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Kevin’s Mailbag: Forecasting the Wizards youngsters

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Washington Wizards
What does Kevin Broom’s crystal spreadsheet say about the future of Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura and the team’s other young players.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Readers posted some good questions in the comments to my piece yesterday, so I’m pulling a few out and responding here, Q&A style.

DCrez asks: Assuming these season ended to today and these were final PPA scores, could you give us the career projections for Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Isaac Bonga, and Deni Avdija?

Immediately, there are complications. Bonga and Brown were decent last season — Bonga had a below average but still useful 83 PPA; Brown a near average 96. They’ve both been out of the rotation most of the season, and have performed poorly when given playing time.

If I forecast based on what they’ve done this season, their career paths will look atrocious. But, that could also just be what they’re going to be. I’ll come back to them in a moment.

The career forecasts that follow are based on the MILK system I described in my preseason predictions article. The TLDR: I apply average aging effects to the player’s current performance.

Rui Hachimura: Current PPA: 88. Age 22 season.

Rui Hachimura MILK Career Forecast

Hachimura PPA
Hachimura PPA
22 88
23 102
24 108
25 112
26 113
27 112
28 109
29 103
30 90
31 72
32 45

The “typical” career arc suggests Hachimura should have made a significant step forward this season. He’s largely looked “about the same” as last season. Applying the same approach to his rookie year PPA 95 predicts a PPA in mid-120s this season. A dip in production — if it persists to the end of the season — suggests a lower peak. (I’m going to stop caveating from this point.) He still forecasts as a useful NBA player, but not a franchise building block.

Deni Avdija: Current PPA 62. Age 20 season.

Deni Avdija MILK Career Forecast

Avdija PPA
Avdija PPA
20 62
21 90
22 117
23 135
24 144
25 148
26 150
27 148
28 145
29 136
30 120
31 96
32 60

Avdija’s forecast is much more optimistic. All the usual “big leap” years are still ahead of him. While his performance has slipped in recent weeks, the forecast suggests a consistently above average player who could peak as a borderline All-Star.

For Brown and Bonga, it’s just not worth running forecasts based solely on this year’s production. If this is their true performance level, they’re both soon playing overseas. But, this season matters. So, I’ve combined this season’s data with what they did last season.

Troy Brown Jr.: Current PPA 9. Blended PPA 87. Age 21 season.

Troy Brown Jr. MILK Career Forecast

Brown PPA
Brown PPA
21 87
22 113
23 131
24 139
25 144
26 145
27 144
28 141
29 132
30 116
31 93
32 58

Honestly, I’m skeptical on this. The Wizards coaching staff seems to think he simply can’t play, despite what he did last season. If they thought he could, he’d be out there. There’s no way around the reality that he’s been terrible this season. But, he’s also still just 21.

Blending what he did last season with this year’s horrible production and putting that into the model, suggests someone who’s likely to be an above average starter who’s quite valuable within a defined role. Scott Brooks has yet to figure out what that role can be. Perhaps the next coach can crack the code.

Isaac Bonga. Current PPA 27. Blended PPA 75. Age 21 season.

Isaac Bonga MILK Career Forecast

Bonga PPA
Bonga PPA
21 75
22 98
23 113
24 120
25 124
26 125
27 124
28 121
29 114
30 100
31 80
32 50

I’m skeptical of this one too. Like Brown, Bonga is just 21 years old. Both guys still have seasons ahead of them where players typically make significant improvements. Both guys have gotten significantly worse in what’s supposed to be one of those “improvement” years.

If Bonga’s true performance level is the blended 75 PPA, he forecasts to be someone who could be a starter or a valued reserve during his career.

Now to some questions from DJMilk.

Garrison Mathews — Is it time to treat him like a real prospect?

It is, and I think the Wizards are slowly moving in that direction. Mathews has started the past few games, and he has a combination of shooting, toughness, and effort level that NBA teams need. He should get consistent playing time to gain experience and perhaps solidify a spot in the team’s rotation for the next several years.

Brown — What happened to him? Is his PPA well down or is it just noticeable because he’s not playing?

As discussed above, Brown’s production cratered this season, even when he’s gotten minutes. One possible reason is that the coaching staff keeps changing his role. Last season, he was a secondary playmaker on the second unit and he actually was a decent defender before the bubble.

This season, they seemed to be asking him to be more of a 3&D guy, and then they abruptly asked him to be a small-ball four — throwing him out there during a game without even one practice in the role. Want to see some cringe-worthy footage, dig up some footage of Brown playing four in a horns set. Yikes.

Another possible reason: he’s just not that good. That may sound harsh, but the possibility has to be considered. If he was killing it in practice, he’d be on the floor. Brooks isn’t the best coach on the planet, but he and his coaches aren’t going to keep Brown buried on the bench if they thought he could contribute.

Davis Bertans — How does his (disappointing) PPA compare with last year?

Not well. That’s not because Bertans was great last season but because he’s been bad so far this season. A season ago, Bertans posted a PPA 105, which is the best mark of his career. He’s a great shooter who does little else. This season, his shooting hasn’t been as good, and he’s still not doing much else.

That said, his PPA leapt from 36 to 70 in yesterday’s update, so he may be rounding back into form.

Bojan Bogdanovic? Jabari Parker? — How are they doing? We got rid of all the guys who would be mid-career starters. Those two and Tomas Satoransky are guys the Wizards had had to ditch because they wasted a trillion dollars on Ian Mahinmi and Andrew Nicholson.

Don’t forget Jason Smith, a career scrub who they inexplicably gave a fully guaranteed contract with a player option on a third season. This is a guy who should have gotten the league minimum, period.

Bogdanovic’s PPA so far this season is 95. Here’s how he’s performed — in his Washington season and since.

  • 2016-17 — WAS — 74
  • 2017-18 — IND — 108
  • 2018-19 — IND — 131
  • 2019-20 — UTA — 117
  • 2020-21 — UTA — 95

Jabari Parker hasn’t played in the NBA this season.