Yesterday’s trade deadline was a doozey, with 11 deals going down and Philadelphia acquiring half a million draft picks to add to the half a million they already own. Of all those deals, however, two of the most interesting were the ones that sent a couple of veterans back to the teams that drafted them: Kevin Garnett to Minnesota and Tayshaun Prince to Detroit.
Of course, there have been plenty of other notable players who have spent two completely separate and unrelated stints with one team. It actually has become rather common. Guys get traded away from a team or decide to sign a free agency contract somewhere else, but fate pulls them back to where they started. In some cases, it happens twice in a player’s career.
It’s not hard to understand why—a player gets familiar with a franchise and vice versa. If a relationship was there once and it wasn’t totally ruined (and even in some cases where it was), that player is welcomed back, almost always as a fan favorite. People like homecomings. They make a great story.
So here’s a list of the most notable players to spend two or more tours with one team:
#5 – Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks (1994-1996, 2008-2012) – Despite the fact that Kidd led the league in triple-doubles his rookie season and split the Rookie of the Year award with Grant Hill in 1995, Dallas’s vision of building a team around Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson never really came to fruition, so they traded him to Phoenix very early in his career for several players, including Michael Finley and Sam Cassell. Twelve years later, after spending his best professional years in Phoenix and New Jersey, the Mavericks traded for a 34-year-old Kidd in the hopes adding him to a good veteran team would help push them to a championship. In 2011, he finally won that championship with the team that drafted him.
#4 – Derek Fisher, L.A. Lakers (1996-2004, 2007-2012) – Fisher entered free agency in 2004 with quite a lot to consider. Yes, he had been a key part of three championship teams in L.A. and was a fan favorite, but with waning playing time, Shaquille O’Neal being traded to the HEAT, and Kobe Bryant seriously considering testing free agency himself, Fisher felt it was time to move on. Considering the Golden State Warriors offered him three extra years, $22 million extra bucks, and a guaranteed starting role, Fisher had no choice but to leave. Fewer than three seasons later, now a member of the Utah Jazz, Fisher’s daughter was be diagnosed with a disease that simply couldn’t be treated properly in Salt Lake City. Fisher requested his release so he could move to a city in which medical specialists were nearby. Benevolently, the Jazz acquiesced, and guess what city had the best combination of doctors and basketball prowess? Before the 2007-2008, Fisher re-signed with the Lakers and played in three straight NBA Finals, winning two more rings with L.A.
#3 – Mark Jackson, Indiana Pacers (1994-1996, 1997-2000) – Grabbing Mark Jackson from the Clippers in 1994 proved to be a fantastic move for the Pacers, but when they got the opportunity to move him for Jalen Rose a couple years later, they just couldn’t say no. Turns out maybe they should have, because the team immediately dropped out of the playoff picture and stunk so badly that the team re-traded for him less than a year later. In just a couple of seasons, they’d be in the Finals—the only Finals appearance of Jackson’s career.
#2 – Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (1996-1998, 2004-2012) – Nash was okay in his first two seasons in the league with Phoenix, but he wasn’t necessarily a show-stopper yet. Still, he was good enough for Dallas to give up three players and a first-round pick for him, and it was in Dallas that Nash really made a name for himself. After the 2004 season, however, Mark Cuban’s Mavs felt that a high-priced, long-term extension for a 30-year-old point guard simply wasn’t the smartest business decision, but they couldn’t have known how very wrong they’d be. Nash locked back in with the Suns instead, won two MVP awards, and stayed relevant deep into his late 30s.
#1 – Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets (1998-2000, 2008-2011) and Detroit Pistons (2002-2008, 2013-2014) – If someone asked Billups with which team he would have liked to retire, he without question would have chosen his hometown Denver Nuggets or the Detroit Pistons, the team that got him his ring. He went to college in Colorado (Boulder), played some pretty un-miraculous pro ball there for two years in the late ’90s, and made his triumphant return in the Allen Iverson trade back in 2008. With Detroit he was the Finals MVP the year the Pistons won the title, and that endeared him enough to that franchise to bring him back for a farewell tour in 2013-2014. In other words, two teams loved him enough to give him a second chance, which is why he sits atop this list.
Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls (1987-1998, 2003-2004) – After leaving the Bulls in 1998 when Michael Jordan retired, Pippen saw some success with the Houston Rockets and especially the Portland Trail Blazers. In his last season as a pro, however, Chicago brought him back so he could retire in Chicago. This was in 2003 when there wasn’t a lot of good things happening with the Bulls, and at 38 years old Pippen didn’t have a whole lot of gas left in the tank. Still, it was nice to see a legend finish his career in the city that made him a star.
Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers (1996-2006, 2010) – Starting in 2004, Iverson began having some problems with the Sixers, for whom he had previously led to the NBA Finals and won an MVP trophy. Over the next 24 months those issues would continue to escalate, with Iverson skipping practices, showing up late to games and missing corporate sponsorships off the court. It eventually led to a trade with the Denver Nuggets, where Iverson still managed to score a ton of points in his first season outside of Philly. In the next few seasons, though, he’d end up in Detroit and (very briefly) Memphis—none of which worked out well for him. In the latter portion of his last NBA season, Iverson’s former team gave him a chance to redeem himself and brought The Answer back to Philadelphia. It would be the last 25 games he’d play in the league.
Antoine Walker, Boston Celtics (1996-2003, 2005) – Despite the fact Walker and Boston teammate Paul Pierce had seen huge success in their years together on the Celtics, by 2003 it was starting to become clear that the duo wasn’t going to win a championship. Walker was traded to Dallas, where he didn’t play anywhere near the minutes he was accustomed to, and then moved again that offseason to Atlanta. After only a half a season with the Hawks, the Celtics re-acquired him, played him for 24 games, then shipped him off yet again the next summer as part of the largest trade (13 players) in league history.
Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons (2001-2006, 2009-2012) – Wallace won a championship, made four All-Star teams and won NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times while a member of the Detroit Pistons the first time around, but the minute he signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Chicago Bulls in the summer of 2006, he seemed to have lost much of his former athleticism. The Pistons brought him back in 2009 out of sheer desperation for size, and Big Ben performed fairly well in his second go-round with Detroit—albeit without that fantastic afro.
Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando Magic (2004-2009, 2010-2013) – Turkoglu undoubtedly played his best pro ball as a key member of the 2009 Magic team that made the NBA Finals. But that was a contract year for Turkoglu, and he turned his great performance into a monster contract with the Toronto Raptors. It wouldn’t work out well for Turkoglu in Canada, and he’d be traded to the Phoenix Suns just a year later. Less than a year after that, the Magic reacquired him and, somehow, Turkoglu found a way to revitalize himself briefly before finally flaming out for good.
Here are some other notable players who did two separate stints with the same team:
- Shane Battier, Memphis Grizzlies (2001-2006, 2011)
- Brad Miller, Chicago Bulls (2000-2002, 2009-2010)
- Manute Bol, Washington Bullets (1985-1988, 1993), Golden State Warriors (1988-1990, 1994-1995), Philadelphia 76ers (1990-1993, 1994)
- Al Harrington, Indiana Pacers (1998-2004, 2006)
- Joe Smith, Philadelphia 76ers (1998, 2006-2007), Minnesota Timberwolves (1998-2000, 2001-2003), Cleveland Cavaliers (2008, 2009)
- Derrick Coleman, Philadelphia 76ers (1995-1998, 2001-2004)
- Artis Gilmore, Chicago Bulls (1978-1982, 1987)
- Horace Grant, Orlando Magic (1994-1999, 2001-2003)
- Spud Webb, Atlanta Hawks (1985-1991, 1995-1996)
- Tim Thomas, New York Knicks (2004-2005, 2008-2009), Chicago Bulls (2005, 2009)
- A.C. Green, L.A. Lakers (1985-1993, 1999-2000)
- Chris Gatling, Miami HEAT (1996, 2001-2002)
- Delonte West, Boston Celtics (2004-2007, 2010)
- Steve Blake, Portland Trail Blazers (2005-2006, 2007-2010)
- Theo Ratliff, Detroit Pistons (1995-1997, 2007-2008), Philadelphia 76ers (1997-2001, 2008-2009)
- Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls (2003-2010, 2012-present)
- Mike Miller, Memphis Grizzlies (2002-2008, 2013-2014)
To date, no team has ever acquired a player three separate times, but that would certainly set a new bar for this sort of thing.
Conversely, journeyman Jim Jackson played for 12 different NBA teams, but never the same one twice. Not everybody finds a home.
For Garnett, though, Minnesota is home, as is Detroit for Tayshaun Prince. As those guys enter the last useful bits of their careers, it must surely be nice to wrap things up in familiar environs.
Nik Stauskas Struggling Through Rookie Season
While the Sacramento Kings did make a move at the trade deadline this year, swapping out Ramon Sessions for Andre Miller, there were certainly plenty of rumors that rookie Nik Stauskas could have been sent packing, as well.
Ultimately the Kings decided to keep the former lottery pick, who has struggled in his first NBA season, averaging only 3.4 PPG in a scant 13.6 minutes per night. Even Stauskas, who was an NCAA star at the University of Michigan, admits that he’s having a hard time making the adjustment to the pros.
“The speed and physicality of everyone goes up a level in the NBA, but you just have to be ready for when you get your opportunity because there aren’t as many opportunities as I had in college,” Stauskas said. “In college I could afford to turn down some shots because I would still get my 10-15 attempts throughout the game, and here some games you come in, you might only get one or two attempts. That has kind of been the case for me this year, and I’ve had a tough time being ready for those opportunities sometimes.”
Despite a slow start to his professional career, Stauskas does seem to have a grasp on what he needs to do to be more effective in the Sacramento rotation.
“I’ve never been selfish, so the problem with me now is I have to think a little bit more selfishly to get my shot off sometimes,” Stauskas said. “That is not who I am as a player, so that has been the toughest part. Like I said, I’m used to having a high-efficiency game where I turn down shots, where it may be an okay shot but I know I’ll get a better shot later. Now, I don’t know if I’m going to get that better shot later, so it’s just finding the equal balance of knowing when to be aggressive and when not to be.”
Of course, part of the problem is that Stauskas is now on his third head coach in just his first season in the league. The firing of Mike Malone earlier this year definitely threw him off.
“It just kind of caught everyone off guard because we didn’t really see it coming,” Stauskas said of Malone being fired. “As far as our system and the way we played, it didn’t really change too much. I think more mentally, it was just having to stay ready and just realizing that it is a business and that any of us can be dropped at any point.”
Two head coaches and a handful of teammates have moved on from Sacramento this year, and Stauskas easily could have been another casualty had he been traded by Thursday afternoon.
Now, it’s just a matter of salvaging whatever he can out of the rest of a pretty forgettable year by most accounts.
“It just really has been an up and down season,” he said. “We started off 9-5 and things were going really well, but then DeMarcus (Cousins) got sick a little bit and missed a lot of games, and then our coach got fired, so there has been a lot of changes around here.
“For me it’s just been about keeping a positive attitude all the time and just working hard. We’ve lost a lot of games, so this is kind of the low part of our season so far, but we just have got to keep working through it. We still have 20-something games left, so we have a lot to look forward to.”
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
NBA Daily: Washington’s Positionless Rebuild
Drew Maresca explains why the Washington Wizards’ are closer to legitimacy than you might think
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.