The Washington Wizards continue to be at the forefront of NBA games played to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as they have been in past seasons. As a federal holiday in the United States, the Wizards had a 2 p.m. afternoon tipoff against the Philadelphia 76ers, which meant a rare game not happening overnight in Israel, 7 hours ahead of the East Coast. The only problem was Deni Avdija was out of the rotation for the first time in his career and played a career-low 3 minutes that was simply garbage time with Washington up 113-92. Not much of a silver lining, but the 21-year old did have a nice finish in the paint and steal defensively.
“It’s always going to be a delicate balance,” acting head coach Joseph Blair said after learning he had to fill in for already acting head coach Pat Delany at 9:40 am D.C. local time. “If Deni played a lot, you would’ve asked me about another player and that’s just the way it is because we’re so strong across the board. As we flowed and things we’re going well, we just continued to keep things going well and that’s nothing against Deni. Deni is always a hard worker, he’s an amazing person, I love Deni to death, that’s my guy. We’ll just continue to do what works best for the team.”
For the first time this season, the Wizards had their full roster available to them with just a bit of minute restrictions on Bradley Beal (returning from health and safety protocols), Rui Hachimura (5th game back after 4+ months removed from 5-on-5 basketball), and Thomas Bryant (3rd game back from a year-long ACL injury). With Corey Kispert receiving a longer leash for his shooting and the organization trying to get Rui Hachimura reacclimated, it came at the expense of Avdija’s previously consistent playing time. A shrink in minutes was not unexpected, but out of the rotation completely would still be a surprise long-term.
“I think it’s a little bit mix of everything,” Blair somewhat avoided the question of whether the decision was made before or during the game. “We’re just trying to figure out how things go and how things flow. As alluded to earlier, we have a lot of people out there right now. Just trying to find the right mixture and blend and give people opportunities that need to get a little bit more court time as well. It’s really hard where you have a guy that hasn’t played much like Rui [Hachimura] or TB [Thomas Bryant] for example. They’re finally getting into the flow and you’re playing well, you don’t really want to pull them out and not let them get into more of a flow which they already have. It’s just as simple as that. I think if anything you guys make more out of it than we do or even Deni makes out of it quite frankly.”
The seemingly obvious spot in the rotation Avdija could re-earn would be replacing Raul Neto who played the majority of his 23 minutes alongside Spencer Dinwiddie. So even though Neto and Avdija have very different skillsets, Neto is not on the court in those situations to be a primary ball-handler. Neto is shooting a career-low 23.1 percent from 3 compared to his career 38.2 percent and his defense is significantly worse than Avdija’s given his short stature. One game out of the rotation does not necessarily mean Avdija is on the trading block although some kind of consolidation trade is plausible for Tommy Sheppard before the February 10 trade deadline. For now, Kyle Kuzma portrays the situation as life in the NBA for a young player, but to stay the course. Bradley Beal commented similarly on the team’s post-game show.
“I told him after the game, you just got to stay with the process,” Kuzma shared about reassuring Avdija who he’s developed a relationship with. “A lot of times in the NBA, you may not play. Especially in this league, everybody is good. It’s never a down thing. Obviously, you want to be out there. You want to be competitive, you want to play every single minute you can, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way. He’s a smart kid, he’s probably going to the gym right now to work out so that’s the type of kid he is. It’s all about staying with the process because especially in this league, a lot of times when you’re a backup you’re one injury away or one false test away from starting or one false test away from being in the rotation. It’s all about just being ready, being professional, and just staying the course.”