The Washington Wizards were an exciting upstart team back in the late 2010s, with John Wall and Bradley Beal forming a dynamic backcourt alongside a solid supporting cast playing varied specialties. They even had a memorable, hard-fought series against the Boston Celtics in 2017, which went the full distance.
Unfortunately, Wall then went down with a variety of injuries not long after and the franchise was back as a perennial lottery team. Among the guys taken since then were Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, both picked ninth overall in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Both were big forwards as well and somewhat of a tweener in the 3 and 4 spots.
Naturally, it created a logjam in the rotation. They were a pair of lottery selections with a ton of good potential; an investment that should be maximized, but was instead seemingly stuck playing in limited minutes in certain timeframes. Even worse, Davis Bertans was also on the roster, and he just signed a five-year, $80-million contract prior to the 2020-21 season. It’s eye-popping money for a shooter, so he too had to have his time on the floor.
The 2020-21 season: If one goes up, the others go down
Avdija’s presence jumbled the progression of the two other key forwards. Hachimura still played well in his sophomore season but it wasn’t exactly the uptick people were expecting, while Bertans went hot-and-cold all season, far from his big contract-inducing performance in 2019-20.
He then got hurt towards the latter part of the year and missed the last 13 regular season games, just when Wall’s replacement, Mr. Triple Double himself Russell Westbrook, was at the peak of hitting his stride and the team having an intense chase for a playoff berth, which they did. Avdija finished his rookie year with an underwhelming 6.3 points and 4.9 boards in 23.3 minutes – at one point, he had a woeful 14-game stretch of having 4.2 points on a 34.3% clip.
While Avdija was sidelined, the Wizards closed out the 2021 season winning 15 of their last 20 games averaging 125.2 PPG. Hachimura, in particular, played better as he had 15.5 PPG on 52.8% shooting in that stretch.
2021-22 and early 2022-23: Fading into obscurity
The last one-and-a-half seasons of being together further proved that Hachimura and Avdija do not fit, and that they are simply hindering each other’s development. The arrival of Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope furthered it too. Not only are they out as the main forward, they are also bordering going out of the rotation, thus the funky rhythm all season long. Rui also suffered injuries that limited him to just 42 games. A healthy Avdija, meanwhile, could only muster 8.4 points, a minimal increase from his first season.
2023: Post-Hachimura trade:
With Kuzma emerging as a potential legit scorer alongside Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, the “other forward” slot in the rotation is up for grabs, a role that can hopefully be the consistently reliable hustle guy that also provides outside shooting, among other things. Fortunately, the team finally grew tired of mixing up their two young forwards and decided to ship Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was then immediately reported that the deal is ultimately intended to free up time for Avdija.
Sheppard should be smiling and nodding his head for over two weeks now as the Israeli has responded well. Following the trade, which is now at nine games, the 22-year-old has averaged 15.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals per game with a nicely efficient 50.5% shooting. That includes a pair of 20-plus point nights, one of which had him going 10-for-12 for a career-high 25 points.
He’s definitely earning his “Turbo” nickname now. Over that nine-game stretch, there’s glimpses of the energy he brings, and what he can do offensively, both inside and out. Plus, his effort on defense and the mismatches he can create.
It’s good to see the kid finally rise, especially since it has flashes of solid offensive abilities. If he can keep this up, he’ll create more noise in the league. How can he not? He has a 6’9 frame with long reach, good for on-ball defense and disrupting the passing lanes. Along with that, he has shown that despite a relatively slim built (compared to others, at least), he can bang bodies in the paint.
Avdija can be a headache for the opposition, and he and the Wizards know it. Let’s see how they can squeeze all the skills out of him.