With the NBA Finals long finished and Summer League complete, we’re entering the darkest days of the NBA offseason. To break up the monotony of this NBA-less summer, I want to discuss one of my favorite things about each NBA season: the awards. I will put together a complete list of all of my predictions for every major award in the near future, but for now I wanted to discuss which Washington Wizards I think will be in contention for end-of-season awards as well as DC’s sneaky All-Star candidate.
Most Improved Player: Jordan Poole, Corey Kispert and Deni Avdija
The Most Improved Player award is consistently a tough one to define: should it be a player who made the jump from stardom to superstardom or a player who came out of left field and exploded into an All-Star? The previous two winners, Ja Morant in ‘22 and Lauri Markkanen in ‘23, represent these two schools of thought respectively.
Kispert and Poole are far from favorites to win the award, but I would certainly throw their names into the pre-season list of contenders. The 2023-24 Wizards are a group free from the shackles of expectation, so there will be plenty of stats to go around. Poole averaged over 20 points per game last season, but when unleashed as the number one scoring option, he could see his scoring average balloon to nearly 30 points per game.
I think Kispert is the more likely candidate of the two, and he is the more “out of left field” MIP candidate. The third-year forward averaged 11 points per game last year, but in the final eight games of the season with a greener light than ever, he scored 19 points per game on shooting splits just a hair under 50/40/90. His three-point percentage during that span was a scorching 44.3%.
With Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis out the door, the Wizards will rely on Kispert to do more scoring, and he has already shown flashes of being an elite spot-up shooter. If he puts it together for a full season next year, he could be a sleeper candidate for the Most Improved Player award.
As I formulate my full awards predictions for this season, I keep coming back to Avdija as a potential favorite for the Most Improved Player award. He has improved marginally in each of his three NBA seasons but has not yet blossomed into the player that draft analysts like Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer pegged him as (O’Connor had Avdija fourth on his big board in 2020, although I’m not sure how seriously this ranking should be taken considering Killian Hayes was O’Connor’s number one prospect).
Over the last three years, Avdija has shown flashes of basically everything. Sometimes he’s a great rebounder, sometimes he’s dishing out slick assists, sometimes he’s knocking down the three ball, sometimes he’s locking up the best player on the opposing team; the problem is his inconsistency. Avdija is still just 22 years old, and I would be shocked if he is not at least remembered for his career as a high-level role player. 2024 might just be the year that he finally gets the ball rolling.
All-Rookie Team: Bilal Coulibaly
I would bet my house on Victor Wembanyama winning the Rookie of the Year award, and I’d throw in my life savings to expand the bet to Wembanya or Scoot Henderson. Coulibaly, the No. 7 pick out of France, is a pretty good pick to make the All-Rookie team, though. Coulibaly averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds per game in Summer League, and he showed flashes of All-Defense potential. If he can produce in his rookie year even 70% of what he showed in Summer League, he has a shot to make the All-Rookie Team.
Considering how he is more of a project than an NBA-ready prospect — Coulibaly is just 18 years old — he could be forgiven for struggling not only in his rookie year but also through his first handful of years in the league. I would not be surprised if he made the All-Rookie Team, but I would not bet on it happening either.
Bilal Coulibaly in summer league:— Greg Finberg (@GregFinberg) July 15, 2023
2.3 bpg (!)
40% FG / 18.2% 3pt / 68.4% FT
The 18-year old rookie showed some impressive defensive instincts. Jump-shot will come. Gonna take some time, but overall a solid summer league for Bilal Coulibaly. pic.twitter.com/A4EsChAMlv
All-Star: Kyle Kuzma
I’m writing a piece predicting the 2023-24 All-Stars soon, including a long list of players I considered but ultimately left off; Kuzma will be a member of that list. Poole will almost certainly usurp Kuzma as Washington’s most trigger-happy shooter, but I fully expect Kuzma to absorb a large part of Kristaps Porzingis’ stats from last year. Kuzma averaged 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game last season, and I estimate he bumps his points to around 24 and his rebounds to around 9.5 per game.
It is unlikely Kuzma receives an All-Star nod; but in the words of Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”