Following season-ending injuries to the Wizards’ top two scorers—Bradley Beal and later Kyle Kuzma—Washington’s playoff chances kept shrinking until eventually, the inevitable mathematical elimination became reality. Once that reality set in, another aspect of the team became their main priority; developing their young talent.
The Wizards’ last three first-round picks—Corey Kispert, Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura—all started the season off slow for various reasons. Kispert was in the infant stages of his NBA career, Avdija had trouble finding minutes on a team stacked with forward depth, and Hachimura missed the entire season up until February due to personal reasons.
By season’s end, each of them had molded into pieces Wes Unseld Jr. will want to rely on going forward. Here's how that happened:
“I think Rui took a big step. In the past, just in my perspective, he was a midrange player and in,” Unseld Jr. said at the end-of-season media availability. “Seeing him step out offensively, adding the 3-point dimension to his game, I think is a huge piece. On the flip side, we put him in different [defensive] situations. It’s not just switching onto the ball…once again, that’s one of those layers we’re alluding to where there’s growth. Expanding both sides of the ball for him would be great.”
Hachimura indeed blossomed into a formidable two-way player after his delayed start to the season. His 3-point shooting became a revelation, as he finished the month of February with an astonishing 63.6% clip from downtown. At season’s end, the third-year man shot 44.7% from three, a sharp 12-percent bump from his rate in 2020-21.
If Hachimura can keep shooting effectively from distance and reliably guard the 2-4 positions, he could be a crucial element of Washington’s rotation next season. Hypothetically, Hachimura could come off the bench for Kyle Kuzma and give the Wizards extra size down low to pair with Daniel Gafford and Kristaps Porzingis. Knowing and understanding his role next year will be key.
Avdija stormed out of the gate this season and quickly made it apparent that he was one of the best, if not the team’s best defender. Later in the season, he did often find himself lost on the defensive end, but the strides he took in just his second year after having his rookie season cut short with an injury is surely encouraging.
Offensively, although he did increase his point per game total from 6.3 to 8.4 from his rookie year, Avdija did struggle in certain areas.
“It’s well documented. Young player, [their] usage rate goes up, at times the turnovers and mistakes will happen,” Unseld Jr. said. “I think it’s just an area of improvement for him…I think he overall handled it well. It’s a testament to him and his efficiency when teams start to game plan.”
Perhaps the best part of Avdija’s game, aside from his defensive improvements, was his durability. He was one of just five NBA players to suit up in all 82 games. His defensive tenacity off the bench should pair nicely with the scoring that Beal, Kuzma, Porzingis, Caldwell-Pope and others can supply in the starting lineup.
“He’s gotta continue to improve his finishing, work with his left hand, his off hand. He’s shooting the ball with more confidence,” Unseld Jr said.
Washington deemed Kispert intriguing enough as a potential 3-and-D threat to draft him 15th overall last summer. Though he was slow to get off the blocks, that’s exactly what he became for the squad.
“I’m proud to say that I made some huge strides this year that I’m really proud of,” Kispert said during his exit interview. “I think [what I’m most proud of] is definitely putting the ball on the ground, playing off the dribble…the next four or five months I’m gonna work as hard as anybody, and really, really grow my game.”
He hit the nail on the head. He was essentially only comfortable with catch-and-shoot duties coming in, but game-by-game, he found himself creating his own shot a bit more. Scoring 8.2 points per game in just 23.4 minutes isn’t too shabby for a rookie, especially for one who is a team's fifth or sixth scoring option. Kispert could eventually find himself becoming a more involved aspect of Washington’s offense during his sophomore season.
“I’m proud of how they developed throughout the season,” Unseld Jr. said of the Hachimura, Avdija, Kispert trio. “You want to piggyback off what they’ve experienced but also understand that this is a valuable summer. It’s really the first full summer for both Rui and Deni, and obviously Corey, his first crack at it as well. We’ve gotta take full advantage of this opportunity and move these guys forward.”