The Best-Kept Secret on Every NBA Roster Heading Into 2022-23 Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVAugust 18, 2022

The Best-Kept Secret on Every NBA Roster Heading Into 2022-23 Season

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    If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times: The NBA is a superstar-driven league.

    Superstars sell tickets. Superstars win the Association's top accolades. Superstars steer championship runs.

    Superstars also monopolize the league's coverage, which prevents the spotlight from reaching every player who deserves it.

    Until now.

    Our aim is to show love to every team's best-kept secret, a player whose perception lags behind their impact or what they can become.

Atlanta Hawks: Onyeka Okongwu

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    Word is about to get out about Onyeka Okongwu—maybe as soon as this season.

    It's been a relatively slow start for 2020's No. 6 pick, who has opened both of his campaigns on the injured list. He's also had trouble finding major minutes behind Clint Capela, whose 27.6 minutes per outing in 2021-22 were his fewest in four seasons.

    Still, Okongwu's flashes of high-level ability are becoming more frequent and more drool-inducing. He has cornerstone potential on the defensive end, as someone who can protect the paint (career 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes), control the glass (10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes) and switch along the perimeter. On offense, he's a solid screen-setter, a deft finisher (career 67.2 field-goal percentage) and an improved shooter (72.7 free-throw percentage last season).

Boston Celtics: Grant Williams

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    You could argue that last season spilled the beans on Grant Williams being Boston's best-kept secret. He essentially engineered across-the-board improvement, leading to substantial spikes in floor time (24.4 minutes per game) and perimeter shooting (106 triples on 41.1 percent shooting).

    On a team littered with do-it-all stoppers, Williams graded the highest in BBall-Index.com's defensive versatility. His three-ball and improved mobility gave him extra juice away from the basket, but he can still muscle up in the frontcourt to bang with bigs. He has played everywhere but point guard during his first three seasons with the Shamrocks.

    Still, it feels like he has another level to reach, one higher than most fans might think. He's still working on consistency—he had a rough go in the Finals—and hasn't dabbled much with shot creation. If he fine-tunes his established strengths and develops more, look out.

Brooklyn Nets: Day'Ron Sharpe

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    The championship-chasing Nets didn't have many developmental minutes to throw at Day'Ron Sharpe last season, and if they don't abandon that pursuit, the big fella could face a similar floor-time crunch.

    Still, he delivered almost every time he was called upon and proved absurdly productive on a per-minute basis. By year's end, his per-36-minutes averages included 18.2 points, 14.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Oh, there were 5.5 fouls and 2.8 turnovers, too, but he was a teenager when his rookie run started, so growing pains were (and, to a degree, still are) inevitable.

    Functionally, he's a 6'11", 265-pound energizer, and he'll always make his presence felt around the paint. But if his three-point shot comes around—29 percent in the NBA, 33 percent in the G League—he could grow out of a niche role and into something much more significant.

Charlotte Hornets: Jalen McDaniels

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    While Jalen McDaniels hasn't made quite as many waves as his younger brother, Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Jaden McDaniels, he has carved a two-way niche in Charlotte and shown perpetual improvement on offense.

    The elder McDaniels' defense is still what pops first, as his length and motor yield versatility and disruption. Charlotte fared 5.2 points better per 100 possessions defensively with McDaniels on the floor, putting him in the 87th percentile league-wide, per Cleaning the Glass.

    Offensively, the 24-year-old doesn't offer much in the way of shot creation, but he converts the chances he gets and doesn't force the issue when he lacks an opening. He set several career-bests this past season, including a 59.5 true shooting percentage, 8.7 assist percentage and 11.2 turnover percentage.

Chicago Bulls: Coby White

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    If you're drumming up fake Chicago deals in the trade machine, you're almost certainly including Coby White in the outgoing package. He's a score-first player on a team whose three-best players all fall under the same umbrella. He is, to put it simply, expendable.

