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NBA PM: Joe Ingles’ Quietly Vital Progression

Ben Dowsett uses a single Quin Snyder quote to break down Joe Ingles’ vital importance to the Jazz.

Ben Dowsett

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Jazz coach Quin Snyder isn’t generally a man of broad, sweeping platitudes. That doesn’t mean he won’t compliment his team and players, of course – he’s just not the type to wax too poetic or waste too much time reflecting. He’s very much about the now; next play, next game. His team has followed suit.

Even Snyder breaks form every now and then, though, whether intentionally or otherwise. Perhaps without even meaning for it to happen, a recent postgame quote about swingman Joe Ingles’ contributions to a win over the Clippers ended up, in Snyder’s own deeply technical way, succinctly summing up much of Ingles’ entire NBA career.

“He figured out that he could shoot, and started shooting. And then people started having to close out on him, and he’s able to use his shot to get in the lane. And then he figured out how to shoot a floater and a little scoop shot, so he became even more effective in the paint. He’s actually a really good finisher, which – not to diminish his athleticism, but you don’t necessarily see that from Joe. He’s crafty in there. I think he’s learned to use fakes, to dig into it a little bit from a coach’s standpoint. Ball fakes, pass fakes, shot fakes. And with his size, he’s able to see…. I like to say he’s got his eyes out.”

Snyder was answering a question about Ingles’ single-game performance against Los Angeles; he ended up summarizing over a full year’s worth of development. It’s a progression few would have thought possible from a 29-year-old former journeyman pro.

Snyder’s comments are curiously fitting, though. Ingles’ rapid ascension didn’t begin in the playoffs, and it certainly didn’t even begin at the start of the year. But in a series where the Jazz now stand on the brink of jamming the first big nail in the coffin of the Lob City Clippers, every step on the development ladder Snyder described for Ingles has been on display – and has been more needed than nearly anyone might expect.

*****

“He figured out he could shoot, and started shooting.”

When Ingles first arrived in Salt Lake City, he was tentative. It was nothing like his early days playing professionally in Australia; one observer from that time period described him as an “unapologetic gunner.”

In Utah, Ingles had to be slowly convinced that he was, in fact, a great NBA shooter. Despite solid shooting numbers in his NBA rookie season, at age 27, Ingles became almost infamous for his willingness to pass up open shots. He was one of the new guys in a motion offense, and no one wants to come off as selfish – Ingles may have taken this a bit too far.

The issue lingered for most of that rookie season, but movement started the following year. Ingles upped his three-point attempts by nearly two per-36-minutes for the 2015-16 season, scraping at 40 percent accuracy. He and fellow complementary piece Raul Neto were the two best volume three-point shooters on the team that year.

Ingles’ attempts decreased this year, but that’s only because everyone finally figured it out. He was third in the entire NBA for three-point percentage among qualified players on the year, approaching 50 percent for stretches earlier in November and December.

Curiously, this is the one element of Snyder’s statement about Ingles that hasn’t been noticeable in this first-round series – Ingles is shooting a weird 33 percent from deep against the Clippers. Again, though, the broad theme is present: It’s the next several levels of development that have made him valuable, just as they began to before the postseason even started.

*****

“And then people started having to close out on him, and he’s able to use his shot to get in the lane.”

There’s a reason Ingles’ three-point attempts went back down this year: Defenses wised up. When you nail nearly half of them for the first month of the season, you quickly become more prominent on the scouting report. If a defense’s fear of your long bomb lays out a red carpet like this, there really isn’t much choice but to take it.

The percentage of Ingles’ shots that have come at the rim has increased each year he’s been in the league, and nearly doubled from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

Snyder has talked often about Ingles as a non-traditional rookie. He’s not the right age, so maybe he isn’t still developing physically, but that doesn’t mean he can’t develop skills. This was the first layer.

*****

“And then he figured out how to shoot a floater and a little scoop shot, so he became even more effective in the paint.”

The path to the rim wasn’t always going to be so easy. You need some craft against the better defenses in the league, or really against any focused playoff team.

Psh. Joe Ingles and craft go together like Vegemite, avocado and toast (seriously, this is a real Australian thing).

