Wizards trading Rui Hachimura was not really about Deni Avdija, but the Israeli can still cash in on the opportunity

Jan 30, 2023 | Deni Avdija

It has been a week since the Washington Wizards traded Rui Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers curiously well before February 9th’s NBA trade deadline. Team president and general manager Tommy Sheppard went on the team-owned NBC Sports Washington broadcast spinning that a big part of the Hachimura trade was to free up minutes for Deni Avdija in a more prominent role off the bench. Sheppard broke through into the NBA decades ago as a public relations staffer before transitioning to the front office, but he still understands the importance of narrative. But the reality is Washington was not going to re-sign Hachimura in his impending restricted free agency and they wanted to get something instead of nothing for their former 9th overall pick in 2019, Sheppard’s first selection as the top decision maker.

“Trying to get more minutes for Deni Avdija I think was a really big reason behind this [Rui Hachimura] trade,” Sheppard promoted. “Deni was playing less and less and I think that’s somebody we see of as a big part of our future moving forward. Defensively, I think he’s one of our best defenders, certainly pick and rolls. … What we needed was get Deni more responsibility and more opportunity to play.”

Initially, I felt it may be unfair to publicly put unnecessary pressure on the recently turned 22-year-old, but maybe he will use it as confidence that has a direct correlation to his on-court play. When Avdija gets discouraged guarding the NBA’s best or feels like he is repeatedly given an unfair whistle (or lack thereof), his play suffers. Well, so far in three games on the road since the Hachimura trade, Avdija has totaled 40 points on 12-for-25 shooting, 29 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals, and overall +25 across 30 minutes per game.

Against the Dallas Mavericks and although Luka Doncic proved again his MVP-level play, Avdija had a career-high 9 made free throws and 11 free throw attempts that easily cleared his previous highs of 6 for each. Against the Houston Rockets, Avdija held his various defensive matchups to 3-for-16 shooting from the field. Against the New Orleans Pelicans, Avdija added to his list of highlights when pushing the transition break. That fast style of play has affectionately earned him the nickname Turbo from his teammates.

“It was big,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. started on Avdija’s contribution in New Orleans. “His downhill aggression, playing with force. Biggest key for him is just being decisive and he’s done that of late. Making better decisions, playing with a little more aggression. He’s been good for us.”

With at least 33 games left in the season, although there is a good chance Washington gets one or two play-in games as they continue to fight the more sensical tank to keep their draft pick in a loaded draft, Avdija will be auditioning for a possible extension prior to the 2023-24 season. Hachimura and the Wizards did not get far in those conversations before this season, but maybe things will be different for Avdija. Although Unseld at times limits Avdija’s playing time to the annoyance of the latter’s fans, Avdija’s offensive usage should go up as Washington moved out their best bench scorer. The Israeli has tirelessly put in the work, but now we need to see it translate to the court to finish his third NBA season strong.

Washington finishes their road trip in San Antonio and Detroit before a daunting 3 games in 4 nights vs. Portland, at Brooklyn, and vs. Cleveland leading into the trade deadline. Avdija figures to have highlight matchups against the likes of Cade Cunningham, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Donovan Mitchell over the stretch.

Ending on wholesome notes, looks like Kyle Kuzma has been an adopted member of the Euro club by Kristaps Porzingis and Deni Avdija (who always enjoys uplifting others).

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