The Washington Wizards have won four games in a row, their longest winning streak since their infamous 10-3 start last season almost precisely a year ago. It has unsurprisingly correlated with strong performances from Deni Avdija to help fill in for Bradley Beal who has been out in health and safety protocols and reconditioning from his bout with Covid-19. It took some time for Avdija to find his footing without much of a training camp due to his EuroBasket groin injury and then spraining his ankle just eight minutes into the first regular season game, but the third-year forward has hit his stride. Avdija set season-highs in scoring in three straight games against Dallas (12), Utah (13), and Memphis where he tied his career-high with 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting including four 3-pointers.
“Mentally staying strong, keep being ready, always believe in yourself, that’s the most important,” Avdija attributed his stellar play in recent games on Sunday night. “I’m enjoying the way, I’m enjoying the process and my teammates got my back so I’m happy.”
Washington struggled as a team from the charity stripe (11-for-21) in their 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies who were without Ja Morant and Desmond Bane and that cost Avdija an opportunity to set a new career-high as he missed two free throws with 1:49 left in the game. But as Avdija has a tendency to do, he put a positive spin on it by looking to his faith.
Deni Avdija was well aware his two missed free throws late cost him a new career-high
"God didn't give it to me yet. That means he wanted me to stay humble, to keep working and I think that's why I didn't break it." pic.twitter.com/7vklWvGaqf
— Hoop District (@Hoop_District) November 14, 2022
“He was mad he missed his two free throws to get over his career-high, but I told him there’s a lot more games, I feel like he’ll get it,” starting point guard Monte Morris shared post-game.
As previously discussed, Avdija was struggling to shoot the ball from beyond the arc, despite it being a key focus area for him during the offseason. Avdija was 3-for-21 from deep over a nine-game span, but started to turn it around by making one of his four attempts from distance against the Mavericks where he exhaled with his shoulders relaxing after seeing the ball go through the net. Then he made a three early in the second half against the Jazz forcing a timeout as the Wizards’ lead grew to 14. As a finale, Avdija exploded for four 3-pointers against the Grizzlies matching the second most in his NBA career going back to April 2021 of his rookie season.
“Just confidence, when you got confidence and you already got hoop game on you, it’s just going to take your talent to another level,” Morris rationalized Avdija’s strong play. “These last few games, he’s stepping up, nailing shots, not second-guessing it. He’s also defending, you got to tip your cap. He’s usually guarding the most dominant guy that scores the ball so for him to generate offense and also lock in on defense just goes to show his worth and what type of player he is.”
Anyone familiar with Avdija’s game and personality knows that he takes things very seriously and feels bad when making a mistake, but in the NBA you have to have a short memory. That is easier said than done, but it is an important hurdle that Avdija is starting to improve upon as noted by his head coach.
“I think it’s a mindset for him,” Wes Unseld Jr. began. “We’ve seen it at times where he gets really down on himself. We’ve talked about the mentality of fail quickly. You’re gonna make mistakes, it’s gonna happen, but you can’t dwell on it. Obviously, you want to make sure you don’t repeat them, but I think times he and other guys as well hold onto those mistakes and it affects the next play. You just have to put it aside, learn something from it and then move on.”
Against the Jazz, Avdija’s scoring total was more modest but 13 points on an efficient 4-for-6 shooting to go along with a full box score of seven rebounds, three assists, three steals, and a block in 34 minutes where he was net +22 is an excellent performance. Avdija even tweaked his ankle just before halftime of that game, but credited the team’s medical staff for keeping him on the floor.
“Deni was really good. Deni was making the right reads, the right plays, playing hard on defense, doing everything that Deni needs to do to have a good game,” Avdija’s locker room neighbor Kristaps Porzingis said on Saturday night. “I’m happy for him and he’s important for us. We need him to be at this level for us to be good and he knows that and he’s always working. Happy for him to have a solid all-around game like tonight.”
Washington will finish the back half of their six-game homestand against Oklahoma City, Miami, and Charlotte where Avdija will likely matchup at times against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jimmy Butler, and LaMelo Ball among others over the next week.
“I’m just trying to stay aggressive on both ends of the floor,” Avdija explained. “My main goal is help the team defensively as much as I can both on the glass and on the best player and I enjoy doing that and just start being aggressive on offense. Use my body, use how tall I am and just creating for others sometimes too.”