When Deni Avdija fell to the hardwood on an April night against the Golden State Warriors, many feared the promising rookie suffered a serious leg injury. Although any injury is undesirable, Avdija dodged a more dire bullet when an MRI diagnosed him with a right fibular hairline fracture that would not require surgery with a full recovery expected in approximately 12 weeks. Unfortunately for Avdija, the initial timeline proved to be optimistic as he battled setbacks that lengthened his recovery time.
“When I got injured, the predictions were probably 2-3 months, more so like 10 weeks,” Avdija said on Friday. “When I look back at it, it’s been 6 months. It was not planned to be out for so long. I just had to keep going, I had to deal with it. I know my body didn’t repair itself like everybody thought it would.”
After more than five months of rehab that cost him an opportunity to play in Summer League and limited his participation in training camp, Avdija returned to 5-on-5 scrimmaging in practice this past week before making his preseason debut on Saturday vs. the New York Knicks. In 16 minutes of play off the bench, the 20-year old had four points on 2-for-4 shooting, three rebounds, and an assist.
“It was a pretty tough ride for me at the beginning,” Avdija recalled about his recovery. “All the preparation and rehabbing wasn’t easy. But I promised myself I would come back stronger, come back better, more experienced and basically I feel like I’m ready [now].”
Good defense always leads to transition offense
Raul Neto with a sweet drop off pass to Deni Avdija for his first points in over 5 months pic.twitter.com/MEZTNYyF4q
— Hoop District (@Hoop_District) October 9, 2021
Understandably, Avdija’s adjustment back to the NBA pace and physicality is still a work in progress that will improve in the coming games, but he cleared a major hurdle by simply getting back into game action, albeit preseason. It was the longest time for Avdija to be away from the game since he was 14 years old between his many in-season and national team roles so it was truly a heartfelt moment when he checked in on Saturday midway through the first quarter.
“Feels good to be back,” Avdija described after the contest. “Playing-wise, I missed basketball. I don’t take anything for granted. I enjoy every moment, I enjoy being there with my teammates, coaches, fans. Hopefully we’re gonna have fun this season.”
Bradley Beal with the throw ahead outlet pass to save his legs and get Deni Avdija an easy dunk pic.twitter.com/mSJLsBcTKj
— Hoop District (@Hoop_District) October 10, 2021
On a night where the Wizards allowed the Knicks to make 24 three-pointers, which would have been a New York franchise record if this was a regular-season game, there were clearly things that went wrong on the defensive end. Avdija shares some of that blame and new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. wants him to communicate “louder, earlier, and more often”, but that goes for the team as a whole, too.
Washington and Avdija will get back to work to understand and hopefully fix their mistakes ahead of the regular season. The Wizards have two more preseason games starting at home on Tuesday against the Raptors and then Friday at the Knicks. This will give the 2019 ninth overall pick more time to get reacclimated before the regular-season opener on October 20 in Toronto.
“After six months, coming into an NBA game after a long time, it’s not easy,” Avdija described. “My body needed to adjust, the game style need to adjust, the pace need to adjust. I’m getting there, it’s a good first step for me for sure.”