for something to right their postseason wrongs, it isn’t a stretch to think they would have interest three years later.

General Manager Sam Presti would have to pull off some serious salary cap gymnastics to swing a deal (through either free agency or via a sign-and-trade) — whether that be moving some combination of Steven Adams, Patrick Patterson Dennis Schroder or Andre Roberson or something else entirely — but Horford could be the remedy that Oklahoma City is desperate for.

While Paul George looked like an MVP candidate at times, Russell Westbrook — despite the fact that he averaged a triple-double for the third season in a row — took a major step back and held them back in the postseason. Horford would be an immediate upgrade over Adams as a floor stretcher, as his presence on the outside would prevent teams from rushing the paint on Westbrook drives or focusing solely on George when he has the ball.

Defensively, Horford is stout and, while he may not have the reputation Adams has on that end of the court, there wouldn’t be much, there shouldn’t be much, if any dropoff from the center spot should the Thunder manage to swap one for the other in the coming days.

While he isn’t the marquee free agent this summer, Horford could be one of the top additions as we look back on this offseason. He isn’t a game breaker in a traditional sense, but the impact he has — doing a little bit of everything on the court — is enough to transform a team. With the right pieces around him (already in place or otherwise) he could push any team into the ever-growing of contenders.

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Nuggets, Analysis and Predictions for This Year’s All-Star Festivities

Bobby Krivitsky shares his analysis, noteworthy nuggets and predictions for this year’s All-Star festivities.

Bobby Krivitsky

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This year marks the 70th edition of the NBA All-Star Game, an event that began in 1951. Atlanta, for the third time and first since 2003, is set to host the festivities; one of the league’s more memorable All-Star games, the Eastern and Western All-Stars combined for more than 300 points as the East prevailed 155-145 in the lone double-overtime game in the contest’s history. Despite the awkward circumstances surrounding the event, here’s hoping the 2021 iteration can be just as eventful!

So, without further ado, here’s a primer on this year’s All-Star Sunday, featuring noteworthy nuggets, matchup analysis and predictions.

Slam Dunk Contest, 3-Point Shootout and Skills Challenge Predictions

Let’s start with the festivities taking place before and at halftime of the All-Star Game, beginning with the Skills Challenge. It’s always fun to pick a dark horse to win the obstacle-course competition that tests players’ dribbling, passing, agility and three-point skills — of the group, Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic and Robert Covington (the lone non-All-Star participant) of the Portland Trail Blazers best fit that description.

But who has the best chance to come away with the award? It would seem Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ wunderkind, would be best suited to take home the hardware versus the field.

Later, the Three-Point Contest is expected to be a flurry. Among the participants is a former champion: Stephen Curry, who won the contest back in 2015. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics’ two young stars, are entrants this year, as is Donovan Mitchell, who’s shooting a career-high 38.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. With Devin Booker, another former champion, expected to miss the contest due to a left knee sprain, Mike Conley has been tabbed to replace him. In a crowded field, Curry, inarguably the greatest shooter the game has ever seen, is deservedly the favorite. That said, this writer is backing first-time All-Star Zach LaVine, who’s shooting a career-best 43.5 percent from three — the highest mark among this season’s participants — on well over eight attempts per game.

For the Slam Dunk Contest, which is set to take place during half time of the main event, the three participants are all taking part in the event for the first time. New York Knicks’ rookie Obi Toppin evokes comparisons to Amar’e Stoudemire, thanks in large part to leaping off two feet to throw down the thunderous dunks when he rolls to the rim after setting a screen.

There’s a difference, however, between being a powerful in-game dunker and one whose pageantry can captivate the audience and earn the top spot in the competition. 

Trail Blazers’ guard Anfernee Simons stands at six-foot-three, making him the shortest participant in this year’s contest — some might argue that an advantage, given the added excitement of jams from smaller entrants. That said, Indiana Pacers rookie Cassius Stanley should be considered the favorite; Stanley registered a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches at the 2020 NBA Draft Combine, tied for the third-highest mark since 2000. And, at six-foot-five, the elevation he gets on his dunks will still stand out – case and point:

 

