Deni Avdija

Sixers’ Maxey Named Most Improved Player

Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey has won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award for the 2023/24 season, the league’s communications department tweets.

Maxey edged out Bulls guard Coby White for the award. Maxey received 51 of 99 first-place votes while recording 319 voting points. White had just 32 first-place votes, but showed up on more ballots (91) than Maxey (79) and compiled 305 points.

The third finalist, Rockets center Alperen Sengun, was a distant third with six first-place votes and 92 points.

Thunder forward Jalen Williams and Knicks guard Jalen Brunson finished fourth and fifth, respectively, according to the NBA, which revealed the full voting results on Twitter.

A total of 14 players appeared on at least one ballot, with Wizards forward Deni Avdija and Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton each earning one first-place vote.

Maxey, who is expected to sign a maximum-salary contract this offseason as a restricted free agent, ranked 11th in the NBA in points per game (+5.6 PPG from last season) and 20th in assists per game (+2.7 APG from last season). The first-time All-Star also made a career-high 212 three-pointers, up from 160 last season.

Maxey recorded three games of 50 or more points, tied for the most in the NBA. Those were the first 50-point games of his four-year career.

Maxey is the first member of the Sixers to win the award since Dana Barros was the leading vote-getter for the 1994/95 season.

Southeast Notes: Avdija, Jovic, Heat Struggles, Clifford

Wizards forward Deni Avdija signed a four-year, $55MM extension with the team last offseason. The fact that a new front office regime – rather than the one that drafted him – offered him that contract was a shot of confidence for Avdija, signaling the franchise’s belief in the former No. 9 overall pick, The Washington Post’s Ava Wallace writes.

Avdija, 23, has rewarded that faith with his best professional season yet, averaging career bests of 14.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while connecting on a career-high 50.9% of his shots from the field and 37.8% of his three-pointers. Avdija explained that getting that contract from the Wizards last year felt like a weight removed from his chest and allowed him to focus on basketball.

Deni’s been great,” interim coach Brian Keefe said. “Growth has been tremendous. We’ve put the ball in his hands to make plays for himself, for others. The rebounding has been great. We’re going to keep pushing Deni to do more because we think he can be — do — more.

In an otherwise poor season, Avdija has been a bright spot for the Wizards and looks like a centerpiece going forward as the club navigates a rebuild. Amid uncertainty, he led Washington in starts this season and recorded 24 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in the home finale on Friday.

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • When the Heat first inserted 20-year-old Nikola Jovic into the starting lineup this season, it was seen as more of an experiment than a long-term solution, Ira Winderman of South Florida’s Sun Sentinel writes. Flash forward to April, and Jovic has held firm on a starting spot as the Heat approach the postseason. He’s averaging 9.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 39.5% from three in his last 25 starts and has provided the team with a stretch big who can run the floor next to Bam Adebayo. “He’s improved in so many of the areas. It started with his work ethic,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I often have to remind myself that Niko is 20.” With Tyler Herro healthy, it’s possible Miami switches up its lineup in the postseason, but Jovic will likely remain a part of the rotation, starter or not.
  • Injuries and an inefficient offense continue to be a thorn in Miami’s side this season, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald writes. The Heat entered Thursday with the fifth-most missed games in the NBA due to injury — and the most of any team with a winning record. Josh Richardson, Duncan Robinson and Terry Rozier are among the key rotation pieces currently absent for the Heat, and it doesn’t help that they’ve scored fewer than 100 points in a game 18 times this year, going 2-16 in such outings. “Ultimately, we have to figure out a way that we can try to play somewhat the same identity on the offensive end game to game,” Herro said. The Heat are left to scramble for answers whenever Jimmy Butler and/or Adebayo have an off night, according to Chiang.
  • Steve Clifford‘s tenure with the Hornets is ending, but the veteran coach isn’t taking his foot off the gas pedal even with his team long eliminated from the postseason, per The Charlotte Observer’s Roderick Boone. “We have good, young guys that can continue to grow,” Clifford said. Regardless of the lack of postseason appearances and the amount of injuries over the course of his second stint with Charlotte, Clifford is thankful for getting a second chance to coach this team. He’s set to move into a consultant position under the guidance of vice president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson after the season. “The consulting thing is tricky,” Clifford said, “… you have to pick your spots and figure out what areas you can most help in.

