This past Monday evening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I settled into my couch getting ready for a rare occurrence for the NBA fan in Israel, especially one who is a Deni Avdija lifer; an opportunity to watch the Israeli sensation at a normal hour strut his stuff on the court for the Washington Wizards.
For the tens of thousands of fans this would finally be a chance for both the young and old who have been battered with COVID-19 quarantines to see their hero and up and coming star perform live on prime time television with their eyes wide open instead of catching highlights the following morning before heading off to school or work.
I sat riveted in front of my old-fashioned big box TV waiting for Avdija to step onto the court and show his wares against one of the hottest teams in the Philadelphia 76ers. I was well aware that that Avdija who just turned 21 earlier in the month would not be in the starting lineup, but would come off the bench near the end of the first quarter as he has done throughout his sophomore season.
Avdija has been offering up top level defense against some of the opposing team’s stars, while scoring roughly 7 points and pulling down 5 rebounds per game.
On the sidelines for this match up would be Joseph Blair, one of the Wizards assistant coaches after head coach Wes Unseld Jr. was placed out due to the NBA’s Health and Safety protocols along with his top assistant Pat Delany who had managed the last game before joining his boss “out of the rotation”.
Bradley Beal, the Wizards star guard was back in the lineup after having been unavailable due to those same protocols. Rui Hachimura, the Japanese forward had also recently returned to action after being unavailable for most of the first half of the season due to personal issues while center Thomas Bryant came back after being on the shelf due to an injury that kept him out for roughly a year.
There was no question that Avdija’s minutes would be reduced as they had been over the past week or so due to an “abundance of riches”, but what I along with many others weren’t prepared for was yet to come.
As the first quarter clock continued to tick down, there was an anticipation and expectation that Avdija would be the next substitute to enter the game. Whistles went, timeouts were called and commercial breaks kept coming and going but yet, no Deni after 12 agonizing minutes.
Well, no problem, perhaps Avdija will come on to start the second quarter. Nope. Maybe a few minutes into the second frame? Nope, nope. No Avdija.
The only Avdija sighting was of him on the bench together with a number of other teammates and that was it.
Perhaps we should have picked up on what was to occur from Avdija’s Instagram post just prior to the game where there is a picture of his walking off of the court and to the lockerroom area with the words, “Good things take time”.
As the game came and went and with the Wizards in complete control, Blair finally relented and tossed on Avdija along with Anthony Gill and Aaron Holiday for the final three minutes of a blow out game where the Sabra offered up a quick bucket and a steal to get onto the scoresheet.
However, in reality, Avdija’s game on this night was a dreaded DNP-CD or for the layman, Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision.
A sad and frustrating sight that no professional basketball player ever wants to see beside his name in the boxscore.
Following the game, interim coach Blair was peppered by the media as to why Avdija had been wiped out of the rotation to which he responded that there were plenty of players who needed to get in time and that more was being made out of really nothing. He loves Deni to death and “that’s my guy” along with all the other politically correct sayings were spouted but the fact remains is that Avdija was benched, plain and simple and that is not good any which way one tried to slice it.
This could certainly be a legitimate reason and the case especially with the NBA trade deadline coming up on February 10th. The Wizards need to showcase some of their players because they will make a move in order to bring in another star to pair up with Beal as they make a run towards the playoffs.
The name of Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant keeps coming up as the likely target which would mean that in fact Avdija along with a collection of the Wizards forwards could head the other way in a trade.
This in fact may be all for the best in Avdija’s case and a chance to not only finally play significant minutes but also get significant touches of the ball which has been lacking ever since day one in Washington.
When Avdija was selected 9th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, no one and I mean no one ever saw the Wizards taking the Israeli. It came as a shock to everyone especially those who spent the early morning hours at Avdija’s make shift Draft Party near Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv.
We all stood around watching the draft unfold, many felt that Avdija would go somewhere between picks number 4-6 to either the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers or Atlanta Hawks. There was a slight chance that the Golden State Warriors would take Deni at number 2 or if he fell to 8 the New York Knicks would pounce on him. Ironically the Pistons at 7 was never really in play because they needed a point guard and Frenchman Killian Hayes was their target.
As it played out, none of the above occurred. Golden State selected James Wiseman who has been injured for the majority of the past two seasons, the Bulls took Patrick Williams who has also been on the shelf, the Cavs grabbed Isaac Okoro who has been serviceable while the Hawks took big man Onyeka Okongbu who also hasn’t played a full compliment of games. The Knicks took Obi Toppin and that left Avdija for the Wizards who took the best player available at their selection despite having selected Hachimura who play the same position the year before.
Avdija went into training camp and won a starting job under Scott Brooks but he never was able to work himself into the offensive flow with both Beal and Russell Westbrook on the floor. The Israeli found himself buried in the corner as a last gasp option and never truly factored into the plays that were fun by the ball handling guards.
In the spring, Avdija suffered a foot injury which kept him out until this season’s training camp which resulted in not being able to play in the summer league. Once back on the floor under new bench boss Wes Unseld Jr., Avdija was moved to a role coming off of the pine which also allowed him a few more touches of the ball and on occasion an opportunity to play point forward and have the offense run through him.
While he has had his moments, Avdija is shooting only 42% from two and 31% from three which at this point is just not good enough and needs to be about 7% higher on each. That could be a concern for the Wizards but once again, Deni has not yet had a true opportunity to use his skill set to the best of his ability and that ultimately may be an issue in Washington.
A move to another team with a young core and without the pressure of having to satisfy a superstar in Bradley Beal may be best for Avdija and would free him up to perhaps be the best version of himself.
Avdija has proven this season that he is developing into an elite defender but in the NBA, you’ve also got to put the ball into the basket on a consistent level which will come should Avdija be in the correct position to do so. The Wizards have been pumping the fact that the Israeli is great defensively but that should have also been a red light as they want to promote his positives and not areas that he needs to keep working on.
That occurred once again after Wednesday’s game versus the Brooklyn Nets where Avdija found himself back in the rotation, scoring 13 points, grabbing 5 boards and dishing out 3 assists in 23 minutes of play. After the game, Blair who was still on the sidelines said he thought Deni would matchup well against the Nets star James Harden and he did a great job.
This is showcasing as best as it gets. Play Avdija where it is felt that he will be able to do well and don’t play him in situations where he won’t. In other words, if the Wizards truly believed in Avdija’s abilities it would never even be a consideration to keep him out of the lineup. Ultimately the job of a coach is to win games and not ensure that Avdija gets playing time at that expense especially for a team that is competing for a playoff position.
Washington has to maximize Avdija’s trade value in order to get the pieces that they need to go on a deep run in the playoffs. There is no question that Avdija will have plenty of suitors due to his high upside and massive potential along with his rookie contract which makes him all that more desirable.
A rumored move to the Pistons would place him alongside a young core of developing players including guards Cade Cunningham, Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson and Hayes along with forward Saddiq Bey and give Avdija the chance to see serious minutes on the floor under veteran head coach Dwayne Casey. The 64-year old did a fabulous job in molding a young Toronto Raptors franchise that would go on to win an NBA title a year after he was let go by management. So despite not winning it all, he had a huge part in making that a reality.
Other teams have been bandied about including the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers as teams looking to add Avdija for their respective stars to go back to Washington.
Will Avdija be traded or not is still an open debate. But being thrust out of the rotation should be a pretty stark signal that the Wizards are considering all of their options and that he could be moved. The DNP-CD is never, ever, ever a good sign and could be an indication that there may be a move on the horizon. As we get closer to the February 10th trade deadline, Avdija along with an entire country will find out where the Israeli’s future will lie.