Deni Avdija’s defense and winning play mentality continues to shine bright in Wizards win over Bucks

Nov 8, 2021 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards (7-3) are off to their best 10-game start to a season in seven years since Paul Pierce spent his lone season in the nation’s capital. The Milwaukee Bucks will visit the White House on Monday as the reigning NBA champion, but before that, they were handed a loss at Capital One Arena, 101-94. Deni Avdija had a mere three points in the win, but his contributions were felt throughout the game with nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks, a steal, and inspiring defense namely against reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

Offensively, it is clear that Deni Avdija is still getting his legs back under him after five months of intense rehab from a right fibular hairline fracture in late April. It is the primary reason why Avdija has flubbed a handful of layup and dunk attempts in recent games, but it should correct itself as the 20-year old gets his youthfulness back. That did not impact Avdija’s ability to get his teammates involved with a season-high four assists including a dime to Spencer Dinwiddie for the game-clinching three-pointer. Receiving the initial hockey assist pass from Bradley Beal out of the double team was an “on the fly” correction according to Beal where Avdija worked his way back to the ball just two minutes after earlier in the game a similar pass attempt from Beal ended in a turnover.

Defensively, Avdija drew the hardest assignment of trying to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo who finished with a very respectable 29 points and 18 rebounds. But when it takes 12-for-26 shooting from the field for arguably the best player in the NBA right now, the Wizards will take that every time. Kyle Kuzma drew the initial assignment as Antetokounmpo’s primary defender, but by the end of the game and even with Kuzma on the floor, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. recognized Avdija’s success building up during the game and allowed the youngest player in the rotation the right during crunch time. It worked out well for the home team to say the least. According to the NBA’s matchup statistics, Antetokounmpo had 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting and 3 turnovers when Avdija was defending him over 5 minutes and 32 seconds, the longest any Wizard guarded the Greek Freak on Sunday.

“Whether it’s Giannis or Memphis the other night or whatever team comes to the arena, I’m just trying to lock up,” Avdija proclaimed before describing why he threw up an X after forcing a traveling violation on Antetokounmpo. “It’s an inner joke with the team, that means like clamp. When I’m on defense or stopping somebody, I’m always saying clamps, even in practice, it’s trash talk.”

Despite just 64 NBA games under his belt, it is clear that Deni Avdija is on an upward trajectory as he continues to familiarize himself in a new environment less than a year since getting drafted. His versatility will only continue to be on display and Unseld admitted that Avdija will continue to command playing time (even when Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura return) if he keeps playing the defense he showed on Sunday. “You do that every night, you will earn minutes,” Unseld stated.

“Deni’s getting better every night,” Bradley Beal described. “I told him like 2-3 weeks ago, I had a long talk with him, ‘just embrace every moment.’ Your first couple years in the league are years for you to learn, for you to embrace the stage that you’re on and every night take it as a challenge. You got to go against some tough guys at your position. We ask a lot out of him to play the 3, the 4, sometimes the 2, sometimes to be a facilitator, but on the defensive end, he has to guard that guy. He doesn’t shy away from it, he’s a tough guy, we love him. He’s my young boy so we’re going to keep pushing him to get better.”

Whether fair or not, players that come to the NBA from overseas are sometimes viewed as soft. Avdija has used opposing teams trying to constantly engage him in pick-and-roll switches as an added chip on his shoulder. He thinks opposing players view him as slow and unathletic, but he is avoiding the ticky-tack foul calls that got him in trouble in his rookie season and using his footwork to stay in front, standing strong. Eventually, the league will adjust with more of a scouting report on Avdija, but for now, his defense is already at a high level, not just for a 20-year old. As his English improves, which Avdija joked is why he does not engage in too much trash-talk, his play and throwing up the X to let you know he clamped down is all the trash-talking he needs.

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