Injury Notes: Middleton, J. Johnson, Harden, Heat, Avdija

Bucks forward Khris Middleton still isn’t quite healthy enough to return from the ankle injury that has sidelined him since February 6, head coach Doc Rivers said on Thursday, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic (Twitter links).

“He’s just not ready,” Rivers said. “He’s close, as I’ve said for, I don’t know, 10 games now, it feels like it, but he’s really close. I’ll stop there.”

After wrapping up a four-game road trip on Tuesday, the Bucks are back in Milwaukee for a two-game homestand and will have days off on Friday and Saturday between those two contests. Those off days could result in some practice time for Middleton, Rivers noted.

“It does help,” Rivers said. “We have two days off. And we may practice on both days, which is unusual to do, number one, and unusual that you have two days. But we feel like we may do it regardless, just to get him some time with the guys.”

Here are a few more injury-related notes from around the NBA:

  • Hawks forward Jalen Johnson, who has missed the past three games due to a right ankle sprain, has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable for Friday’s game in Utah, tweets Lauren L. Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There’s optimism Johnson will be available for that matchup with the Jazz, adds Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter).
  • Star forward Kawhi Leonard was available for the Clippers on Thursday after leaving Tuesday’s contest due to back spasms, but James Harden missed the game in Chicago due to a left shoulder strain. As Law Murray of The Athletic tweets, it snapped a streak of 59 straight appearances for Harden, his longest such run since 2017.
  • Injured Heat guard Tyler Herro and big man Kevin Love didn’t travel with the team to Detroit for Friday’s contest, the first of a four-game road trip, per Anthony Chiang and Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. While Herro (right foot) and Love (right heel) could meet up with the Heat at some point during the trip, it doesn’t appear either player is on the verge of returning.
  • Wizards forward Deni Avdija left Thursday’s game vs. Houston following an awkward collision with Rockets guard Fred VanVleet (video link) and told Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link) after the game that his left knee is sore. However, he’s optimistic about his prognosis. I feel like I kind of avoided something severe, and I’m happy about that,” Avdija said. “That’s all that matters.”

Wizards Notes: Avdija, Coulibaly, Davis, Hampton

Wizards forward Deni Avdija might have turned a corner in his NBA career, highlighted by a career-high 43 points and season-high 15 rebounds on Wednesday against the Pelicans, Josh Robbins of The Athletic writes.

It’s a little emotional,” Avdija said. “I never thought that, coming to the league, seeing all those numbers, those big players score those points, [I would be] able to be that hot. All the hard work, the times that I was down or I didn’t have good games — and I was down on myself a lot of times — I [stuck] with it. I kept working hard, I kept being patient. I went through a lot. And for me, it’s only the start. I feel like I’m still getting better.

The Wizards have exercised patience with Avdija, the ninth overall pick in 2020. Robbins writes that while he hasn’t turned into a star like others selected after him — such as Tyrese Haliburton or Tyrese Maxey — he’s always been a versatile defensive player with secondary ball-handling upside.

But now, Avdija is improving at a rapid rate. As Robbins observes, he has been far better from three this season, shooting 40.5% from beyond the arc (up from 29.7% in 2022/23) and has also become a better driver and finisher at the rim. Interim head coach Brian Keefe is helping Avdija play to his strengths by increasing Washington’s pace of play, Robbins writes.

Avdija is averaging career highs of 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest this season. In his last four games, he has averaged 28.3 points and 11.5 rebounds.