    However, his trade status may have warped perception about his game. Just because he runs a little redundant in the Windy City, that doesn't mean he falls short as an NBA talent.

    He is a quantity-plus-quality shooter from range, is a blur in the open court and can finish at or around the rim. He just pumped in 16.6 points per 36 minutes while posting personal-best shooting rates from the field (43.3) and from distance (38.5). Defense and decision-making (career-best 9.3 turnover percentage) aren't strengths, but he did improve in both areas this past season.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Isaac Okoro

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    Isaac Okoro's offense is very much a work in progress. Despite that, he has tallied the second-most minutes in Cleveland over the past two seasons.

    Now, that says a lot about two things: Okoro's defense, and the amount of turnover within the Cavaliers. We're obviously focusing on the former, as it's the key to Okoro's success and his biggest hope for maintaining major minutes in a suddenly crowded wing mix.

    His point-of-attack defense is ferocious, and he has enough length, strength and quickness to handle perimeter assignments of all sizes and styles. He drew the opposition's top scorer more often than not and still graded out among the 74th percentile of isolation defenders. If his offense ever catches up—he posted career shooting rates at every level while having more than double the assists to turnovers in 2021-22—Cleveland could have a difference-maker on its hands.

Dallas Mavericks: Josh Green

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    Admittedly, there is some mystery-box-appeal at play here, as the Mavericks haven't given Josh Green too many chances to make a splash so far. He barely hit the hardwood as a rookie and just barely cleared 1,000 minutes as a sophomore.

    Still, the glimpses of his game have been encouraging. He's still more of an elite athlete than a high-level hooper, but those physical gifts open all kinds of possibilities, and he started dabbling in them more regularly this past season.

    While his efficiency flat-lined in the playoffs and cost him his rotation spot, he still shattered his previous bests at every level during the regular season and finished with a 50.8/35.9/68.9 slash. His explosiveness means he'll always add value in transition and timely cuts, but if he keeps progressing as a shooter and defender, he could go from meh to interesting really quick.

Denver Nuggets: Zeke Nnaji

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    This is sort of a leap-of-faith selection, as Zeke Nnaji hasn't seen a ton of floor time since Denver snatched him up with the 22nd pick in 2020. It took a while for him to earn a rotation spot, and then that was later robbed from him by a knee injury. As a result, he has only made 83 appearances and logged a total of 1,095 minutes.

    Given the sample size, though, he has managed to impress a good deal. That's largely because of his shooting, which has proved mechanically precise—particularly for a 6'9", 240-pounder. His career connection rates are 50.3 percent from the field and a scorching-hot 43.9 percent from long-distance.

    He offers a decent amount of flexibility, as he can play (and cover) any of the three frontcourt positions. If his role increases, his shooting and finishing will shine alongside prolific playmakers like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Detroit Pistons: Isaiah Livers

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    Here's the thing with the Pistons: They're early enough into their rebuilding project that much of this roster could qualify as a secret. So, grading on a curve becomes a must in this exercise for Detroit, which puts the unproven—but highly intriguing—Isaiah Livers under the spotlight.

    Last season, he was a second-round rookie who entered the season with a foot injury, didn't debut until December, went right back on the injury report and wouldn't play again until late February. He wound up playing just 19 games in all, though he did start five of them and averaged a not insignificant 20.2 minutes per night.

    The appeal with Livers is two-fold. First, he looks like a top-shelf shooter. Sure, the sample size is microscopic, but he still hit 42.2 percent of his threes and 85.7 percent of his free throws. Second, he's an asset on defense, where his awareness and instincts really shine. He already has the makings of a glue guy, and he's just getting started.

Golden State Warriors: JaMychal Green

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    With as many eyeballs as the Warriors have on them, there can't be many secrets on the roster. It makes sense, then, to go with a newcomer who just so happens to be coming off an uncharacteristically inefficient season that may have warped his perception among fans.