With a couple handy tricks in the bag, Ingles could start getting into the lane even when the defense wasn’t basically inviting it. He’s upped his drives to the basket by a significant per-minute margin, per SportVU data; a higher and higher percentage of these drives has led to his own shot attempt rather than a pass.

In a series where the opponent has DeAndre Jordan, though, even more is necessary for a ball-handler. Luckily, Ingles had already taken those next steps too.

*****

“He’s crafty in there. I think he’s learned to use fakes, to dig into it a little bit from a coach’s standpoint. Ball fakes, pass fakes, shot fakes. And with his size, he’s able to see… I like to say he’s got his eyes out.”

Ingles has never been the type to blow by guys every time down the court, so he’s had to learn to maximize the way defenses react to him. Few guys have a better ball fake.

Chris Paul is the league’s gold standard for influencing defenders with every little movement; Ingles has looked positively Point God-ish at times this year, whether he’s creating his own offense or someone else’s.

And that’s the point, really. Ingles has become so good at getting to the right spots on the floor that he’s not really the one deciding whether he passes or finishes – the defense is doing that for him. He’s driving the Clippers mad through five games.

On a roster featuring George Hill, Gordon Hayward and even Boris Diaw, Ingles is Utah’s playoff assists leader. His 11 dimes in Game 4 is the most by any Jazz player in a single game all year.

Almost no one in the entire NBA postseason has thrown more meaningful passes: The percentage of Ingles passes that leads to a positive team event trails only Russell Westbrook and John Wall among volume passers, per SportVU figures – ahead of Paul, LeBron James and some of the other consensus best playmakers on earth.

And of course, none of this even addresses perhaps his largest development this year: Defense.

Ingles quietly became a weapon for Snyder here as the year went on. His lack of athleticism seems like a mirage; those same crafty themes we saw on offense have infiltrated his defensive game as well. He uses his body as well as anyone in the game, with sneaky hands and fantastic anticipation. He’s made life absolute hell for J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford in this series.

“Just keep chasing,” Ingles said of guarding Redick, who has barely managed 32 percent from deep in the series (he’s a career 41 percent three-point shooter). “Chase, and chase, and chase. He’s tough to guard. He obviously doesn’t stop. Gets a good look, jumps in the air, passes it off, goes back and gets another hand-off. So [I’m] just trying to make it tough.”

Ingles wasn’t quite his playmaking self in Game 5, and there’s a good chance it has to do with fatigue from the raw volume of his defensive load. When he isn’t chasing Redick around 10 picks every possession, he’s checked Crawford or even Paul – Snyder began experimenting with Ingles on the kinds of quicker guards the Jazz struggle to contain earlier in the year, and he’s clearly confident in Ingles there.

“They’re both tough,” Ingles said. “Chris obviously, in a different way because he’s so good with the ball, so good at using the pick and reading the defense. J.J., Jamal, those guys coming off the screen, it’s obviously hard to do that as well. Totally different style of defending, but pretty tough either way.”

Whichever Clipper shooter he’s on, that guy has gone ice cold. Los Angeles jump-shooters are hitting at a clip over 20 percent below their season averages from given areas while Ingles guards them, a huge enough gap that we can feel relatively safe blowing past the noisy caveats that typically accompany these numbers. This isn’t some sample-related mirage; Ingles is locking down and earning every bit of any pesky reputation he may have.

That might not be all he’s earning, either. Ingles’ future is a quietly big topic in Utah behind bigger names in Hayward and Hill; he and Hayward share an agent, Mark Bartlestein, and the two are close friends off the court.

The Jazz control Ingles’ rights as a restricted free agent this summer, a valuable layer of security. But they still run the risk of being forced to match a big offer – or, perhaps more relevant in this situation, of pressure from Bartlestein to keep both clients happy simultaneously. Money gets tight in a hurry if all three players are retained at anywhere near their market value.

That’s not on anyone’s mind for now, though. On a team chock full of developing youth, perhaps Utah’s biggest surprise this season – and especially this postseason – has been the guy who wasn’t a rookie until he was 27. Joe Ingles’ development has been quietly huge for the Jazz, and even Snyder can be forgiven the occasional reflective moment to appreciate it.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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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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