We have more on the Wizards:

  • Rookie Bilal Coulibaly has been tasked with guarding some of the NBA’s top players as a teenager, and though the results fluctuate, he’s been impressive through his young career, Ava Wallace of The Washington Post writes (subscriber link). “He’s had his ups and downs like every other rookie, but I think he’s composed, he’s working hard, he knows what he needs to do on the court and he’s very decisive,” Avdija said. “He’s very confident for a rookie. That’s important.” Wallace writes that Coulibaly has impressive maturity for his age, due largely to his upbringing.
  • Selecting Johnny Davis over the likes of Jalen Williams, Jalen Duren and Mark Williams is looking like a major whiff for the Wizards, Zach Lowe of ESPN opines (Insider link). Davis has spent more time in his career in the G League than the NBA after being selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2022 draft. He’s averaging 2.3 points in only 8.0 minutes per game this season, and while it’s still early in his career, his playing time has only decreased in his second season.
  • After he was waived by the Heat, the Wizards’ G League affiliate acquired the rights to R.J. Hampton in exchange for the returning player rights to Trevion Williams and a 2024 first-round pick (Twitter link via the Capital City Go-Go). While his numbers were modest in eight games with Miami, Hampton showed some flashes and made a pair of starts. He averaged 11.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the G League with the Heat’s affiliate this season. With the Wizards waiving Delon Wright, they have just 13 players on standard contracts. All of Jules Bernard, Eugene Omoruyi and Jared Butler — Washington’s two-way players — have impressed in the G League. If Washington promotes one of them, Hampton could be a logical choice for a two-way.

Trade Rumors: Sixers, Wizards, Wiggins, Nuggets, Suns

Within a discussion about the trade deadline in the latest Hoop Collective podcast (YouTube link), Brian Windhorst of ESPN identified the Bucks as one of the most active teams on the trade market, suggested the Nets have explored both buying and selling, and said that he expects the Sixers to make at least one trade by Thursday’s deadline. Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Furkan Korkmaz, and Danuel House are among Philadelphia’s most likely trade candidates, per Windhorst.

During that same Hoop Collective conversation, Windhorst stated he expects the Wizards to make at least one deadline deal, though he’s skeptical it will involve Kyle Kuzma, identifying Tyus Jones as the player more likely to be on the move. Windhorst added that Washington has also had talks involving Deni Avdija, though he’d be surprised if the fourth-year wing is dealt.

Here are a few more trade rumors from across the NBA:

  • In addition to joining the list of teams with interest in Bulls center Andre Drummond, the Sixers continue to scour the trade market for outside shooting, Marc Stein reports in his latest Substack article. Buddy Hield is one potential target, as Jake Fischer reported on Tuesday, and Bojan Bogdanovic is another clear fit, Stein writes. According to Stein, however, the Pistons are seeking at least a first-round pick in exchange for Bogdanovic and have let teams know that their preference is to keep him.
  • After reporting on Tuesday that Dallas’ interest in Andrew Wiggins may be overstated, Stein says he has heard the same about the Bucks‘ reported interest in the Warriors‘ forward. Still, Golden State is expected to continue exploring trade possibilities for Wiggins up until Thursday’s deadline, Stein writes.
  • Appearing on 92.5 FM in Denver on Wednesday, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said he doesn’t expect the team to make a move at the deadline, per Chris Dempsey of Altitude Sports (Twitter link).
  • Phoenix doesn’t intend to give up any of its few remaining trade assets for a mere insurance policy, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7, who tweets that if the Suns are going to acquire a player, they would need to view that player as someone who would be part of their eight- or nine-man playoff rotation.

Stein’s Latest: Kuzma, Mavs, Sexton, B. Brown, Celtics

Following up on a report from The Athletic which cited Wizards sources who suggested that the team’s asking price for Kyle Kuzma may be “somewhat overblown,” Marc Stein writes in his latest Substack story that the Washington forward is a trade candidate worth keeping a close eye on in the final week leading up to the February 8 trade deadline.