Noteworthy Nuggets

  • The Phoenix Suns are the fourth franchise Chris Paul has been named an All-Star for; the only other NBA players to accomplish that feat are Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. 
  • LeBron James is making his 17th All-Star Game appearance, the third-most behind Kobe Bryant (18) and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (19). Odds are, three years from now, there will be a new record holder.
  • At 20-years-old, Zion Williamson will become the fourth-youngest player in league history to not only participate, but start in an All-Star Game. Bryant, James and Magic Johnson are the only players who took part in an All-Star Game at a younger age.
  • LeBron wisely chose Giannis Antetokounmpo with the first pick in this year’s All-Star draft. The two-time league MVP has the highest scoring average in All-Star Game history, producing 27.3 points per game over his first four appearances. By the way, LeBron’s 385 points are the most in the event’s history.
  • A record six European players got selected to this year’s All-Star Game: Antetokounmpo (Greece), Doncic (Slovenia), Rudy Gobert (France), Nikola Jokic (Serbia), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) and Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro).
  • There are a record nine international All-Stars, while five were voted starters, also a first: Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Gobert, Jokic, Sabonis, Vucevic, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.
  • The Duke Blue Devils and Kentucky Wildcats are the two universities best represented at this year’s event, with three alums from both schools earning a spot in this year’s matchup. The former Blue Devils — Tatum, Irving and Williamson suit up for Team Durant along with former Wildcat Julius Randle. Booker and Anthony Davis, the other Kentucky products, are both out due to injury. Six All-Stars — Curry, Sabonis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Damian Lillard — did not play at a Power Five school.

Matchup Analysis

Unfortunately, Embiid and Simmons join Davis and Booker, though the Philadelphia 76ers duo is out due to contact tracing, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Their health — and the health of the greater All-Star group — is what matters most. But how could their absence affect the game?

On the surface, it’s a devastating blow for Team Durant, who will now play without their starting center and defensive anchor. Expect Team Durant to experiment with units exclusively composed of guards and wings. Expect Williamson, who was moved into the starting group in Embiid’s absence, to play heavy minutes at center, too. On offense, expect Leonard, Irving, Bradley Beal, James Harden and Donovan Mitchell to shoulder the load.

As for Team LeBron, expect more of a group attack. James’ group is made up of the NBA’s elite facilitators — Doncic, Jokic, Paul, etc. — and should be able to easily find the open man for the easy basket. Further, James snagged some of the league’s best from distance, including Curry, Lillard and George. Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, is a matchup nightmare himself; expect Team Durant to have their hands full with him.

Team LeBron projects to be more cohesive and dynamic than Team Durant, which is why they should be considered the favorite.

The Return of the Elam Ending 

Last year’s festivities sparked a new trend where the fourth quarter is untimed and, in honor of Kobe Bryant, 24 points are added to the leading team’s total after three quarters to establish a target score. It made for a thrilling final frame and, to little surprise, the Elam Ending is back this season.

Nick Elam created the alternate ending in 2007; the idea was born from a determination to see more action at the end of games rather than the trailing team fouling to extend the contest, the leader stalling to protect a lead and or players launching low-quality shots out of desperation.

Who Wins the Game? MVP?

LeBron James is 3-0 since the NBA switched formats to have the two All-Star captains draft their rosters. Sizing up this year’s respective rosters, he seems poised to earn his fourth-straight victory.

James has put together what should be considered one of the greatest passing teams in the event’s history; he’s flanked by Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Chris Paul. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo James’ first pick, has the highest scoring average in the history of the All-Star game: 27.3 points per game. Adding to his team’s dynamic composition is a bevy of lethal three-point shooters such as Curry, Lillard and Doncic. When it’s time for the final frame and the intensity ramps up, Team LeBron would seem able to get a bucket by any means, a fact that should easily position them to emerge the victor.

As for All-Star MVP, James taking over in the game’s final stages is a distinct possibility. The same could be said for Antetokounmpo, who has yet to earn the award in his five appearances. Doncic, dazzling with his passing and long-range prowess, or Jokic, delivering dimes with surgeon-like precision and scoring from all levels of the floor, could also come up big and earn the honor. 

That said, the prediction here is a hot shooting performance from Curry should earn him the award for the first time in his career, while also leading Team LeBron to the win.

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NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — March 6

With the All-Star break upon us, the Sixth Man of the Year award would appear to have a heavy favorite. Ariel Pacheco examines.

Ariel Pacheco

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With the All-Star break upon us, it’s a good time to take a look at the candidates for Sixth Man of the Year. In comparison to other award races, the race for the Sixth Man is a lot more clear-cut in terms of the favorite and their competitors. 

There are certainly plenty of players that are having great seasons off the bench but, due to a variety of reasons, are out of contention for the award. Still, their play is deserving of recognition: Terrence Ross is averaging 15.5 points per game for an Orlando Magic team that has fallen out of playoff contention due to terrible injury luck. Montrezl Harrell, last year’s winner, has seen his numbers dip significantly with the Los Angeles Lakers this season — he’s still productive, but his 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game just won’t cut it this season. Tyrese Haliburton has been a surprise, but the rookie and his 13.2 points, 5.4 assists and 43.3 three-point percentage off the bench has been a bright spot for an otherwise bad Sacramento Kings squad.

