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April 12, 2022 8:10 am

Israel’s Avdija Scores Better Basketball Season, Though Still Strives for Improvement on Court

avatar by Howard Blas / JNS.org

Israeli basketball player Deni Avdija. Photo: Reuters / Karolis Kavolelis.

JNS.org – Deni Avdija’s second NBA season with the Washington Wizards, which concluded on Sunday with a 124-108 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, ended much better than his rookie NBA season when the Israeli forward sustained a right fibular hairline fracture in April and missed the remainder of playing time.

This year, Avdija has the distinction of being one of only five NBA players to see court-time in all 82 regular season games. Despite praise from coaches and basketball insiders, the 21-year-old feels that he has room for improvement.

Avdija is proud of his consecutive game streak during the season, though he said there were times when he felt a little sick and almost couldn’t play.

The April 8 night game—the Wizards lost to the New York Knicks 114-92—was an example of him playing despite not feeling 100 perfect. “Even today, I was a little congested and sick. I wasn’t feeling very good in the morning. But to be able to overcome it and mentally be ready for the game, it’s a privilege. I felt like me missing a game is me leaving my teammates behind or my coaches behind. They need me, so I’m going to be there for them. Even if I’m not 100 percent, I’m still locked in.”

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“That’s part of being a professional,” noted Avdija, who played 26 minutes and scored 11 points in Friday’s game.

Avdija saw increased playing time as the season progressed, playing a team high of 34 minutes off the bench on April 6; the Wizards lost 118-103 to the Atlanta Hawks. His nine points fell one short of scoring in double figures for an eighth time over the last nine games. He had six assists.

In his last nine appearances, Avdija averaged 13.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 29.6 minutes per game.

He started the final two games of the season in place of injured teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. In his final game of the season, Avdija played 31 minutes with 12 points, four assists and five rebounds.

‘Stay humble and keep going’

Longtime NBA journalist Marc Stein, who publishes the reader-supported newsletter “The Stein Line” on Substack, wrote that “Deni was one of the more consistent players on a very up-and-down team. It was a promising second season for him amid a lot of chaos—Bradley Beal’s injury, Washington’s struggles after a great start, and a major trade shakeup when the Wizards acquired 26-year-old Kristaps Porzingis.

“He has shown more offensive versatility as he gains experience, which was expected, and he has also developed into a very competent defender, which is a nice surprise,” noted Stein. “Deni’s ceiling as a player will remain dependent on his shooting, just as many draft evaluators believed before his arrival in the NBA, but he’s playing with noticeably more confidence.”

Head coach of the Wizards Wes Unseld Jr. is pleased with Avdija’s growth, saying, “we have seen quite a bit of development. He has expanded his game with more ball-handling. Defensively, he has had great moments this year.”

Avdija said he is happy with his growth this season but noted that “it has been challenging.” (In fact, he took it a step further, saying “it has been an emotional roller-coaster.”)

Still, he reported, “I think I made a big step. I’ve learned. I’ve matured. I got better every day; that was my goal.”

He also acknowledged that he still has areas to work on: “I’ve got a lot of stuff to improve. And that’s what I like. The next stage is to go from OK to good to better to excellent. I just need to stay humble and keep going.”

This season, Avdija has also worked hard to represent Israel and the Jewish people. During Hanukkah, for example, he participated in a community-wide candle lighting ceremony.

But especially now, after a wave of multiple terror attacks in Israel over the past few weeks, the sabra proudly wore basketball shoes with the words: “Am Yisrael Chai—the People of Israel live!”

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