Deni Avdija is being dared to shoot and may need to adjust his approach on offense as he and Wizards slump

Dec 5, 2022 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards are in the midst of another three-game losing streak, their third of the season, and have now lost six of their last seven games following a defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday where Anthony Davis scored 55 points and received multiple MVP chants on the road, but basically a Lakers home game. Coinciding with Washington’s slide has been less production and playing time for Deni Avdija who has scored just 20 points in his last four games and averaging just under 20 minutes per game.

On Friday night in Charlotte, the Wizards found themselves down 22 points to a likely lottery-bound Hornets team with their comeback attempt falling short despite multiple chances down one point with the ball at the end of the game. Avdija did not play in the second half as head coach Wes Unseld Jr. opted to start Corey Kispert to begin the third quarter citing after that game that it simply was not Avdija’s night. The nine minutes that Avdija played were the second fewest this season, only more than the first game of the season when he left with an injury after playing eight minutes.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“It wasn’t just him, we struggled through the first three quarters of that game, everybody. I think he was a little frustrated with the fouls. Foul or no foul, we can argue whether they were or not, but we have to play through it. I think that affected his offense, he was off balance, a little bit preoccupied with that and I think it took him out of his game,” Unseld was asked to elaborate pre-game on Sunday before the Lakers. “I talked to him at half about starting Corey and part of it was the way Corey was playing. Less to do with Deni and more to do with Corey. I told him I’m going to start Corey in the second half and I thought it was good for us. That was not the plan not to play him the rest of the game, but that end of the third, that group in the fourth was tremendous.”

On Sunday at home, although again you would have thought the game was played in Los Angeles with the overwhelming number of Lakers fans, Avdija took five three-pointers in the first quarter that were all open, but he failed to knock down any of them. LeBron James was the primary defender on four of the five shot attempts with Austin Reaves on the other and the Lakers clearly had a game plan to sag heavily off of Avdija to clog up the paint as they did not respect Avdija’s ability to make them pay, which proved correct on this occasion. Avdija would finish with just seven points on 3-for-11 shooting, 1-for-8 from 3 to go along with eight rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes with just eight coming in the second half.

“He missed a couple shots early and I think that bothered him a bit. I think it was more the offensive side of it in the second half, third quarter of him being aggressive, attacking and not settling. Made the corner 3, got downhill a couple times to the rim so those are positives. Just wanted a little more offense out there,” Unseld assessed after the game and reasoned Avdija’s limited playing time after halftime.

“There’s times where you let it go, there’s times where you have to be encouraging and help him figure out well why,” Unseld responded when asked when a coach has to take the time to encourage an individual player during the midst of a fast-paced game. “We talked about that at halftime and I thought he responded relatively well in the third of not settling. They want to sag off of you, you got to eat up all that space, attack downhill, make the defense step up, now you can be a scorer, facilitator, playmaker.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

Bradley Beal exited the Wizards and Lakers matchup less than four minutes into the game and would not return after he felt a non-contact pull in his right hamstring that the team is describing as tightness and a strain with further evaluation coming on Monday. Should Beal miss any amount of time, the door would open for Avdija to have the ball in his hands more. Although he did not name names, Kyle Kuzma mentioned post-game that “certain guys when he’s [Beal] back in kind of suppress themselves a little bit, hopefully they can come out of it a bit and get some confidence.”

“One, there’s a reason why you’re open and two, you just have to have confidence,” Kuzma began when asked separately if he reassures Avdija after the latter failed to knock down open looks. “He works, he’s in the gym more than anybody, he shoots a lot. It’s all about confidence, but I think this game was a very good eye-opener of how teams are guarding him this season. It’s okay, every player at a certain time in their career, they hit a down patch and you just have to figure it out. I think that he will and the best part about life for NBA players is we always play another game.”

There is no question that a lack of confidence is killer for any professional athlete, especially in the NBA, and Deni Avdija will need to find his swagger again by playing aggressively instead of settling for jump shots if they are not falling and tuning out questionable whistles that may not go his way as a relatively inexperienced player. Avdija will have a chance to rebound in Chicago and Indiana later this week before returning home for a matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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