According to Stein, while the Kings and Mavericks are the suitors most frequently linked to Kuzma, there will likely be other suitors due to his “offensive versatility and favorable contract.” Kuzma is owed more than $64MM for the three seasons beyond this one, but his cap hits decline over the life of the deal, so he’ll count for just $19.4MM toward team salary by 2026/27.

Stein confirms that the Mavericks have consistently conveyed interest in Kuzma and notes that he’s not the only Wizards player Dallas has had its eye on. The team has also made previous runs at center Daniel Gafford and forward Deni Avdija, per Stein.

Here are a few more items of interest from Stein’s latest round-up of trade rumors:

  • While Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Olynyk, and Talen Horton-Tucker continue to be described as potential trade candidates, Collin Sexton may not belong in that group, according to Stein, who hears from league sources that the Jazz guard is a longer shot to be dealt. Sexton is playing some of the best basketball of his career in the 27 games since he entered Utah’s starting lineup in mid-December, averaging 21.6 points and 5.5 assists in 27.4 minutes per night, with a shooting line of .506/.420/.879.
  • The Raptors haven’t lowered their asking price for Bruce Brown and continue to seek a first-round pick for the veteran guard, Stein says. It’s typically difficult to extract a first-rounder for a role player on an expiring contract, but Brown does have a $23MM team option for 2024/25, so if a potential suitor views him as a two-season investment, it’s possible Toronto gets the draft pick it’s seeking.
  • The Celtics continue to peruse the trade market for a frontcourt addition, but they’re only willing to move players on “the most nominal contracts,” Stein writes. Outside of Boston’s usual starting five, Al Horford and Payton Pritchard are the only players earning more than the veteran’s minimum, so it sounds like those seven players will likely be off-limits.
  • In case you missed it, we passed along some Nets-related tidbits from Stein on Thursday evening.

Mavericks Reportedly Interested In Kyle Kuzma

The Mavericks are among a group of teams with interest in Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma, Marc Stein reports in his latest Substack article.

Minority owner and head of basketball operations Mark Cuban confirmed during a recent radio appearance that the team would like to further fortify its frontcourt. Stein reported that was the case weeks ago.

“If we can get a big who can also create off the dribble, that’d be a plus,” Cuban said. “Six-eight or bigger.”

Kuzma, 28, is 6’9″ and averaging 21.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 4.2 APG in 41 games (31.2 MPG) this season for the Wizards. The Mavs were also linked to Pascal Siakam, another power forward who can drive and score in a variety of ways.

According to Stein, the Wizards want a minimum of two-first round picks for Kuzma, and they seem to want higher value picks than the ones the Raptors received from Indiana for Siakam (two of the picks were in 2024, which is considered a weak draft; the other is top-four protected in 2026).

Stein also suggests Washington wants at least a first-round pick for each of Tyus Jones and Daniel Gafford, two other starters who — along with Kuzma — are “drawing no shortage of interest” ahead of the trade deadline, which is February 8. Like Kuzma, center Gafford is on a long-term contract, while point guard Jones is on an expiring $14MM deal.

While Siakam is certainly a more accomplished player than Kuzma, he’ll also be looking to sign a massive long-term contract this summer, whereas Kuzma is on a four-year, $90MM deal that descends over time, meaning he could be making a fraction of Siakam’s salary in a few seasons. As Stein writes, salary considerations are important for teams like the Mavs (Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving) and Kings (Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox) — another team with interest in Kuzma — that already have two players making the max or near it.

However, as Stein observes, the Mavs can only trade one first-round pick (2027) at the moment due to the Stepien rule, and the Wizards have remained steadfast in their months-long desire to accumulate first-rounders after failing to garner any when they had very little leverage in the trades of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. That was the case months ago when Dallas checked in on Gafford and Deni Avdija and nothing has changed since, Stein adds.

For what it’s worth, Avdija would also fit the bill as a forward who can make plays, but the poison pill provision would make it trickier to trade him and he’s having his best professional season at 23 years old.

