New season, new goals for Deni Avdija

Back from injury for the Washington Wizards, Israeli sophomore preaches patience and growth.

 DENI AVDIJA (left) defends against Toronto Raptors’ guard Dalano Banton during the Washington Wizards’ season opener late Wednesday night. The Israeli forward had eight points and seven rebounds in the Wizards’ 98-83 victory. (photo credit: JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI/USA TODAY SPORTS)
DENI AVDIJA (left) defends against Toronto Raptors’ guard Dalano Banton during the Washington Wizards’ season opener late Wednesday night. The Israeli forward had eight points and seven rebounds in the Wizards’ 98-83 victory.
(photo credit: JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI/USA TODAY SPORTS)

The Washington Wizards and Israeli sensation Deni Avdija geared up for the new season as the NBA rolled out its 2021/22 campaign earlier this week.

Avdija’s Wizards tipped off in Toronto where they defeated the Raptors 98-83 to win their season opener for the first time since 2017.

The 20-year-old Sabra is beginning his sophomore season in North America and hadn’t played since a foot injury derailed his rookie year in April as Avdija missed out on playing in the postseason with the club.

However, he is now back and fully healthy to rock and roll on the NBA’s parquet across the United States and Canada which he certainly did on Wednesday with a solid eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes of action in which looked much more fluid and a part of the team play than he did last year.

But that was last season and now Avdija is on to year two, where he looks to take the experience gained and spread his wings to continue to develop into the star that everyone believes that he can be.

DENI AVDIJA is averaging 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 23.5 minutes in 50 games played so far in his NBA rookie season with the Washington Wizards. (credit: TIM FULLER/USA TODAY SPORTS)DENI AVDIJA is averaging 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 23.5 minutes in 50 games played so far in his NBA rookie season with the Washington Wizards. (credit: TIM FULLER/USA TODAY SPORTS)

“I want to be more aggressive and gain more experience on defense and on offense,” Avdija explained as he spoke to a number of select media outlets including The Jerusalem Post earlier this week.

“The in-game experience will help me and now I am beginning my second season. I want to improve every day and I am not going to compare this season to the last one. I want to do the best I can each and every year.”

Returning from injury is always a challenge for every athlete and that is the case with Avdija as well. But with a number of preseason games under his belt, his rhythm and timing will all come back to him slowly but surely.

“My summer was filled with just rehab and I was in DC most of the time. I wanted to come back as fast as I could and prepare for the upcoming season. It’s never quiet and I always want more and to be better than I was. Six months was a long time to be out and I’m really hungry to get going again. I am an aggressive person, but I need to take my time and be patient to get back to being me.

“I really needed the games over the past few weeks to get myself up to par. We’ve had a great training camp and I feel pretty good. I’m still getting into the rhythm and I wanted to rush, but I had to slow down and grind and work on it. I am always trying to be positive.”

Over the course of last season, Avdija found out a lot about himself as he went on quite the rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs as well as challenges galore.

“I learned a lot about myself, that I am very strong mentally and coming here to the United States with the coronavirus, without fans and to come and play it wasn’t simple. There’s a lot of people who don’t see everything that goes on. But I kept my love for life and I am always upbeat and positive.”

As for his role with Wizards, it is expected that Avdija will be part of new head coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s second unit, which will come off of the bench and bring energy to the court in place of the starters. That will be a change for the Israeli as he started many games last year under Scott Brooks, but one that Avdija relishes.

“Everyone touches the ball and we bring energy from the second unit. I feel pretty good and I worked very hard and I’m not rushing anywhere. There’s 82 games and I feel that I’ll be having plenty of chances to continue to expand my game.

“The goal is to succeed as a team and to be the first Israeli in the NBA playoffs. We want to go as far as we can and I will bring what I have and if I start or come off the bench I’ll do what the coach tells me to. Sports are really dynamic and we have so many players in so many different positions. I want to be able to play well, move the ball well and try to play better than the first unit. We are all one team and we will do whatever we need to in order to get as far as we can.”

With the change in role on what is now a deeper Wizards squad thanks to the trade that sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers for three rotation players in Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avdija sees a chance to be able to make a bigger impact this year compared to his freshman shortened season including a leadership role.

“We learned a lot from preseason and how to close games. We had a lead and maybe I could have been more aggressive too. I gathered everyone up and said let’s close the game and play good defense. It didn’t really work out the way we wanted it to as we lost, but we learned from it.”

Bradley Beal is unquestionably the star of the show for the Wizards but remains unvaccinated after contracting COVID-19 earlier in the summer which left him out of the United States Olympic Team roster that won gold in Japan. Avdija still sees Beal as a player who will influence the club no matter what his personal situation is and also feels that the team has gotten off to a good start as they gel both on and off of the court.

“I think Brad set me straight a number of times and even though he won’t be with us all of the time because of the vaccination we support him. He knows how the team should run and at the end of the day he’s our leader and he’s going to tell us the truth. He’s a big factor and we need him with or without the vaccination.”

Due to the pandemic, Avdija didn’t have a chance to get acquainted with Washington’s Jewish community the way he would have liked to, but he is looking forward to the opportunity this season along with continuing to enhance the team’s Israeli food and holiday options.

“I have been trying to bring in an Israeli flavor to the club. I haven’t been able to meet the Jewish community yet, but want to do so. I’m focused on basketball and I’m sure as the time goes by I’ll get more involved.”

The bottom line for Avdija is that he wants to be the best he can be and help his team reach the highest of heights. That is clearly his goal in the second season as he looks to be the best version of himself and see where that can take him along with the Wizards.

“I’m always as hard as I can be on myself and a lot of times I want to be perfect from the beginning, but everyone around me says to just go slowly and not to rush. I don’t want to talk about how far we can go and I know that many people around the NBA don’t believe that we can get far, but we will play our game and surprise those who don’t believe in us.”

Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected]