Entrusted with major responsibilities, Deni Avdija plays his best game this season in Wizards comeback win over Pelicans

Nov 16, 2021 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards are riding high early in the 2021-22 season with a 10-3 start, the best in franchise history since 1974, that has them sitting atop the Eastern Conference. Without the services of Bradley Beal (bereavement after the passing of his maternal grandmother last week) and a 19-point deficit, it would have been easy for Washington to say it just was not their night against the New Orleans Pelicans, but that is not the DNA of this team under head coach Wes Unseld Jr. and general manager Tommy Sheppard. A big contributor to the Wizards’ thrilling comeback victory was the continued strong and efficient play from Deni Avdija. The second-year player finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field, 10 rebounds, two steals, and a block in 28 minutes off the bench with a game-high +18 differential vs. New Orleans.

“Deni doesn’t really have a flashy game and doesn’t really need to,” Kyle Kuzma said after Avdija’s previous 8 points and 6 rebound performance in a win over Orlando on Saturday. “He impacts the game so much at a young age that I just try to tell him, through my experiences, ‘just stay with it, just work on all the little things.’ … He impacts the game for us every single night. Guarding players, he’s a very underrated rebounder, and he just does a great job of playing the right way and playmaking for others. He gets downhill and he makes the right pass ahead of him, keeps it simple, and he’s doing well this year.”

As if almost building on the confidence gained from the previous game, Avdija had his best offensive and defensive game of the season against the Pelicans. Offensively, he picked his spots beautifully and efficiently. On a team with as much depth as Washington has, it also means that a lot of players are looking to get their shot attempts. Selflessly, Avdija only calls his own number when it is clearly the best possible option. The 20-year old had two layups in transition that he is no longer flubbing, a post-up and-1 against the smaller ex-Wizard Tomas Satoransky, a drive by the slower Jonas Valanciunas, and finally a floater in the lane part of Washington’s fourth-quarter 14-0 run.

“It was,” Unseld agreed when asked if this was Avdija’s best game this season on both ends of the floor. “He’s just scratching the surface. Every week, we’ve seen it, we’ve seen it play out, he’s getting better and better. I think he’s getting more comfortable. He understands that guys are trusting him to make plays, to be that defensive anchor. They believe in him and I think he’s starting to feel it and be more confident in his own ability. So I think when that happens, it’s just going to keep building. It’s a good thing to see.”

It has been discussed tirelessly that Avdija has a great work ethic stemming from his teenage years training for Maccabi Tel Aviv and such diligence is starting to translate to the NBA. With Rui Hachimura seemingly still multiple weeks away from fully returning to Washington’s rotation as he deals with personal mental health issues, Avdija is tasked as one of the Wizards’ defensive stoppers. Six minutes into the game, Brandon Ingram was already on a tear with 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting. The All-Star forward still got his with 31 points by the end of the game, but Avdija helped limit his efficiency. Ingram had 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting in 4 minutes and 38 seconds that Avdija guarded him, while Avdija also held Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Devonte’ Graham to 4 points on a combined 2-for-9 shooting.

“I get trusted and for a basketball player, to get trusted, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Avdija described his responsibility. “When people trust you and you make a stop, and everybody throwing the X, it feels good. I’m just hoping to continue with it. I had two good games and I’m just trying to keep it going, be there for my teammates, be there for the team, and we can do great things together, even on low days or even on high days, we got to have the same energy.”

“I just like me helping the team as much as possible,” Avdija humbly pivoted when asked about his individual success. “Being involved in big plays and crunch time, for me, it’s really a dream come true. Helping the team to win and be there for my guys, it’s the greatest gift that I can get, for real.”

Before the Pelicans game in his pre-game media availability, Unseld shared that Avdija was knocking at the door of assistant coach Pat Delany who he warms up with wanting to watch more film. Avdija simply eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball and being as prepared as possible to go along with his self-described “heart” has made him a top defender in the NBA, which is hard to believe for someone still two months away from legally drinking in the United States.

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Washington Wizards

“You won’t understand the amount of film I’m watching,” Avdija expressed. “Either before the game or at home or the day before, I’m always getting ready for the next opponent as much as I can, seeing the players I need to guard. Me and Pat [Delany] have a really great relationship and knocking on the door, I was like, ‘hey Pat, what’s going on, are we watching extra film today?’ And he goes, ‘yeah, sure, Deni’ and we just watch film.”

It is hard to fathom how far Avdija has come in such a short amount of time still less than a year since getting drafted on November 18, 2020, but it is easy to see why GM Tommy Sheppard was so excited about the potential when the Israeli was still available at ninth overall. The best and most stimulating thing for Washington is that there is still plenty of more room for Avdija to ascend and develop under Unseld’s tutelage.

“He’s becoming a big-time defender for us,” Spencer Dinwiddie assessed Avdija. “As a young guy, when you do some of the little things, play defense, it’s gonna get you time on the floor and that along with creating a rhythm, you’ll start to score a little bit more and that confidence grows and you’ll start to make more plays on offense. When the focus is in the right area the way that Deni’s has been, it allows him to gain that confidence, gain that rhythm on the offensive end and you’re going to see his full game start to blossom.”

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