    JaMychal Green couldn't shoot last season. More specially, he couldn't shoot threes. His 87.1 free-throw percentage was actually a personal best, and his 48.6 field-goal percentage was the third-highest of his career. For whatever reason, though, he never found his three-ball and wound up shooting just 26.6 percent from range, easily his worst such mark as a rotation regular.

    Golden State has every reason to believe in a bounce-back. He's a 36.6 percent three-point shooter for his career and hit better than 38 percent in each of the previous three seasons. Assuming he regains his touch, he'll fit like a tailored suit in the Bay and have everyone wondering how the Warriors were able to land him on a minimum deal.

Houston Rockets: Jae'Sean Tate

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    Like other rebuilders, the Rockets have no shortage of candidates. It's possible (or probable) not enough people paid attention to Jalen Green's star turn down the stretch. Alperen Sengun doesn't get the publicity his size-skill combo deserves. Josh Christopher already looks like a long-term keeper.

    Still, the understated-but-sturdy Jae'Sean Tate feels like the perfect choice for this exercise. He took the long road to the league, then established himself as an integral piece of the franchise's fabric almost immediately.

    He doesn't have a standout skill on the stat sheet, but as The Dream Shake's Darren Yuvan put it, he "brings value to the team in terms of hustle, basketball IQ, defensive and offensive versatility and leadership." That's a lot of value, folks.

Indiana Pacers: Terry Taylor

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    There was some temptation to go with Tyrese Haliburton, as fans may not have noticed just how absurdly effective he was following his trade to Indiana. Over 26 games, he averaged 17.5 points on 50.2/41.6/84.9 shooting while dishing 9.6 assists against 3.2 turnovers. The Circle City may have its next star.

    Still, fans outside of the Hoosier State know Haliburton. Could people outside of the Pacers locker room recognize Terry Taylor on the street? He went undrafted out of Bowling Green, played last season on a two-way pact and logged a hair over 700 minutes.

    But he is fascinating, as a 6'5", 230-pounder who plays like a 7-footer. He averaged an elite 4.8 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes and shot a blistering 61.4 percent from the field. He's long, broad and lumberjack strong. Oh, he's also a 31.6 percent three-point shooter and 70.6 percent free-throw shooter. Granted, those aren't great numbers, but they do suggest he might be more skilled than your run-of-the-mill energizer.

Los Angeles Clippers: Amir Coffey

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    Amir Coffey nearly played his way out of secret status this past season.

    His first three seasons were all spent on two-way contracts, but his latest was so productive it scored him a three-year, $11 million big-league deal. And, if you paid attention to his 2021-22 effort, that contract rings like a bargain.

    He offers versatility on defense and a trusty three-ball on offense (carer 38 percent). The Clippers have played him everywhere but center, and he has responded with heady defense, transition scoring and a pinch of secondary playmaking.

Los Angeles Lakers: Juan Toscano-Anderson

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    The Lakers needed a player like Juan Toscano-Anderson, in more ways than one. He can answer L.A.'s question marks on everything from defensive versatility and hustle to transition energy and supporting a star.

    "I think what I do is so versatile that I can fit on any team," Toscano-Anderson told reporters. "I think I can guard 1-5, I'll do whatever it takes to win. And when I say whatever, I mean that to the core of it. I'll dive over scorer’s tables, I'll rebound, I'll do whatever it takes."

    Toscano-Anderson has already seen action at all five positions, and his skill set is as versatile as that would lead you to believe. If he finds consistency with his three-ball—he shot 40.2 percent in 2020-21, then just 32.2 percent this past season—his game will have no glaring weaknesses. That should allow him to see ample time alongside L.A.'s stars and perhaps earn him a spot on the Lakers' closing group.

Memphis Grizzlies: John Konchar

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    It feels like the Grizzlies have an entire roster of best-kept secrets around Ja Morant, but John Konchar might be the most secretive of the bunch.

    He's a sharpshooter (career 40.6 percent from three), but he's too good in other areas to label him a specialist. That's why Memphis deemed it necessary to ink him to a three-year, $18.5 million extension this summer even though his current contract still has two seasons remaining.

    Not to get too cliched, but Konchar does the little things that help teams win. He plays a low-maintenance, high-efficiency style where he makes open shots, battles on the boards, disrupts things on defense and shares the basketball without turning it over. He is a high-level role player, and the Grizzlies were wise to value him as such.

Miami Heat: Omer Yurtseven

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    The Heat have made such a habit out of finding diamonds in the rough that their best-kept secrets don't remain secrets for very long. Last summer, this same exercise may have spotlighted someone like Gabe Vincent or Max Strus. Now, the pair are too prominently placed within the rotation to qualify.

    The same could happen sooner than later for Omer Yurtseven. It was already trending that direction when injuries forced him into the rotation, then the starting lineup. He immediately responded with a 10-game stretch of averaging 13.9 rebounds, 13.6 points and 2.9 assists.

    His offensive skills are sharp, and he could further sharpen them by harnessing an intriguing-but-not-there-yet jumper. His defense needs a lot of work and may always be held back by his athletic limitations, but he gives Miami's great developmental staff plenty to work with.

Milwaukee Bucks: Jevon Carter

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    Something got into Jevon Carter following his late season move to Milwaukee, and it's the kind of thing that could change the trajectory of his career.

    By the time he landed with the Bucks—after being unceremoniously waived by the Nets—his reputation was fairly well established as something between a defense-first and defense-only player. He hounded opposing ball-handlers, but he wasn't much of an offensive threat.

    Then, during 20 games with the Bucks, he fire-balled his way to a 50.6/55.8/100 shooting slash while averaging 11.4 points and 5.1 assists against 0.8 turnovers per 36 minutes. Those shooting rates won't sustain—he's at 38.6/38.3/81.0 for his career—but if he's a competent outside shooter and serviceable secondary playmaker, that should put him in a fairly substantial role given how dominant he can be defensively.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Jaylen Nowell

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    Jaylen Nowell just completed his third season in Minnesota. If that comes as a surprise to you, you aren't alone. Even some of his teammates weren't sure who he was earlier this season.

    By year's end, though, the entire Gopher State should've known his name. He was a rotation regular for much of the season, and several of his stat categories climbed higher than ever. That included his 47.5 percent shooting and 39.4 percent perimeter splash rate, plus his 2.1 assists (against just 0.6 turnovers).

    With Malik Beasley out of Minnesota, Nowell has a chance to elevate even further. He offers a potent blend of powerful driving and soft shooting, which helps him shred nets from every level.

New Orleans Pelicans: Willy Hernangomez

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    Other options were considered here, if for no other reason than the distinct possibility Willy Hernangomez gets squeezed out of the Pelicans' rotation this season. Having said that, New Orleans' roster has an impressive amount of name recognition, and this club's strong closing stretch brought eyeballs to the Big Easy and moved complementary contributors like Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado into the national spotlight.

    With role players off the table, that didn't leave many options behind, but Hernangomez earned the nod for his razor-sharp skills.

    Now, those skills are almost all geared toward the offensive end, and his defensive limitations may forever put a cap on his role. Still, he deserves major props for staying ready despite knowing his name won't be called every night. He averaged 19.4 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 52 percent from the field and a career-high 77.3 percent at the line.

New York Knicks: Quentin Grimes

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    Quentin Grimes battled both injuries and an inconsistent role as a rookie, which wound up limiting him to just 786 minutes across 46 contests. That was, however, apparently enough time to make him perhaps the central figure in New York's trade talks for three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell.

    "The No. 1 player that the Jazz want in the deal is Quentin Grimes (and) I get the sense that the Jazz are really hesitant to do a deal that doesn't have Quentin Grimes in it," The Athletic's Tony Jones said, via SI.com. "The one player that (the Knicks) are trying not to put in the deal is Quentin Grimes. They don't want Quentin Grimes in the deal under any circumstance."

