Deni Avdija’s decisiveness has progressed, but still room for improvement as with any young player

Mar 8, 2022 | Deni Avdija

When Deni Avdija was slow to get up in the first half against the Detroit Pistons on March 1, there was certainly a concern as he laid in pain around the same spot he suffered a season-ending right fibular hairline fracture last year. Thankfully for both Avdija and the Wizards, the injury was much less severe, a right quad contusion that he was able to return from by the next game. This kept Avdija’s mini iron man streak alive as he is the only player to suit up in all of Washington’s 63 games thus far this regular season.

Such continuity that he did not have as much of last season between COVID-19 and his ankle injury, has allowed an improved level of decisiveness, which is want Wes Unseld Jr. wanted to see earlier in the season. Although overshadowed by Kristaps Porzingis’ impressive Wizards debut, Avdija’s quicker decision-making was linked to Washington’s newest big man during crunch time.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

In the final two minutes closing out the Pacers on Sunday, Porzingis had two dunks. The first was an alley-oop off of the gentle lob from Avdija as he drove to the paint recognizing his defender (Oshae Brissett) was behind the play and drawing in Indiana’s center (Jalen Smith) to free up Porzings. The second was on an offensive rebound putback after a dribble handoff from Porzingis to Avdija with the former setting the screen. Avdija drove by the switching Smith with ease and tried to dunk it home but was blocked by help-side defense from Brissett, but that left no one to block out Porzingis who rolled to the basket past Buddy Hield, Avdija’s initial defender.

“There’s going to be ebbs and flows to any player, it’s a long season, especially a young player,” Unseld politically described about Avdija’s decisiveness change since discussed more than three months ago. “At times, it’s a confidence thing and that’s just the messaging for him, not only do we believe in him as a [coaching] staff, but his teammates do. We want him to stay aggressive. Just be decisive, play downhill, play to your strengths. I don’t care if they [defense] want to try and block every single one of those [dunk attempts], they’re not going to block them all. The amount of pressure and force that puts on the rim is going to open up a lot of things. So the fact that he’s playing downhill is just another dimension for him, but being decisive, being quick with his decisions is very important.”

The alley-oop feed from Avdija to the Unicorn is all the more impressive given Porzingis has rarely practiced with Washington

“Me and Deni haven’t even had a chance to practice together so that was just kind of out of feel,” Porzingis shared after the game about the alley-oop. “I pointed up, and he threw it, Deni made that big play and it was an important one for us to close out the game.”

The cliche in the NBA is that the more experience young players get under their belt, the more the game slows down for them. Kyle Kuzma who has stepped up as a mentor for Avdija and the other young Wizards understands that first hand from his own career. More importantly, although unexpected to long-time Avdija followers, Kuzma remains confident in Avdija further improving his decisiveness as well as other aspects of the game because of his diligent work ethic.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“He’s kind of been up and down, but that’s expected with young players, he’s only in his second year,” Kuzma reasoned. “He’s got a lot of basketball to continue to play and grow. Am I going to put the ball on the ground, am I going to shoot it, or am I going to pass it? Having to make those kinds of reads in milliseconds is real challenging for a young player. I know it was for me and it still is for me, but he’s doing a really good job of being receptive, takes criticism, he’s always in the gym, and he’s going to continue to get better because he has those types of characteristics.”

Just in case you forgot among all of the offense talk, Avdija remains a strong isolation defender and opposing players like Buddy Hield are learning that the hard way in testing the 21-year old.

Washington embarks on their second and final West Coast road trip of the season with nearly the entire work week in Los Angeles playing the Clippers and Lakers before continuing on to Portland and Golden State.

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