Washington Wizards: Deni Avdija dazzles in his NBA debut

Washington Wizards Deni Avdija. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Deni Avdija. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Deni Avdija finally played in an NBA game that counted, and the Washington Wizards rookie did not disappoint.

Last season, first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura worked his way into the opening night starting lineup for the Washington Wizards. The result: 14 points, 10 rebounds in a 108-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Fast forward a year and a half, and Rui Hachimura is sidelined for the season opener with conjunctivitis.

It wasn’t clear who the starters would be heading into the opening matchup in Philadelphia, but the starting five wasn’t a huge surprise. Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Isaac Bonga, and Thomas Bryant. The starting small forward position was the only one up for grabs this season, and coach Scott Brooks thinks Avdija has done enough since draft day to earn the spot.

Although Avdija didn’t put up the debut double-double that Hachimura had in Dallas, he impressed on nearly every level in the Wizards’ opening night loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Across the board, it was a strong start for the teenage phenom.

Deni Avdija wasn’t aggressive looking for his shot, which isn’t surprising. But he cashed in when he did let it fly. Avdija went 2-2 from the field in his debut. Both shots came from behind the arc, a good sign considering Avdija’s three-point consistency was one of the biggest knocks against him coming into the draft. Avdija also looked sound defensively. He was an active help defender, collapsed on opponents in the paint, and did a good job staying in front of his man without fouling. His playmaking? Well, I think his assist to Beal (below) tells you everything you need to know. Avdija said it best during his postgame press conference, “I like passing.”


Deni Avdija did a little bit of everything in his first regular-season game with the Washington Wizards

Avdija’s professionalism and maturity, resulting from his years with Maccabi Tel Aviv, shone through immediately. This wasn’t a guy who looked like a rookie.

One stretch in particular during the third quarter showed just how high Avdija’s ceiling could be. At 8:42 in the third quarter, Avdija hit a three from the top of the key. On the following defensive possession, Avdija came up with a loose ball and pushed it up the floor for what should have been an easy assist to Russell Westbrook, except Westbrook (somehow) missed the dunk. Back to the other end. Avdija then grabbed a defensive rebound and threw an outlet pass nearly three-quarters of the court to Thomas Bryant, only for Bryant to fumble it away. No problem. Avdija battled Joel Embiid for another rebound on the next possession, pushed the ball up the floor again, and threw an (unsuccessful) alley opp to Bryant. Even though none of those possessions ended in points, Avdija made the right play time after time.

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Avdija finished the game with seven points, four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. It’s not a stat line that will turn any heads, but Avdija finished with the highest plus/minus on the team (+14). For the second straight season, the Wizards trotted out a rookie, picked ninth overall, as a member of their opening night starting lineup. Last season, Hachimura went on to make second-team All-Rookie. It might be a little early to make any All-Rookie guarantees with Avdija, but the Wizards look like they got another good one. After one game, Avdija has passed the eye test, even if his contributions didn’t all show up in the box score.