Deni Avdija’s creativity around rim stands out on career night

Avdija’s creativity at rim stands out on career night originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington


New Deni Avdija, who ‘dis?

The Wizards’ third-year forward took another step in his development as a young player, right before our eyes on Monday night, dropping a career-high 25 points in a win over the Spurs. It was the first time the Wizards won a game in San Antonio since 1999, i.e. before Avdija was born in 2001.

While the streak lasted for ages as far as streaks go, Avdija’s age should be kept in mind as he shows progress like he did Monday, and as he continues seeking consistency as an NBA player. He turned 22 earlier this month and many NBA players do not reach their peak until their mid-to-late 20s. Just look at his teammate Kyle Kuzma, who is seemingly just entering his prime at 27. Avdija’s best basketball may be years away.

Once he gets there, it could look a lot like what we saw against the Spurs. The points total was a first for him, but so were the ways he got there. Avdija displayed a wide arsenal of finishing moves around the rim not seen before from the 2020 ninth-overall pick. He scored around, over and through Spurs defenders, in full control of the ball with patience and precision.

Avdija shot 10-for-12 on the night, including 3-for-4 from the perimeter. Of his 10 field goals, eight of them came in the paint and seven of those were in the restricted area. Avdija didn’t take no for an answer as he bullied his way to the rim, imposing his will on an inexperienced Spurs team that ranks 30th in the NBA in defensive efficiency and allows the second-most points in the paint (55.4/g).

Avdija hasn’t exactly always been surehanded at the rim. Last season, he shot 63.3% within three feet of the basket, a low number for his size. Going up stronger on contested layups has been a point of emphasis for him.

Monday may have been part of a breakthrough. The 16 points in the paint against San Antonio were a career-best. He scored on dunks, finger rolls, floaters and even an up-and-under layup through traffic.

While there was an extra dose of creativity on this particular night, Avdija has generally been getting rewarded in recent games for playing more assertively with the ball in his hands. He is finding seams in the defense off the dribble and using impressive touch to get the ball in the rim.

He is also forcing the issue with his speed in transition, earning him the nickname ‘Turbo’ from teammates, a moniker that also includes a signature celebration.

All of it is a reminder of arguably Avdija’s most unique physical trait. His straight-line speed with the ball in his hands at 6-foot-9 is unusual and can be very effective when deployed properly. It was a main reason why he was a top-10 draft pick and at one point considered a top-5 prospect in the 2020 class.

His combination of size and mobility is something you can’t teach. For him, it has been about filling in the other areas of his game, gaining confidence and being more consistent.

Monday may have been another milestone for him. It was his best game yet in a four-game stretch since Rui Hachimura was traded in which he has averaged 16.3 points and 9.5 rebounds.

It was a career night, but possibly also a sign of more to come.

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