Did Israeli Prodigy Deni Avdija Live Up to the High Hopes in His Debut NBA Season?

Deni Avdija made history in the NBA Draft after being a lottery pick for the Washington Wizards, but a season-ending injury and weak offensive output put a damper on his first year

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Deni Avdija of the Washington Wizards dunking against the Golden State Warriors prior to his injury in the game last week.
Deni Avdija of the Washington Wizards dunking against the Golden State Warriors prior to his injury in the game last week.Credit: Will Newton - AFP
Jerry Mittleman

An NBA season that began with high hopes for Deni Avdija – the first Israeli to be drafted among the top 10 picks in the world’s most prestigious basketball league – ended abruptly last week.

The Washington Wizards small forward suffered a hairline fracture of his right ankle in a game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

The Wizards are currently on an eight-game winning streak and are in the running for the NBA playoffs. Avdija’s estimated recovery time is between two and three months, making it unlikely he would return to the court if the Wizards make it into the league’s second season, which begins in May.

Avdija’s rookie season began with high expectations, but ultimately yielded only modest achievements.

As the first Israeli to ever be chosen as a lottery pick in the draft, Avdija’s arrival in the NBA was widely heralded and greatly anticipated by local basketball fans.

There were hopes for a strong initial campaign that would set the former Maccabi Tel Aviv player on the path toward a meaningful NBA career. Instead, Avdija, 20, had a difficult transition to the NBA’s style of play – not unusual for players coming from Europe.

He was also hampered by a Wizards offense that failed to make better use of his playmaking skills, and often limited him to one or two shots a game despite extended minutes of play.

As a member of the Wizards’ starting lineup for most of the season, Avdija averaged a meager six points per game despite seeing a respectable 23 minutes of action per game.

The Wizards claim to like Avdija’s work ethic, his approach to the game and his overall skill set. But to realize his potential, he’ll need to vastly increase his offensive input. To do so, he must improve his subpar three-point shooting, a requisite in the modern NBA. He also needs to develop a middle range game, learn to create shots for himself (especially while playing with two star, ball-dominant guards like Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal) and generally display the assertiveness that characterized his play with Maccabi last year.

Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija after being injured against the Golden State Warriors in the second quarter at Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C., last week.Credit: Will Newton - AFP

At the same time, Avdija showed poise and maturity beyond his years on the court and displayed impressive skills on defense. He sometimes drew the toughest assignments, rarely backed down and usually was brought in off the bench for defensive purposes during crunch time. He was an adequate rebounder, and his overall court sense and passing skills were readily apparent.

The Israeli Sports Channel provided total coverage of Wizards games so that local fans could follow Avdija’s daily progress. It also allowed Israeli NBA buffs to follow the exploits of Beal and Westbrook.

Beal is a scoring machine who was leading the league in points per game for the entire season, until being overtaken by Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry last week, and Westbrook is a whirling dervish whose frenetic style of play includes mind-boggling assists and hair-raising blunders.

Together, they make the Wizards a deeply flawed but highly entertaining team to watch.

Because of Avdija and the regular broadcasts, the Wizards have become Israel’s de facto NBA team. But with the Israeli player’s absence, the Sports Channel will likely discontinue airing Wizards games on a regular basis.

Avdija was handed a golden opportunity by the Wizards this season, and hopefully that will continue next season when he is ready and recovered.

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