    That says all you need to know about the giant arrow pointing up that is Grimes' trajectory. He's an aggressive defender and volume-plus-efficiency shooter, but there are flashes of off-the-dribble playmaking that have you wondering just how much more he can be than an impact three-and-D wing.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

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    If you listed the most exciting players in Oklahoma City's rebuild, it would take a while before you got to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. That's not a knock on him, but rather a credit to all of the young talent the Thunder have added in recent years.

    Still, Robinson-Earl isn't the kind of player likely to pop in any situation. There isn't much flash to his game, and his quiet consistency just doesn't grab much attention in a league littered with loud highlights.

    He is simply solid, which may not sound like much but is quite a compliment toward a 21-year-old with fewer than 50 NBA outings under his belt. Oklahoma City is still figuring out which up-and-comers it can count on over the long haul, but Robinson-Earl has potentially joined that small group already.

Orlando Magic: Moritz Wagner

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    It shouldn't be so easy for Moritz Wagner to fly under the radar. He's a 6'11", 245-pounder with a smooth jumper and enough juice to beat slower bigs off of the dribble and finish above the rim.

    And yet, he's not even the most famous member of his family on the Magic. That distinction belongs to his younger brother, 2021-22 All-Rookie first-teamer Franz Wagner.

    The older Wagner has some limitations that have kept him off the grid for casual fans. His major defensive deficiencies have greatly impacted his floor time. In fact, the 960 minutes he logged this past season were easily the most of his four-year career.

    Still, he offers an interesting audible in a deep Orlando frontcourt. If his three-ball picked up a notch or two (career 32.1 percent), he could be a great dance partner on pick-and-pops for any of the young Magic guards. His career 81.3 free-throw percentage suggests better days are ahead for his outside shooting, which means he should be able to tap further into his offensive skills.

Philadelphia 76ers: Paul Reed

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    Paul Reed's formal introduction to NBA fans at large could be on deck this season, which is good news for the Sixers.

    The 6'9", 210-pounder doesn't bring much size to the center position, but he compensates for that with skill and spring-loaded athleticism. He has playmaking ability at both ends, and he has barely broken a sweat at this level yet (479 career minutes over two seasons).

    Some of that lack of exposure is on him, since it's hard to get a ton of burn with a career average of 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes. Given his other per-36-minutes marks, though—15.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.2 steals, 2.1 assists and 2.0 blocks—it's easy to get carried away imagining what he could do if he ever gets those fouls under control.

Phoenix Suns: Josh Okogie

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    There aren't a ton of options in Phoenix, as teams that follow an NBA Finals trip by pacing the Association in wins don't exactly keep any cards up their sleeve. Even this selection is a little iffy, since Josh Okogie's lack of offensive skill threatens to derail his career.

    However, there is still time for the 23-year-old to turn things around, and the fact the Suns still deemed him worthy of a guaranteed deal shows just how effective he is on defense.

    This past season, Jackson graded out with a plus-6.1 Defensive RAPTOR, per FiveThirtyEight. The only player in the entire league to grade out better in that metric was three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

    Okogie's on-ball defense is the equivalent of an NFL shutdown corner, and he can be just as disruptive as a helper. If the Suns find the right offensive niche for him—off-ball cutter, spot-up shooter, transition finisher—his career could still take off.

Portland Trail Blazers: Trendon Watford

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    It might be worth adding an asterisk next to Trendon Watford's name. It'd be a bit harsh, but it would also reflect that by the time he was getting regular minutes, the Blazers were essentially punting on a lost season.

    Watford had many good moments over the last calendar year, but they didn't come in many situations that mattered. Granted, it's not his fault that Portland's season went south, so you can't really ding him for that. And just because past summer-league stars haven't always panned out—looking at you, Anthony Randolph—that doesn't mean Watford's strong showing in Sin City should be outright dismissed.