Pistons/Wizards Notes: Morris, Trade, Baldwin, Avdija, Gafford

One of the Pistons‘ primary offseason acquisitions — guard Monte Morris — has yet to play this season. However, he should be back before this month ends, according to Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press (Twitter link).

A steady veteran, Morris is known for his ability to take care of the ball, which has been Detroit’s biggest weakness this season. In 2022/23, the Michigan native had a 5.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has also shot 39.2% from deep in his career, though it’s on fairly low volume (3.1 attempts per game).

Morris has been sidelined by back and quad injuries this season. He’s in the final season of his contract, which will pay him $9.8MM in 2023/24.

Here’s more on the Pistons and Wizards, who made a trade yesterday:

  • Since the Pistons decided to create a traded player exception in Sunday’s deal and operate over the salary cap, they won’t be able to aggregate the salaries of Danilo Gallinari or Mike Muscala in a future trade, notes Keith Smith of Spotrac (Twitter link). Both players can still be traded on their own — they can also be flipped in multi-player deals where their salaries don’t need to be combined with others for matching purposes.
  • Pistons head coach Monty Williams touched on all four players involved in the deal that saw Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Livers and two second-round picks head to Washington, while Gallinari and Muscala were sent to Detroit, per Sankofa (Twitter link). “I just got to Detroit and I got a chance to be with Bags and Liv for a short period, but those guys were stellar in how they handled their business. … Trades are never easy on either party, especially when you have family,” Williams said. “We do have room for guys like Gallo and Muscala just because they are vets, they understand how to play … we’ll try to figure out their (fit) as we go along.” Williams went on to say that the two veteran big men will be able to space the floor for Detroit, but they’ll probably have to play center due to their lack of defensive mobility, Sankofa adds (via Twitter).
  • Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. praised Gallinari and Muscala, as Sankofa relays (Twitter links). “We’re going to miss their veteran leadership and shooting … they’ll really help the young group,” Unseld said. “They’ve been really good as far as barometers, bringing that experience and perspective to a younger core. Those guys were terrific for us.” Unseld also touched on the additions of Bagley and Livers. “He’s a skilled big,” Unseld said of Bagley. “He can score around the rim, good touch and can expand his range as he gets comfortable … Isaiah’s been a pretty good shooter in his career and has the ability to be a two-way player, has defensive size.”
  • The four players were not cleared to play in time for Monday’s contest, but Bagley and Livers attended the game and watched in owner Ted Leonsis‘ luxury box, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link). The Pistons won the game, snapping their seven-game losing streak.
  • Second-year forward Patrick Baldwin Jr. got some run as a small-ball center on Monday with the Wizards shorthanded and played well in limited minutes, going 3-of-3 from long distance for nine points in 12 minutes, notes Robbins (Twitter links). Baldwin had only played 71 minutes this season leading into the game.
  • The Wizards haven’t had many bright spots this season but the development of Deni Avdija stands out as a positive, writes Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. Avdija, who inked a four-year, $55MM rookie scale extension in the offseason (it begins in 2024/25), is averaging career highs in several statistics and has grown as a play-maker, per O’Connor.
  • Wizards center Daniel Gafford sustained a head injury on Monday and was ruled out for the remainder of the contest (Twitter link). Gafford has been mentioned in some trade rumors this season.

Fischer’s Latest: Capela, Hunter, Quickley, Wizards, Rockets

There was minimal trade chatter at the NBA’s annual G League Showcase this week, writes Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. Still, the Hawks are among the teams worth keeping an eye on, according to Fischer, who says Atlanta still seems to be open to dealing Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter.

A veteran Swiss big man, Capela is averaging a double-double (11.8 PPG and 10.7 RPG in 26 games) for the seventh straight season. He’s making $20.6MM this season and will earn $22.3MM in 2024/25. Fifth-year forward Hunter, meanwhile, will make $90MM over the next four years after inking a rookie scale extension prior to 2022/23.

The news isn’t surprising, since both players were involved in rumors over the summer and the Hawks have had a pretty disappointing start to the 2023/24 campaign. HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto has heard similarly.

