Deni Avdija’s up-and-down season unsurprisngly continues, but still shows more versatility

Dec 7, 2021 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards season has taken a turn for the worse. After a brilliant 10-3 start to the Wes Unseld Jr. era, the team has lost 8 of their last 12 games including a current 3-game losing streak for the first time this year. Not even 82 games into his young NBA career, it should be unsurprising that Deni Avdija still has inconsistent production despite how easy it is to be optimistic after his strong performances.

“It’s just the normal maturation of a young player,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. explained. “Very few are going to come into their second year and play great every night. I think he’s still a little fatigue from being under the weather, but I give him credit, he gutted it out. He tried to play, he’s going to try and play the right way, play hard, play physical, sometimes it doesn’t go your way. So I’m not overreacting or concerned in any way with that. Some of the growing pains we all have to go through.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

Following 9 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes in a win at home against the Timberwolves, Deni Avdija overcame non-COVID flu-like symptoms for a season-high 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting including 3-for-6 from deep the next game against the Cavaliers. In two games since at the Raptors and Pacers, however, Avdija had a combined 2 points on 1-for-5 shooting. As a silver lining, he did get a few possessions of playing time as the primary ball-handler on the court with Spencer Dinwiddie sitting out the back-to-back due to schedule injury maintenance following ACL knee surgery less than a year ago.

“It’s tough because he hasn’t had a ton of reps in that spot,” Unseld said about Avdija thrust in a new role with already limited practice time in-season. “He’s usually a secondary ball-handler, second side pick-and-roll player. Learning the offense in that role is difficult on the fly, but we just have to keep a small package of plays. It just gives you more flexibility. Allows Brad the freedom to play on and/or off the ball. Give you another guy that can play make on the floor so at least you have two ball handlers. I just like the fact that he’s capable of it and he’s comfortable doing it.”

Despite Dinwiddie’s poor and unassertive play over the last dozen game skid, I would not expect any lineup changes just yet even though Unseld teased that “anything is on the table.” Maybe Avdija could get consideration to start over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but in long stretches, the 20-year old is not yet ready to be relied upon as a primary ball-handler against NBA starters. He may get more consideration should things continue on their current trajectory, but for now Washington has to hope their investment at point guard can find his groove. Nonetheless, general manager and president Tommy Sheppard predicted Avdija’s increased opportunity to attack the rim earlier this week on local radio.

“I still think he’s a great secondary playmaker. Get him in DHOs [dribble handoffs], get him downhill, he can do a lot of things,” Sheppard cheerfully described. “He still has to finish and that’s a big part of it. I told him part of finishing is you have to open both eyes sometimes. He’s getting used to the contact, he’s fearless though. It’s not a courageous problem as much as figuring the NBA out.”

The Wizards will hope to start their turnaround at the Pistons on Wednesday and hosting the Jazz on Saturday before a brutal 6-game road trip starting on the West Coast and finishing in New York City.

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