How will Avdija's role change after Hachimura trade? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
After the 24-hour news cycle had taken place, the dust had settled on the Rui Hachimura trade and all the takes on social media cooled to their embers, Wizards president Tommy Sheppard offered his reasoning for why the former ninth overall pick was traded on Monday. In a pair of interviews during Tuesday night's Wizards-Mavs broadcast on NBC Sports Washington, he cited clearing the way for Deni Avdija's development as part of his thinking in making the deal.
Avdija, of course, was the Wizards' first-round pick the following year after Hachimura, in 2020. He was also the ninth overall pick and now with Hachimura gone, his evolution becomes even more important to their future.
Exactly what Sheppard meant may be the subject of an enduring debate. He didn't say the Wizards chose Avdija over Hachimura, but now Avdija's progress will naturally be framed by the new opportunity he now has with Hachimura gone. It is now part of the context of his young career.
Sheppard also did not indicate Hachimura was directly impeding Avdija. Though fit and opportunity absolutely matter in the NBA, talent shines through. It's a meritocracy, a make-or-miss league. If you perform, you are rewarded. And Avdija has had plenty of playing time this year to work with.
After Tuesday's win, he's started 30 of 45 games and averaging a career-high 25.9 minutes. Hachimura was also absent for 16 games due to an ankle injury from mid-November to mid-December. Avdija played nearly 30 minutes a night during that stretch.
All of that said, you could see why there may be an opportunity for Avdija to be used differently with Hachimura elsewhere. For one, it could mean more time with the ball in his hands. Hachimura was fourth on the Wizards in usage rate (23.0), behind only Kyle Kuzma (28.1), Kristaps Porzingis (27.4) and Bradley Beal (27.2). Hachimura was also fourth in field goal attempts (10.8).
Wizards bench players this season have averaged 26.9 attempts per game as a collective group. That means Hachimura accounted for about 40% of their shots. He is a decisive player who wastes no time getting to his spots and letting it fly. As Kyle Kuzma noted earlier this month in a postgame press conference, when he gets the ball it's a near certainty he will shoot.
Hachimura's departure would suggest potentially more shots for Avdija, but the nature of those shots could be more important. Avdija could now play closer to the basket, as more of a power forward than a small forward. That may be for the best given he's shooting just 27.5% from three this year, a career-low in his third NBA season. Avdija takes 42.5% of his shot attempts from 3-point range which is quite a bit considering his efficiency.
In a way, it's a reminder of how difficult it can be to pair players, especially wings, who aren't plus 3-point shooters. Hachimura has made strides in that area, but both he and Avdija are below-average shooters from the outside and that affected their compatibility on the court together.
Avdija showed glimpses of what staying closer to the basket could look like on Tuesday in Dallas. He only attempted one three and instead attacked a lot off the dribble. That led to him shooting a career-high 11 free throws, nearly double his previous best for a single game of six. Avdija knocked down nine of those shots, accounting for the majority of his 15 points. He also had 10 rebounds, three steals and three assists.
Avdija generally looked more assertive attacking the paint off the dribble, even with his left hand which has been a well-publicized weakness of his. On one play in the fourth quarter, he drove left and generated an and-one with a floater through contact.
If the Wizards decide to shade Avdija over, closer to being a four than a three, maybe it could lead to more opportunities in the post. During his time playing overseas before he came to the NBA, Avdija more frequently made plays out of the post, both for himself and others.
Ultimately, it will be up to Avdija to seize the opportunity Sheppard and the Wizards have evidently created for him. Just because the door is open does not guarantee he will walk through it. If you recall, when the Wizards went to the bubble in 2020, Troy Brown Jr. got an extended look at point guard and Hachimura was the No. 1 scoring option. Neither were signs of more to come.
But the runway has been cleared for Avdija to take a big step forward in his development. The Wizards' front office believes Hachimura's exit could help his cause. Let's see what he can do.