While Scotto recently reported that the Knicks would consider trading Immanuel Quickley if the right deal presents itself, Fischer hears the fourth-year guard’s name “has been virtually absent” from early trade talks. Perhaps that will change in the next several weeks leading up to the deadline, but it seems to indicate New York isn’t actively shopping Quickley.

Here’s more from Fischer’s latest rumor round-up:

  • The 5-22 Wizards look like prime candidates to be sellers at the deadline in the first year of their rebuild, according to Fischer. Daniel Gafford, Kyle Kuzma and Tyus Jones are among the players who could net positive returns. Rival teams value Kuzma’s contract (four years, $90MM), and the Wizards could get “legitimate first-round capital” if they move the veteran forward, Fischer writes. Opposing executives also think Washington might be able to land a first-round pick for Jones, who is making $14MM in the final year of his deal.
  • The Wizards will likely receive calls on former lottery picks Corey Kispert and Deni Avdija as well, Fischer adds, but it’s unclear if Washington is interested in dealing them. Avdijia, in particular, would be difficult to trade due to the poison pill provision. According to Fischer, rivals are skeptical Jordan Poole would fetch a “worthwhile return” due to his early-season struggles and pricey long-term contract (he’s owed $123MM+ over the next four years).
  • The Rockets could be in the market for a backup center, sources tell Fischer. As Fischer explains, free agent addition Jock Landale hasn’t secured a rotation spot, averaging just 8.5 MPG in his 16 appearances, and the team might seek an upgrade behind Alperen Sengun.

Southeast Notes: Ball, Bridges, Avdija, Magic

The Hornets haven’t provided an update on LaMelo Ball‘s ankle injury or given any indication of a timetable for his return, but it sounds like his teammates are preparing to be without him for an extended stretch, writes Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer.

Ball had to be assisted to the locker room after hurting the ankle Sunday in Orlando. He has been ruled out for Thursday’s game at Brooklyn, but no official details have been given beyond that. Ball wore a walking boot and used a crutch during Wednesday’s practice, according to Boone.

“Yeah it’s tough, no matter how you cut it, it’s tough,” Mark Williams said. “But at the same time that’s what the league is. You’ve got to be able to adjust. You’ve got to be able to cooperate well with different lineups and you’ve just got to find a way. But of course it’s tough. It’s tough not having your guys out there. But guys know they’ve got to step up and you’ve got to figure it out.”

A report Tuesday indicated that Ball avoided an ankle fracture, but he’s still expected to miss significant time. Hornets coach Steve Clifford plans to handle the absence the same way he did when Ball had surgery on the ankle in March, keeping the talented guard close to the team and including him in discussions of game strategy.

“He’ll be at shootaround and he’s just got to continue,” Clifford said. “He’ll do the same stuff that he did last year, the same stuff that he did with his rehab before.”

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Despite his legal issues, there’s a good chance Miles Bridges will have a long-term future with the Hornets, Boone adds in a mailbag column. Bridges, who’s averaging 19.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists since returning from his 10-game suspension, accepted the team’s $7.9MM qualifying offer and will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
  • Wizards forward Deni Avdija has become more consistent after being a hot-and-cold shooter through his first three NBA seasons, notes Chase Hughes of Monumental Sports. Avdija is third on the team in scoring at 12.1 PPG while shooting a career-high 51.9% from the floor and 39.6% from three-point range. The 22-year-old is solidified as part of the future in Washington after signing a four-year extension prior to the season.
  • The Magic had several chances to advance to the final eight in the in-season tournament, but nothing went their way Tuesday night, per Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel. Orlando could have won East Group C with a Toronto victory over Brooklyn or a Boston win over Chicago by fewer than 22 points. The Magic also had a chance at a wild card if Miami had won at Milwaukee or New York had beaten Charlotte by fewer than four points. Orlando wound up getting eliminated despite a 3-1 record and a +22 point differential.