For Israelis, Avdija has become the new Messi

Apr 3, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Once upon a time Israelis used to travel in droves to Barcelona to see unquestionably the world’s greatest soccer player in Leo Messi. Today Israelis journey half way across the world to see one of our own ply his trade in the “World’s Greatest League” for the Washington Wizards.

Deni Avdija has taken the NBA by storm in his fourth season as the Israeli sensation has started to become the player we all knew he could one day be, a star among stars.

The Sabra, who is just 23 years old has begun to make his mark on the same floor as the likes of the game’s greats including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Lebron James and Jimmy Butler as well. Avdija is scoring consistently this season as he has raised his overall averages across the board and has taken huge steps in understanding how the game is played in North America but also how he can convert his talent and take his play to the next level.

In Avdija’s first 3 seasons with the Wizards he was primarily used in varying situations behind superstars such as Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal and was given very few chances to lead the play, act as the lead ball handler or be the first, second, third or even fourth option on defense.

In season 4 this has all changed with the departure of many of the top of line veterans as well as injuries suffered to players such as Kyle Kuzma who many a day would lead the charge.

Avdija plays point forward for many minutes of the game and can play that same position as Lebron James does very, very well. The Israeli’s court vision is dynamic while his passing abilities in traffic have become second to none.

But where Avdija has really blossomed is his ability to go to the basket with both his right and left hand, absorb contact from the other team and still score and get fouled likes the savvy veterans all do.

“Deni has been great,” interim Wizards head coach Brian Keefe said. “His growth has been tremendous. We put the ball in his hands to make plays, the rebounding has been great so we keep pushing Deni to do more. We think he can keep growing and he has been growing over the last few months and we push him to do that.”

Avdija is fearless, a fearless leader and he showed all of that and more when The Sports Rabbi was in attendance in the Wizards stunning 117-113 victory over the NBA’s elite in the Milwaukee Bucks.

Washington has had a very, very tough season to say the least with a record of 14-61 heading into this weeks set of home games against the Bucks and Lakers. Both teams are in the playoff race and both have top line superstars in Antetokounmpo and James along with plenty of other complimentary stars in the likes of Khris Middleton and Anthony Davis.

The Wizards have very little of that firepower and to make things even more challenging they are playing with a very, very short roster due to injuries.

With that in mind, Avdija once again had the chance to take center stage as he has done over the past number of months and that is exactly what he did which is something that Bucks coach Doc Rivers was well aware of.

“Deni is playing well,” the NBA champion coach said. “He does a lot of stuff, it’s tough to evaluate a guy to the record but his improvement is obvious over the last couple years and that is what you have to do.”

With the opportunity to play the second seeded team in the Eastern Conference, Avdija knew full well that the Bucks and the “Greek Freak” in one Antetokounmpo would be a large task but yet one that could really be a statement win for a team that had had very, very few if any this campaign.

With hundreds of Israelis flying the flag who made the pilgrimage to DC, Avdija took the bull by the horns from the get go and began to work his magic inside the paint while finding his open teammates for baskets a plenty. While the Israeli’s 3-point shot was off all night going 0/5, sharpshooter Corey Kispert’s was not as Avdija found the third year man time and time again from beyond the arc as Washington took a surprising 58-54 lead into halftime.

“I have seen Deni for three seasons now grow,” Kispert said of Avdija. “The way he is able to make the correct play over and over again now is another thing he has added to his toolbox. He has been an offensive catalyst. He has the ball in his hands a lot and we trust him a lot, tonight he made the right plays a lot of times, so it’s a lot of fun to watch him grow and become a more complete player over the three years I have been playing with him.”

To make sure that the Wizards lead was no fluke, Avdija opened the second half with a thundering poster dunk on Antetokounmpo to set the tone for what would be a thrilling final 24 minutes of basketball.

While Antetokounmpo recorded a triple-double by the end of the third quarter, his impact was not felt throughout the opening three frames as his teammates abysmal shooting continued unabashed. As the final frame began it was clear that the dynamics pitted the Israeli and the Greek in one more duel to see who would come out on top. Perhaps this story had shades of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah in it as the Maccabees defeated the Greeks then as they were about to now.

As the time ticked off the clock it was clear as day at night that Avdija wanted this win badly as he kept the Wizards ahead. But as time ticked down and the Bucks shaved the advantage to just a pair of points with under ten seconds to go, Avdija came up with the big play, the one to save the game.

Under immense pressure on the inbound after a Middleton deuce, Avdija launched a full court pass on the dime all the way to Anthony Gill to bumped the lead up to 4-points to preserve the victory in stunning fashion.

Watching Avdija mature before our collective eyes was something special to behold as he was interviewed on court after the game having earned CO-MVP honors with Kispert.

“This was definitely one of our best wins this season,” the Israeli sensation said. “We competed knowing that it does not matter what seed the Bucks are, does not matter the players, everybody took the challenge today and competed. You saw the defense on Giannis, it was collective, honestly a brilliant game from start to finish we were strong offensively and I have no words to describe this win.”

“Nobody believed we would win, but we did. I know and the team know how much we work and how many losses we have suffered during the season and when you see that fantastic win that we had, you see people around coming around excelling in things on the court, I am happy for the group because it shows we can do good stuff.”

As Avdija waved to the crowd, the Israelis in attendance moved down as close to him as possible as the blue-and-white flags flew with pride placing a huge smile on the man who had just scored 23 points and secured the win.

“This is what it is all about, this is the beauty of sports, the crowd, we are happy to preform for people who support us even when we are out of the playoffs. But they regardless show us support. Honestly I am thankful for them to keep coming and cheer us even though we are not competitive yet this season, I am just calling for more fans to come and support us. The fans and the team needs it.”

“The support of Am Yisrael is amazing, especially in a period like this when people come and can have a positive experience, it is something I am blessed I can provide. I invite everyone to come. It is fun for me that you are here and it is fun for me to be cheered on, and yes, I am happy.”

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