WASHINGTON — After a spirited, full-contact 3-on-3 scrimmage following Wizards practice on Wednesday, forward Deni Avdija shared with the media some good news and some bad news.
The good news is he has evidently turned a corner with his groin injury and is well on his way toward returning to game action. The bad news was in hindsight, that his injury was worse than the public had known.
The positives, however, are rooted in continued progress for Avdija, 21, who is gearing up for his third NBA season. The ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft, Avdija played in a group that included young Wizards prospects Isaiah Todd, Jordan Schakel, Craig Sword, Devon Dotson and Quenton Jackson.
Avdija spent extended time matching up with Todd, who is of similar size. Avdija practiced driving to the basket over and over, fighting through physical defense.
While Avdija had his fair share of makes and misses, and some plays he thought deserved foul calls, it was an encouraging experience for him overall. He’s just glad to be trending in the right direction after a training camp which he described as “pretty rough” due to the injury.
On Wednesday, Avdija was able to showcase some of the strength he added this summer, which he hopes will help his finishing around the basket. Avdija shot just 63.3% within three feet of the rim last season, which was lower than many smaller players on the roster.
“Absorbing the contact better, being aware of how to use my body and where. I think at the end of the day, I had good chances to make layups last year, it’s just the small amount of focus I need to actually put the ball in the rim. That’s about it. The opportunities were there. But I think I’m going to do a better job of finishing this year, for sure,” he said.
Avdija still has to play 5-on-5 in order to be cleared for games, but it sounds like that will be soon. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has indicated it could happen in the next several days.
Part of the process for Avdija is conditioning, as he is several weeks behind his teammates due to the groin issue.
“We still have a few days, so we’re trying to fast-track him so that he’s ready to go when the time is right,” Unseld Jr. said.
Avdija, though, is getting close and now that he’s almost in the clear, he has added some detail to the plight he initially faced while dealing with the groin injury. It happened while he was playing for the Israeli national team in August and September.
Avdija led Israel through the EuroBasket tournament, but had to play through some legitimate discomfort.
“It was just something that popped up this summer. I played on pills with the national team to kill the pain. At the end of the championship, I was barely walking. So, I knew coming into the season, it was kind of frustrating for me after the good summer that I had, taking some backsteps, but it is what it is. I’m here now,” he said.
The Wizards played it safe once he reported to camp by holding him out. They have been working him back gradually and he’s almost there.
Whether he’s ready to play in Friday’s preseason finale or not, it doesn’t sound like he will miss much of the regular season, if any games at all.