WASHINGTON -- Credit to ESPN for noticing this, as normally an NBA player appearing in all of their team's games would not be especially noteworthy, but due to the unusual circumstances of this season, there are only five players who have played in every possible game. One of them is Wizards forward Deni Avdija, who on Friday night appeared in his 81st consecutive game with one more to go on Sunday.
It may not be Cal Ripken Jr. territory, but it's remarkable in a season that saw a record number of players appear in games, including a franchise-record 29 for the Wizards, due to COVID-19. Back in December and January, there was a ton of turnover due to players testing positive and being replaced by replacement players signed to hardship exemption contracts.
Avdija somehow stayed healthy, never got injured badly enough to miss a game and not once was handed a DNP-CD (did not play, coach's decision).
"It's big. As a human, there's a lot of stuff going on outside the court and sometimes you're not 100 percent to play or you don't feel like it or mentally you're not there. But it's a fact that that's part of being a professional," Avdija said.
Avdija added there were some times when he almost couldn't give it a go. He mentioned feeling sick for a series of games. Whatever he had, it wasn't the coronavirus, but it was enough to throw him off and test his limits.
Each time, he figured out a way to get out there.
"There was a lot of backstage [adversity]. Sometimes I felt sick for a couple of games. 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 to play in the game. 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," Avdija said.
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. attributed Avdija's unusual reliability in part to his work ethic before, after and in-between games. He said Avdija has an advanced understanding of body maintenance, which is usually something young players learn over time. He already does a good job of eating healthy and strength training to increase his odds of staying available.
It probably helps he was a professional for years before coming to the NBA while playing in the EuroLeague. He had prior experience.
"Some of that is a level of toughness; mental and physical. He does a lot of pre and post-work and treats his body right. That probably helps him get through some of these stretches," Unseld Jr. said.
Avdija also had a rookie year that was ended by an ankle fracture which he was determined to put behind him. The ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft, Avdija had to miss not only the end of last season but also the Wizards' playoff series against the Sixers.
After that frustrating experience, Avdija gained a greater appreciation for simply being able to play.
"Playing every game is something I don't take for granted, especially last season cutting out short," he said. "I'm really honored."
Only five players appearing in every game is a very low number. Last season, which was also affected by COVID and players entering protocols, had 11 players go the distance. In 2018-19, the last season that wasn't played during a pandemic, had 21 players appear in all 82.
This season has been a much different story, but Avdija has been one of the fortunate few to stay available.