Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija deserve more opportunities after 132-121 loss to Portland Trail Blazers

Washington Wizards Deni Avdija Rui Hachimura. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Deni Avdija Rui Hachimura. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Time to turn Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura loose. The Washington Wizards can’t keep holding them back.

Bradley Beal scored 37 points, extending his streak of games with 25+ points to 16, tying Michael Jordan for the longest such streak to start a season since the NBA-ABA merger. Russell Westbrook had another triple-double — his fifth in twelve games as a member of the Washington Wizards. Yet, the Wizards, in need of a win over a tired and broken down Portland Trail Blazers, were never really in this one.

At home against the Blazers, the Wizards were in a twenty-point hole before the first quarter was even over. They started the second, third, and fourth quarters in double-digit holes. Some impressive rallying cut the lead to four, and the Wizards trailed 122-118 with four minutes to go. But that set off the ‘Dame Time’ alarm, and the Blazers immediately went on a 10-0 run, with Damian Lillard scoring or assisting on eight of those points.

In the loss, Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook combined for 39 shots. The rest of the team had 44. That itself is not an issue — Beal and Westbrook made 21 of those shots (53 percent). However, the Wizards need to find more opportunities for both Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija. The team’s two most recent first-round picks, who combined for 37 points on 83 percent shooting, proved why in the loss.

Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija can help the Washington Wizards get on track. Just give them a chance.

This season, Rui Hachimura ranks third on the Wizards in field goal attempts per game (10.0) and pretty consistently hovers around 8-12 attempts. He’s only strayed outside of that range twice in ten games. So far, Hachimura’s volume is down from his rookie season in which he averaged 11.4 field goal attempts per game, but his efficiency from the field and from behind the arc is up. Overall, his effective field goal percentage is up from 48.9 percent last season to 54.5 percent this season. And he can thank his post-game for that.

Per next level NBA, Rui ranked second in the NBA in points per post-up possession at the end of January (1.15 ppp). He ranked first in turning those post ups into free throws. And ranked in the bottom half for turnover frequency.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Wizards need to keep going to Hachimura in the post. He does a great job recognizing mismatches, and when he finds one, he aggressively establishes position. Westbrook has learned this and is starting to seek out Hachimura down low.

Although Hachimura’s three-point percentage is up this year, he’s still not fully confident from deep. That was especially evident towards the end of the Blazers game when he passed up two open looks during one possession late in the fourth. But he’s getting there. The three-point percentage is much better than last season (39.1 percent), but he needs more volume (2.3 attempts).

Someone who has no trouble hitting the outside shot is Deni Avdija. Avdija’s sharpshooting has been a bit of a surprise as his shot was his biggest question mark during the draft. However, he’s shooting a blistering 45 percent from beyond the arc this season on 3.1 attempts per game. Unlike Hachimura, Avidja shows little hesitation when he gets an open look. However, he’s getting far fewer chances. Avdija is averaging just 5.5 field goal attempts per game but is taking advantage of his few opportunities. He currently has the highest effective field goal percentage among non-centers on the Wizards (59.7 percent).

For a rookie, Avdija is calm and confident when the Wizards need him to be; he hit the three that pulled the Wizards to within four in the fourth against Portland. And he’s composed when things break down. Avdija turned a broken play into a highlight-reel layup vs. Portland, too. Plus, he’s one of the Wizards’ best on-ball defenders. That’s not saying much, but the Wizards that can defend need to be on the floor as much as possible. Because Scott Brooks refuses to play either Isaac Bonga or Troy Brown Jr lately, Hachimura and Avdija are the best defensive options the Wizards have left. They were both there to meet Damian Lillard at the rim for a big block when the game was winding down and still within reach.

Meanwhile, Davis Bertans has become food on the defensive end. Blazers players were singling him out all game and getting easy buckets as a result. And when Bertans isn’t hitting threes, he’s not much help out there. Over the last three games, Bertans has gone 5-28 from deep.

Bertans is obviously off. Due to visa issues, he couldn’t get a full training camp in and started the season out of shape. It looks like he still is. Either that or last season was a mirage that cost the Wizards $80 million. Until Bertans can figure it out, Avdija should get some of those Bertans minutes. He’s proven to be more impactful through the first 17 games.

February will be a make-or-break month for the Wizards. dark. Next

Playing the Blazers one night after they were blown out by the Milwaukee Bucks, without usual starters CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, would have been a great opportunity to start stacking wins. That did not happen. But if the Wizards keep feeding Rui Hachimura and start letting Deni Avdija loose, the Beal scoring streaks and Westbrook triple-doubles won’t go to waste.