That said, while they’ve performed well, none of those players — and many others — have a real chance to compete for the award. In fact, barring a major mixup in the season’s second half, the race to the award might come down to just three individuals.

3. Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of what is currently the longest losing streak by any team this season. They’ve lost 13 in a row and have completely fallen out of the playoff picture. Houston’s poor record hurts Gordon’s case, but the 32-year-old is still putting up big numbers and, despite a hefty salary over the next few seasons, may even be a guy teams look to add at the trade deadline.

Gordon is averaging 17.8 points per game, the second-most by any bench player this season. He hasn’t been as consistent from beyond the three-point line as in years past, or when he won the award back in 2017, but Gordon’s still more than capable from distance and has been one of the league’s best at attacking the rim. Gordon has also provided some excellent on-ball defense.

Gordon has become a perennial candidate for the award — and for good reason. Still, at this point, it’s hard to justify him over the other two candidates in these rankings.

2. Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors

The opposite of a household name prior to the 2020-21 season, Boucher has burst onto the scene and been a revelation for the Toronto Raptors. His play has been a needed spark for a team that struggled mightily out of the gate but has since turned their season around. So far this season, Boucher has, by far, been Toronto’s most consistent and important big — and he’s been so despite the fact that he plays just 23.8 minutes per game.

Averaging 13.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, Boucher has slid nicely into a role similar to what Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol fuflilled a season ago. And, despite a janky-jumper, Boucher has made his presence felt on the outside, hitting 44.5 percent of his 3.8 three-point attempts per game and clearing major space down low for Toronto’s offense.

In almost any other season, Boucher would have a strong case for the top spot on this list. But, as it stands, may not even garner any first place votes for the 2020-21 iteration of the award.

1. Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz

Because Jordan Clarkson has just been that good.

This year’s runaway favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year award, there just aren’t many arguments that stand up to what Clarkson’s been able to do this season. He’s scoring the most of any candidate and doing so on great efficiency. Further, he’s proven the offensive fulcrum for the bench of the best team in the NBA.

Clarkson is averaging 17.9 points with a true shooting percetnage of 58.1 percent. He’s been consistent yet forceful offensive punch for the Jazz and their second unit, scoring in double digits in all but one of Utah’s games this season, including a 40-point outburst agaisnt the Philadelphia 76ers’ top-tier defense and 10 games with 20 or more. While All-Stars Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley deserve a lion’s share of the credit for the team’s success this season, Clarkson has also played an integral role.

Were the vote cast today, Clarkson’s selection for the Sixth Man of the Year award would likely be unanimous — again, he’s been that good. Utah recently gave him a four-year, $52 million deal and, if Clarkson can continue to play at this level, he’ll prove that deal a steal for the Jazz in short order.

For now, this is where the race to the Sixth Man of the Year award stands — but anything could happen in the second half of the season. With that in mind, keep on the lookout for Basketball Insiders’ next peek at the race.

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NBA Daily: Washington’s Positionless Rebuild

Drew Maresca explains why the Washington Wizards’ are closer to legitimacy than you might think

Drew Maresca

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Upon first glance, the Washington Wizards look like an absolute train wreck. They traded away a lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick to swap out John Wall for Russell Westbrook – whose contract will haunt them through the end of 2022-23 – and they are on the verge of chasing away their 27-year-old, thirty-point per game scoring guard, Bradley Beal. So insert your “Washington can’t get their stuff together” comment here while you can, because the opportunity won’t be here for long.

Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, it’s worth acknowledging that the Wizards have, in fact, botched the opportunity to build a winner around Beal thus far. But, when John Wall opted to have heal surgery and subsequently ruptured his Achilles, the door shut on that option, anyway.

There is an obvious silver lining – Beal is signed through the end of next season with a player option for 2022-23. Given what the Milwaukee Bucks gave up for Jrue Holiday last offseason, one could assume that the Wizards would get more than enough to jump-start a rebuild in exchange for Beal.

But a look closer at Washington’s roster would reveal they’ve quietly laid a foundation for the future. Specifically, the Wizards’ last two lottery picks, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, embody position-less basketball, as versatile, highly skilled players who can be plugged into almost any lineup. Both were recently named to the Rising Star challenge — although it won’t be played due to inherent limitations in the arrangement of the 2021 All-Star Weekend, NBA coaches clearly agree. Sure, there’s international appeal given Hachimura’s Japanese background and Avdija’s Israeli heritage, which one could surmise was a major motivator in naming one or both to the team, but coaches aren’t known for playing politics.

So let’s take a closer look at the young Wizards hoping to lead Washington into the future.

