An Olympic men's basketball color commentator for NBC and a national college basketball analyst for ESPN, Fran Fraschilla has a unique perspective on international players who come through the NBA Draft. He was a big fan of both Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija when they were drafted by the Wizards in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and the internet has kept the receipts.
Of Hachimura, whom Fraschilla was raving about on social media as far back as 2018, he said he was a "top-6 talent" in the 2019 class. Hachimura went ninth.
Of Avdija, who was recently on Fraschilla's podcast called 'World of Basketball,' Fraschilla said months before he was the ninth overall pick that "he can do just about everything."
Both Hachimura and Avdija have now played in the NBA, so we have a better sense of their career trajectories. Having seen them at the next level, Fraschilla remains bullish on both of them.
Hachimura, 23, just wrapped up his second NBA season and followed that with an impressive run at the Olympics playing for Team Japan. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in the 2020-21 season.
"When I think back to Rui and his days at Gonzaga [with] my close friend [head coach] Mark Few. Rui is the kind of kid who is going to take a big step every year. When he got to Gonzaga, it was the language barrier. He had to learn English before he could learn basketball. Then, it was the basketball barrier, then it was becoming a college star, then it was becoming an NBA role player. Now, I think Rui has got to take that next step. I see a lot of positives in Rui’s play. The confidence level is growing. Obviously, he’s a massive young guy physically," Fraschilla said.
On that note, Fraschilla once compared Hachimura's physique to former defensive player of the year Metta World Peace. He continued:
"[With the Olympics], I think that’s the kind of pressure that a young man who’s trying to get the Wizards further in the playoffs needs to have on his back. All great players have been able to take the pressure of having the 800-pound gorilla on their back and start growing with it. I think Rui’s on that trajectory."
Avdija, just 20, averaged 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds before his rookie season was cut short due to a fracture in his right ankle. He has since been cleared from his rehab and should be ready for a full training camp after the one during his rookie year was shortened due to the coronavirus.
"He’s a wonderful kid. He’s very introspective. I think he’s soaking it all in right now. In talking to Deni, he didn’t get the feel of his first NBA season the way you normally would because of COVID," Fraschilla said. "Being quarantined, you stay at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago and you can’t go out. The meals are catered in. It was a unique year for him and then of course he got hurt at the end of the year when he was playing a lot. Deni is exactly on a trajectory I expected. I did not see stardom for him. What I see from Deni is a Danilo Gallinari career. Now, Danilo has averaged [15.9] points a game his whole career. I think Deni will grow into that."
"Having a real training camp will be important for him," Fraschilla added. "And I think the fact he’s just so young, he’s got skill, the shot’s just got to get better. He has to become more of a knockdown shooter. If he becomes a knockdown shooter, he’s going to be a very solid player in this league."
The Wizards are betting on the upside of both Hachimura and Avdija, who figure to play important roles this season despite being recent draft picks. Hachimura is likely to start for the third straight season, while they hope Avdija will be able to take the next step offensively in a more balanced offense.
If they continue to trend upward, as Fraschilla believes they will, then so should the Wizards.