Part of Deni Avdija’s success attacking the rim is simply “thinking about dunking more”

Dec 6, 2023 | Deni Avdija

The Washington Wizards had a longer than usual three-day break in between games due to the ongoing inaugural NBA in-season tournament this week. The Wizards will host the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night before traveling to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday.

“Put some extra work in the weight room, get a little stronger,” Deni Avdija shared at Tuesday’s practice on what he has used the extra time for. “We got some days for the muscles to recover, but honestly just maintain. Maintain my shot, working on my body. Good couple of days to refresh and get your mind right.”

Despite the Wizards having the second-worst record in the league at 3-16, nearly a quarter into the season, the team still has good vibes focused on the process of improving. The roster will look different after the next quarter of the season before the trade deadline in two months, but Washington could use more than 3 wins over that period to avoid morale deflating when they are trying to instill a competitive culture.

“I’ve seen that we care first of all. Nobody here likes the situation we are right now,” Avdija explained. “I feel like everybody would like to win more games and everybody is buying in. We want to learn, we’re doing better in terms of our habits and how we communicate on the court and you can see it in every game even if the result is not always good. You can see the progress, and intensity and us trying to bring 100 percent so this is for me most important.”

Even though it is still early and the key is consistency across an entire season, Avdija’s career numbers continue with highs in points (12.3) and assists (3.7) per game to go along with his best shooting from all three levels (52.6%, 38.5%, 82.9%). Part of Avdija’s success has been a result of more aggressive attacking of the paint getting to the rim, especially in transition. In the half court, Avdija is sizing up his defender depending on his angle to the rim because “once I get a full head of steam, it’s really hard for me to stop and it’s really hard for people to stop me too.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Neil Dalal

“I’m stronger now, I’m fast, I should take advantage of it,” Avdija self-reasoned. “It’s pretty much my bread and butter offensively is transition. If I can get the team in transition, make plays for my teammates or score on my own, it gets me going. Better rhythm in the game and the game looks different.”

Over 38 percent of Avdija’s shot selection is coming at the rim where he is shooting 71.6 percent. All of that is coming together by playing more physical to his 6-foot-9, 210-pound frame that he did not utilize as well earlier in his young NBA career as well as teams having to respect his outside shot by going under screens less. That and just visually manifesting more highlight dunks instead of just laying the ball up, although he’s been solid in the finesse department as well.

“I feel like I’m thinking about dunking a little bit more. When I go with the intention of dunking, I’m getting closer to the rim and I’m working a lot of touch finishes around the rim all the time,” Avdija revealed.

“It’s been much easier for me to attack [the rim] off the closeout, especially people respect my shot more now,” Avdija compared to last season when defenders were heavily helping off him on the perimeter. “When they go over the screen is big for me. When they go under I can shoot now. When they go over the screen I got a full head of steam to the rim so it’s all I can ask.”

Avdija is typically one of the earlier starters subbed out of games in Wes Unseld Jr.’s rotation returning with Jordan Poole to operate as a ball handler with the second unit. Avdija has played more minutes with Poole (373 in 18 games) than anyone else this season (309 in 19 games with Tyus Jones) so that gives Poole a closer insight on Avdija’s recent growth.

“Deni’s also getting better, I think he’s starting to figure out how he wants to attack,” Jordan Poole began describing Avdija’s improvement the last 3 months since minicamp in California. “Him being the size that he has, put the ball on the floor, get out in transition. He’s also starting to play with more quick hitters, quick actions, hand-backs, hit back-door cuts. He can handle, we know that he can get to the basket, we know that he can defend, he’s been a really good defender for us. Just seeing his game overall level up and get better as well is pretty dope to see.”

The best part of Deni Avdija’s clear development in the first part of the season is that he still has a lot of potential to go. Returning to a ball-handling role after not having such responsibilities the last three years is the next layer in the onion and Washington’s $55 million contract extension investment is looking like a bargain.

“I feel like my game is becoming more complete. There is a lot of aspects in my game that I can be much better in. I’m not a final prospect yet. I feel like I have a lot to grow, a lot to show,” Avdija forecasted.

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