Optimism is always in the air for NBA teams with the start of a new season and the beginning of training camp and that is no different for Deni Avdija and the Washington Wizards. Five months removed from a right fibular hairline fracture that was only supposed to cost Avdija approximately 12 weeks of his offseason but ended up longer due to a setback, the 2020 first-round pick is ready to hit the ground running. Out of an abundance of caution, the Wizards are slowly ramping up Avdija because he has not played any 5-on-5 as his teammates have been able to, but otherwise the 20-year old is full steam ahead in Year 2 in the NBA.
“I think we’re gonna do special things this year,” Avdija predicted during Wizards Media Day on Monday. “I’m excited about what the new team is all about.”
Between a non-existent offseason to move continents, inconsistent roles under Scott Brooks, contracting the COVID-19 virus, and injury, Avdija had a tumultuous rookie season. The optimist that Avdija is has allowed him to view the obstacle-filled start to his NBA career as a positive moving forward. The Israeli did joke that he is excited about rookie duties being reduced.
“It was kind of a roller coaster for me, but I like it,” Avdija described. “It puts me in challenges and it made me stronger. It wasn’t stable for me last year. As a rookie, you’re always going through a roller coaster but tried to be as stable as possible. I think it made me much stronger as a person, as a player.”
Although Russell Westbrook’s short tenure as a Wizards is already over, his impact on the organization and young players like Avdija will continue to be felt years from now, which will always stick with him.
“Russ made me tough mentally for sure,” Avdija explained. “Playing with a great player like Russ wasn’t easy, especially as a rookie. He demands a lot of you on the court and I experienced it sometimes the hard way. Whether it’s him shouting on me sometimes during the game. I just want to say thank you to him because he just made me stronger. He helped me coming into the NBA and really make my mind better. I need to thank him for a great first year.”
The ultimate team player, Avdija said his primary focus is to help the team as much as he can, which sounds cliche but is genuine from the forward. Despite the injury rehab accounting for much of his offseason, Avdija said he was also able to work on getting stronger, his 3-point shot, ball handling, and more. With the Wizards investing heavily in medical analytics under general manager Tommy Sheppard’s that also became a focus for Avdija this offseason working with Director of Physical and Performance Therapy Dr. Michael Davis.
“I was grinding all summer, I was barely home, I stayed in DC almost the whole summer to get better in the future,” Avdija detailed. [Davis] “is working with me on how I move on the court and how I get into my shot, how to lose my legs and my body way more efficient and it was a big process for me. A lot of times, I’ll get tired, I won’t have my legs with me and he really did a great job of coming in with me every morning and just workout on the things I needed to be able to play as much games as I can, have my legs all the time, and hopefully, it will pay off.”
Having already been indoctrinated with the NBA pace, talent, arenas, defense, and even officiating, Avdija is looking forward to the smaller list of things he has to focus on during the course of the season. Sheppard as well as new head coach Wes Unseld Jr. are also expecting big things out of the versatile point forward type.
“I certainly think there’s more to his game then he was able to show last year, but a lot of that is rookies don’t get a chance to do a whole lot,” Sheppard began. “You’re lucky if you’re able to get out on the floor and Deni was able to play quite a few minutes before he got injured. We know he can rebound, we know he can defend, but he’ll be able to show as a secondary playmaker that he’s capable of getting 10 toes in the paint and scoring. Certainly never going to put a cap on his minutes or what we think his role is going to be, he’s going to show us that, he has to go out and earn it. I know our coaching staff is really excited to work with him and expand his game.”
“He’s been great. He looks strong, he’s moving well, he’s put in a ton of time,” Unseld shared. “He’s eager to go and I’m excited to see how it translate. I think the next iteration for him is being a playmaker, playing as a secondary ball-handler, at times a primary ball-handler. The flexibility and versatility that allows us to move Brad [Beal] and Spencer [Dinwiddie] around so now they don’t have to orchestrate the offense as much, they don’t have to be the focal point as much with another guy that can make plays. His size will benefit us defensively, give us the ability to switch a lot.”
Same as the team as a whole, there is a lot of optimism and potential for Deni Avdija in his second season in the NBA. With hopefully a less chaotic season for a bevy of reasons, we will get a better look at what the highest-drafted Israeli can do against the best basketball talent in the world.