There’s no question that Israel’s lone representative in the NBA, Deni Avdija, has continued to grow in his third season with the Washington Wizards.
His first two campaigns allowed the Sabra to begin to learn the nuances of the world’s greatest league while also picking up some of the tricks of the trade from the best of the best.
Now in his third year in America’s capital, the 22-year-old Avdija has taken steps to expand his game especially when some of the Wizards top players are out due to injury. Whether it’s Bradley Beal or Kyle Kuzma who are on the shelf, Avdija gets the opportunity to see the offense run through him and his responsibility increases both ends of the floor.
Over the last five games, Avdija is impressing many around the basketball world as he is averaging 18.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists which is way over his season numbers of 9.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
The Jerusalem Post was recently in Washington to see Avdija up close while also speaking to many of the people who cover the Israeli on a day-in, day-out basis in order to find out how the forward has progressed and what the future may hold.
Talking about Avdija
“What I’ve noticed about Deni this season is that he’s steadied out and gotten much better at the little things making sure he has good games on purpose,” said Ava Wallace, The Washington Post’s Wizards beat writer. “There are many times I feel that young players go crazy in a good way and not really know why it happened or say, ‘oh great, I had this burst,’ but then can’t keep it going. Deni has gotten much smarter doing things on defense and taking care of little detail-oriented things that makes sure he’s in the right place at the right time as well as creating space for his teammates.”
“He’s also gotten much better at attacking the rim this season in particular and that has served him really, really well. We’ve seen more dunks from Deni this season, more than in his first two years combined, and it’s cool to watch him progress.”
Josh Robbins from The Athletic sees Avdija’s season as a mixed bag.
“Up and down. There’s undeniable potential on both ends and I think he’s still growing. He’s growing on the defensive end and trying to defend without fouling. Offensively he’s trying to hit the open shots and reduce his turnovers. But at 6foot-9 and someone who is happy to play defense and happy to pass and can create, that’s a good starting point and base to build on.”
Avdija himself understands that the most important part that he is working on is being consistent game after game after game.
“That’s what separates the greats from the good players,” he noted. “It’s 82 games and not every 82 games everyone will play perfectly, we’re not robots and we are human beings. We have life around basketball and you have to deal with injuries. I feel that’s when your growth and how good you can be is like how consistent you are.I think everybody can play, but how many times are you able to come every night and perform and perform and perform? I think that what I am aiming for and like I said that’s what separates the good from the greats.”
Avdija’s calling card is his defense and he has developed a reputation throughout the league as being a terrific lockdown defender, usually being tasked with taking on the opponent’s best players.
By having the skills to be able to play top-level defense, Wallace feels that this attribute will keep the Israeli in the NBA for quite a long time and that he is still in the process of reaching his potential.
“I think he has a high ceiling because of his defensive potential especially. You talk to Delon Wright, who is probably the best defensive player on this team and he said that he gets all of his steals because of timing and quickness and that’s not something you can really practice but something that players have. He said that one player he always tells to try this is Deni. Deni has those kinds of tools in his tool kit on defense to be really disruptive, solid in kind of just natural coverages.”
“Once he catches up a little bit and starts learning the game and his way of being a veteran more. But it’s because of the defensive potential that he will get more comfortable with that. The shooting will come or maybe it won’t, he will still be able to find a role on an NBA team that needs a good defender on the perimeter.”
Robbins understands that Avdija’s defense may be his meal ticket, but if he can improve his offensive abilities, he will make himself an even much more dangerous player.
“There’s a lot of debate in the league about his ceiling. The Wizards have a lot of polarizing players and he’s one of them. At the bare minimum, he’s a very high floor player because of his ability to defend. His floor is as a quality role player. As terms of his ceiling, if he can hit an open shot with more regularity I can see him starting games and finishing games and that’s really one of the two next steps he has to take because if he can start hitting those shots with Porzingis, Kuzma and Beal attracting all that attention then they would never want to take him far of the floor.”
In fact, in a recent game at home against the defending back-to-back NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, Avdija was tasked with leading the offense and did a superb job over the course of the first half. However, when the teams went back out onto the floor in the second half, the Nuggets made their adjustments to stop Avdija and the Israeli was left empty handed numerous times.
I should have played better, I know better, I could have done better and I shouldn’t make the same mistake four times in a row and that’s on me,” the Beit Zera native said. “The next step is to recognize the defense and find different solutions. When I saw the film I saw a lot of solutions that I could have done but it was too late already. It’s an experience and I’ll learn from this game.”
Avdija continued to explain how he was able to learn what the visitors did and will put this down as a learning experience going forward.
“They didn’t really change the defense but they forced me to my left hand and when I saw the film on the bench when I was substituted after the four turnovers and I saw they collapsed the paint because they knew I like to lob it to the big and drop off and I saw a lot of guys outside on the perimeter were wide open. I was like ok, now I understand what they did but I couldn’t really see it. I rushed the pick and roll when they changed it but I could have finished it but Jokic is a great rim protector. If I was more patient and I slowed down a little bit it would open up for me, but it was too late, however, it’s good to learn.”
At 22, Avdija can afford to make these mistakes now as the Wizards are out of the playoff picture and it’s the best time to learn especially when he has a solid support system around him in Washington.
“They just believe in me. Sometimes in bad stretches nothing’s going for you and your core, players and coaches are supporting you and that’s something very important for a young player like me who wants to get better, so the environment is very important. They are doing a great job supporting me and I can’t thank them enough for that. They want me to be good and they know how important I am for this team. I just love to see their support.”
Avdija also spoke about the biggest lesson he learned from the first season which he has taken with him.
“In my first year in the NBA I understood that you have to have a short memory. It’s a really dynamic league and anything can happen on any night. The league standings always go up and down and you can’t stop and think so much as to what happened. You have to watch film and see what you did wrong, then go to the next game and correct those things and have a fresh mind.”
With tons of fans in the stands waving Israeli flags and wearing his jersey, Avdija doesn’t take any of the love and affection for granted.
“That’s what it’s all about. Having people that support you and look up to you. I’m blessed that people are wearing my jersey and supporting me and wanting me to do better. There is nothing else I could ask for. I’m doing my job, but the fact that people come here and buy my jersey, spending their own money to do that, that was a dream of mine growing up and seeing that always makes me smile and hopefully for the rest of my career.”