Deni Avdija’s improved defense has been a subtle bright spot in the Wizards fast start

Nov 2, 2021 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards are off to a 5-2 start to the 2021-22 regular season despite a loss on the road to the Atlanta Hawks, 118-111, on Monday night. Washington’s offense went stagnant and quiet at times, while Atlanta got nearly double as many free throw attempts and won the rebounding battle, 50-40. In 18 minutes, Avdija had 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting including a three-pointer, two rebounds, a steal, and a block off the bench.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

After combining for just eight points over the previous two games on 2-for-12 shooting, it was good for Avdija to have a bounce-back game offensively where he converted his easy baskets after a couple of occurrences of missing easy dunks and layups in previous contests. Just 61 games into his NBA career, the offensive side of Avdija’s game is going to lag behind because the ball is not in his hands often with such a deep team. The positive is that at just 20-years old, Avdija is showing his versatile defensive potential.

In the most recent game against Boston, Avdija held Jayson Tatum to 0-for-3 shooting when defending the All-Star. Two games before that also against Boston, but on the road at TD Garden, Avdija held his matchups against Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart to a combined 2-for-10 shooting. Despite the loss in Brooklyn, the 2019 first-round pick held James Harden and Blake Griffin to a combined 1-for-8 shooting that epitomizes the varying style of players Avdija is asked to defend.

“Deni’s been really good on the ball,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. assessed. “He’s had some tough matchups. Those big wings, those power forwards who can play off the bounce. He’s done a great job of keeping them in front.”

On Monday, in Atlanta, Avdija struggled a bit defensively balancing when he needed to help and when he needed to stay attached to his primary assignment. Two of Danillo Gallinari’s game-high four three-pointers came with Avdija getting caught too far into the paint trying to provide help defense that may not have been needed and leading to kick out opportunities that the Israeli was then late recovering to contest. Individual defense is a good start, but always being in the right place and in concert with the rest of the team when not the on-ball defender will be the next progression for Avdija.

“I think the next layer for him is understanding the team concepts, his overall awareness off the ball,” Unseld said pre-game almost foreshadowing Avdija’s miscues later in the game. “Goes back to being in the right spot early. I think sometimes when the game speeds up or when the play breaks down, he understands his initial coverage then it’s overall concepts and principles. You have to get back to that to understand my responsibility in that situation. It’s a work in progress.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

All in all, Avdija’s defense is night and day improved since last season when he was clearly thrown to the wolves with the Wizards’ limited depth and hundreds of new players to get acquainted with. Now having played most NBA players at least once and avoiding ticky-tack violations, Avdija is settling in and will continue to grow into what Washington hopes is a bonafide defensive stopper.

“But I’ll be honest I’ve seen tremendous growth from him from what I saw last season on film to what we have right now,” Unseld deemed.

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