Deni was one of five player in the league who played every game this season. Did he take advantage of the time he had on the court?
Deni Avdija made his return to the Washington Wizards this season after an abrupt ending to his rookie year, that was caused by a leg injury. During the off-season, he spent time recovering, before making a return in time for the 2021-22 season. Amazingly, he suffered no ill effects from last season’s injury, even becoming one of only five players in the entire league who played in every game this season. The time he was able to put on the court this season gave us a great glimpse of where he is in his development and what his potential looks like for years to come.
Avdija’s durability was certainly one of his greatest accomplishments this season, but along side of that was a vast improvement on the defensive end. According to advanced metrics, Deni lead the team in a number of defensive metrics including Defensive Win Shares (0.0073) and Defensive Rating (110.1). He also cut down on his fouls, which were an issue that prevented him from staying on the floor more during his rookie year.
There were also times where Avdija took on the difficult defensive assignments, guarding the opponent’s primary scorers, especially down the stretch of games. His willingness to accept that role and his effectiveness while playing that role earned him minutes at the end of games for a good portion of the season.
On the offensive end, Deni only made marginal statistical improvements, but there were some visible differences. It appeared that Wes Unseld Jr. was more willing to use Avdija on the ball as a secondary ball handler, which lead to an increase in his usage (4 percent usage increase from his rookie year) and it yielded a slight uptick in his assists (1.2 assists increase per 36 minutes). He appeared to do a good job of keeping the ball moving, making the proper decision on whether to shoot the ball or to find his teammates for easy looks.
As much as Deni improved on the defensive end, much of his offensive game still needs work. His shooting is still very much streaky and he still has some work to do with his touch around the basket. It appears during the season Deni struggled mightily finishing at the rim. He finished the season shooting 58.4 percent less than 5 feet from the basket. By comparison, Raul Neto shot 61.8 percent by the same metric. Certainly, you would expect someone with the size of Avdija to be a better shooting around the basket than a 6-foot-1 guard. As the season went on, he appeared to make strides in this area though, even using a jump stop move that broadcaster Drew Gooden often complimented, but Deni’s overall body of work showed this to be an area that he will need to continue to improve.
Additionally, although Deni has become a better ball handler, he’s still not a strong enough ball handler to be the primary ball handler that so many in the fan base have hoped for. He still has some ways to go before he’s at that point, if he can ever truly take on that role.
With the likelihood of Bradley Beal signing a max contract this summer, there is going to be added expectation for this team to compete next season. It doesn’t seem as though Deni is quite ready to be a quality starting forward in this league for a team with playoff or contending aspirations, so his most likely role next season will be very similar to his role this year, a sixth man off the bench.
The other item to watch for is with Rui Hachimura and Kyle Kuzma both on the roster, one has to wonder if one of these players will be traded in order to create more minutes for the other two. Right now there is a log jam at the power forward spot, even at the small forward spot, where Avdija can sometimes play.
As long as Avdija continues to work on his game, he certainly has a bright future as a rotational player, and maybe even a spot starter in this league on a good team. If he can develop a more consistent shooting touch, he can truly become one of the better players off the bench, given the strides he has made on defense. Right now, Avdija has shown he has staying power in this league. But the question now is whether he can take his game to the next level for 2022-23.