Washington, DC – Neil Dalal, Sports Rabbi Correspondent
When the Washington Wizards drafted Deni Avdija with the ninth overall pick just last month, they felt like they had an elite prospect fall into their laps as many mocked the 19-year old as a top-five pick. General manager Tommy Sheppard, a long admirer of the international game, is willing to be patient in his development, but that is only if needed. Washington certainly sees Avdija developing into a modern-day 3-and-D starter in the NBA and he already has a fan in the Wizards’ franchise player.
“He has a lot of dog, he doesn’t back down from anybody,” Bradley Beal described. “He has great size, he’s a lot bigger than I think a lot of people give him credit for. He might even be 6’9’’, close to 6’10’’. He has a lot of great size, can shoot it very well, nice form, nice touch. It’s just a matter of getting a better feel for the game at the 3 and the 4, mixing it up. I think once he gets fully acclimated, it will be just like Rui. Rui’s growth is crazy to see now, from a year ago, even during his process, he got better along the way. We expect the same thing from Deni. I think we’ll definitely throw him into the fire early on and see what he can do.”
LISTEN: Neil Dalal & The Sports Rabbi talk about Deni Avdija’s first week with the Wizards
With a vacancy at the starting small forward position, Avdija will be competing for meaningful playing time in training camp. Even if Isaac Bonga or Troy Brown Jr. beat out the rookie for the starting small forward spot come December 23 in Philadelphia, there will be plenty of opportunities as the season progresses. Avdija is at the disadvantage with the rest of the 2020 rookie class of having only a month from draft night to the start of the regular season.
“I think it’s going to be tough, I can’t even imagine if I was in this situation,” Rui Hachimura said after experiencing the luxury of rookie minicamp, Summer League, etc. last season. “I don’t think I would be ready, there’s no way I could be ready, but just got to go through it. We have a great coaching staff and vets.”
The culture that Sheppard is trying to build for the Wizards is something Avdija fits into seamlessly. That starts first and foremost with playing hard. Head coach Scott Brooks has struggled to get his team to play hard at times to his own fury, but he is not worried about that with his newest rookie. That is a good thing because otherwise new teammate Russell Westbrook, the personification of playing hard in the NBA, would have to set Avdija straight.
“Going hard is something I never anticipate telling him to do,” Brooks said after seeing one of Avdija’s first 1-on-0 drills in a Wizards uniform. “That was high level, I was so excited seeing that. When you have the talent, the skillset, and the size, and now you have that work ethic, you’re going to see a good player whether it’s the start, takes a couple months, takes a year, you’re going to see improvement through that.”
There is little doubt that Avdija will mesh well with the 2020-21 Wizards, which was a top criterion for their draft pick. How much playing time he gets will fluctuate throughout the season as the team is in win-now mode and Avdija will need to adjust to the NBA game, speed, physicality, and more in a compressed time frame. If Avdija can prove himself as one of the team’s better defenders, he will certainly carve out some playing time for himself as Washington was abysmal on the defensive end last season. His three-point shot will be the next step after defense to unlocking an even larger role.
MUST WATCH! Love the Deni + Russ interaction! https://t.co/AKsMJ7Tq2A
— Sports Rabbi (@thesportsrabbi) December 6, 2020