Avdija is a top-flight, Israeli prospect who played on for EuroLeauge’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv – alongside former pros Amare Stoudemire and Omri Casspi – as a teenager for the past two seasons. He entered the NBA as a highly-touted playmaker, capable of playing and defending multiple positions. Somewhat surprisingly, Avdija fell to the Wizards with the ninth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, as he was rated as the fourth-best prospect by the Wizards’ front office prior to the draft, according to sources.

The comparisons between Avdija and Luka Doncic were inevitable, as both are big, point forward types with a flair for the dramatic. That put obvious pressure on the young forward and, while he’s struggled for much of his rookie season – Avdija is averaging just 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game while connecting on 35.6% of his three-point attempts – his ceiling is obviously sky-high. He’s shown flashes of his greatness, like in a game in early March in which he recorded 10 points, 7 rebounds; or an early January game in which he collected 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

Further, no one should be discouraged by Avdija’s struggles. First, he shot just 27.7% on three-point attempts last season in the EuroLeague – so his three-point percentage this season should come as a huge relief. Further, Avdija is averaging just 21.4 minutes per game, often deferring to Beal and Westbrook (and, to a lesser degree, Hachimura and Thomas Bryant). So, as much as everyone wanted him to be the next Doncic, the opportunity simply hasn’t been there.

But the potential is.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks explained some of what’s went wrong for Avdija’s thus far: “It’s normal to have some good moments and some tough moments. Every player, every single player in this league. I’m sure Michael [Jordan] had a couple of bad games in his rookie year. Every player. Russell [Westbrook], I coached him his rookie year. He’s had a handful.”

“Deni’s gonna be a good player,” Brooks continued. “For all the rookies in the league, it’s never happened where you had no Summer League, really no training camp and then with the safety protocol, he missed three weeks in the middle of the season. That’s hard to overcome.”

To Brooks’ point, the lack of preparation has definitely made the transition for Avdija even harder. What’s more, it’s not just Avdija who’s struggled; Obi Toppin (New York) and Devin Vassell (San Antonio), two of the more refined prospects, have also struggled to get carve out a consistent role.

Further, Avdija isn’t the first lanky foreigner who needed more than a third of a season to acclimate to the NBA; Dirk Nowitzki averaged just 8.2 points in 20.4 minutes per game as a rookie; Manu Ginobili averaged just 7.6 points in 20.7 minutes per game; Danilo Gallinari averaged just 6.1 points in 14.6 minutes per game. The list goes on.

Once he gets an actual opportunity, Avdija’s bandwagon should fill up quickly.

If Avdija is Washington’s future facilitator, then Hachimura is its finisher. And, while questions plague Avdija’s performance, Hachimura is being praised for his.

To be fair, Hachimura is farther along in his development, with one NBA season already under his belt (and three years at Gonzaga). Hachimura, already 23, is a bit more refined and it shows in his output: 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists this season.

That said, a closer look at Hachimura’s play shows room for improvement – with a below league-average 12.9 PER and a 29.2% three-point percentage serving as his most glaring weaknesses. But, like with Avdija, the upside is clear as day. We’re talking about a second-year player who scored 15 or more points 11 times so far this season – just 26 games. He’s strong, polished and bouncier than advertised prior to the 2019 draft.

Further, a closer examination of his shooting numbers reveals that while his three-point shooting clearly needs work, his mid-range game is spot on. Hachimura is connecting on 41.2% of his shots from between 16 feet and the three-point arc – better than noted midrange expert Carmelo Anthony (37%) and just hair behind All-Star forward Jayson Tatum (42.9%).

But Hachimura’s offensive abilities have been known for what feels like forever, partially due to the ridiculously long 2019-20 season. What’s surprising, though, is how he’s continued to improve on the defensive end – so much so, in fact, that Brooks specifically called out his defensive development after a recent game.

But no one should be that surprised. Hachimura’s combination of speed and strength, along with his high motor, is tailor-made for defensive success. And, again, like Avdija, the 6-foot-8 Hachimura’s versatility is his major selling point. He boasts size, dexterity, touch and handle. And, while his skill set has become far more common in the NBA, plug-and-play guys of Hachimura’s build are still relatively rare. And, most importantly, they allow teams to get creative in roster construction, enabling the addition of players whose deficiencies could be covered up by players like Hachimura.

Ultimately, neither Avdija nor Hachimura is a guarantee. Both possess serious upside and could grow into perennial All-Stars, but neither is a sure thing. Their attitudes and approaches will be a major determining factor in their success, or lack thereof.

The Wizards could look very different as soon as next season. But, as of now, Washington looks ready to tackle its rebuild — and, between these two, they may already have a headstart.

Blink and you might just miss their entire rebuild.

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