    He's an energizer, and every good team needs them. He can ping between the 4 and 5 spots, battles on the boards and has feather-soft touch on his floater. He's a keeper.

Sacramento Kings: Davion Mitchell

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    Some might gripe about listing Davion Mitchell as a secret, and that's fine. There are certainly arguments against it, as he was a top-10 pick last summer and wound up scoring the sixth-most points of anyone in his draft class as a rookie.

    Still, even fans who know Mitchell may not realize the type of talent he is—or, at least, could be.

    His defensive effort and ability are widely known, but his offensive growth may be hidden by playing on the perpetually lottery-bound Kings. After the All-Star break, he averaged 14.1 points on 44.1 percent shooting and 5.9 assists per game.

San Antonio Spurs: Tre Jones

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    The Spurs are so early into their rebuilding process, their entire roster could be rebranded as the San Antonio Secrets. Still, players like Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell have already popped, and there's ample excitement in the Alamo City for recent lottery picks Joshua Primo and Jeremy Sochan.

    Is anyone talking about Tre Jones, though? Because after last season, they certainly should be.

    Ball control must run in the family, as Tre Jones—the younger brother of Grizzlies floor general Tyus Jones—amassed 233 assists against only 46 turnovers last season. For the non-math majors in the audience, that's better than five dimes for every giveaway.

    That alone is interesting, but Jones also shot 49 percent from the field while averaging 13.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per 36 minutes.

Toronto Raptors: Precious Achiuwa

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    While Raptors fans already appreciate the unique talents of Precious Achiuwa, word of his exploits has been slower to reach south of the border.

    He primarily lines at up center but functions more like a do-it-all wing. He can protect the paint, but he's just as valuable chasing speedier players around the perimeter. He can grab-and-go to lead breaks after cleaning the glass, and he can pump in shots from distance if left unattended.

    Toronto already seems to have a good grasp of who Achiuwa is and how to use him, but he's a 22-year-old with only 2,462 minutes of regular-season experience, so his growth process is just getting started. His offense ramped up after the All-Star break (12.2 points per game, 39.2 three-point percentage), and it's only tantalizing to think what will happen when he reaches top gear.

Utah Jazz: Udoka Azubuike

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    The Jazz were chasing a championship last season, and they haven't fully abandoned the title pursuit yet. That doesn't leave much room for secrets on this roster, which has largely featured established veterans or youngsters who had trouble cracking the win-now rotation.

    Udoka Azubuike lands in the latter group, as he hasn't even logged 300 minutes since the Jazz selected him with the 27th overall pick of the 2020 draft. It turns out when you're backing up Rudy Gobert's backup (first Derrick Favors, then Hassan Whiteside), there aren't many minutes left over.

    Having said that, Azubuike impressed in the areas where he needed to when called upon. He has a career 70.7 percent connection rate from the field with per-36-minutes averages of 12.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.

    There isn't much mystery about the type of player Azubuike is likely to become, but he could surprise with how quickly and seamlessly he handles a potentially massive increase in workload and opportunities with Gobert gone.

Washington Wizards: Deni Avdija

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    Shooting has long loomed as a swing skill for Deni Avdija, and his first two seasons are a testament why. He hasn't found his three-point touch yet (career 31.6 percent), and it has kept him from filling a major role in the District.

    However, the rest of his game looks ready for a big jump in the rotation.

    Avdija is plenty plucky on defense and won't shy away from marquee matchups in big moments. He can hold his own as a secondary playmaker, and he's already a good decision-maker, particularly for a 21-year-old with only two NBA seasons under his belt.

    Avdija might be more of a mystery than a secret given how much he needs to improve as a scorer and shooter. But if you buy his upside in those areas, then it's easy to see him becoming a two-way asset for the Wizards sooner than later.


    Statistics used courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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