Deni Avdija thrust into Wizards starting lineup comes with greater responsibility

Dec 14, 2021 | Deni Avdija

Since the impressive 10-3 start to the season that took the NBA by surprise, the Washington Wizards have been 5-10 and trending in the wrong direction. That continued in head coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s return to Denver where he spent six years, as the Nuggets won by a humble margin of 113-107, but the home team led by as many as 33 points, and Washington never led. In his second start since replacing Kyle Kuzma who tested positive for the coronavirus, Deni Avdija had 4 points on 2-for-7 shooting, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and a game-worst -28 in 17 minutes of play.

The 20-year old did not fare much better in his first start of the season, after 32 in 54 games last year, with 4 points on 2-for-6 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 23 minutes against the Jazz on Saturday. There continue to be flashes of brilliance from Avdija most exemplified by the first six minutes in Denver. The second-year player had three great plays against the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic with two steals and a help-side contest at the rim to force a miss. Even with missing his first three shots of the game, all 3-pointers, Unseld was probably ok with Avdija not hesitating.

“I thought he was good,” Unseld said before Avdija’s second start under him. “There were a couple of possessions where he was out of position or didn’t quite know the play call. I think the other guys on the floor need to help at times get him in the right spot, tell him where to be. I thought he looked comfortable, he looked poised. I want him to continue to stay aggressive. Obviously, the matchups defensively are going to be key for us because I think his size and versatility have been of benefit. I just want him to get more reps and get more comfortable. Be ok when that ball finds you, make a quick decision. If you’re open, shoot it. If not, drive, make a play.”

Having to enter the starting lineup at a moment’s notice because of the realities of the still ongoing pandemic is not something Avdija wanted to have to live through again, but he’s giving it his best shot as he always does. His playing time was less against the Nuggets with Davis Bertans hitting a season-high 5 three-pointers and Washington in a deep hole. The roller coaster that is life in the NBA for young players continues for Avdija, but he continues to accrue valuable experience along the way.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“He’s done well,” Bradley Beal described about his mentee starting. “I think Deni’s biggest thing is, he has to understand everything is going to be thrown at him. Everyone’s going to attack him. Everybody thinks he’s young, everybody thinks we’re kind of just throwing him into the fire. Deni has heart, Deni plays super hard and that’s what I love about him. But he has to understand that the game is going to move much faster when he’s starting, we’re going to ask him to do a lot and require him to do a lot. But we’re there to uplift him in every way. He’s been doing a good job, he’s been holding his own. I have to do a better job to continue to lead him, encourage him, but he’s been doing good.”

Washington’s brutal December schedule continues with the rest of their first West Coast trip at Sacramento, Phoenix, and Utah. Unseld said he hopes Kyle Kuzma can re-join the team soon, but until then (and maybe longer if re-conditioning is needed), Avdija will likely start.

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