Deni Avdija was in a bit of an unusual scenario on Monday afternoon, as the best player on Israel's national team, going up against an Auburn Tigers team projected to be in the top-25 this upcoming college basketball season. The game was also on national TV, broadcast by the SEC Network.
It was an atypical test, but Avdija passed it. He looked like the most uniquely gifted athlete on the floor. He was also the best player on the floor. And as that became more apparent as the game transpired, Avdija seemed to gain confidence and play with more aggression. That will certainly make Wizards' brass happy as they hope this experience aids his long-term development in the NBA.
Avdija, 21, would be a rising senior in college and, if this game was any indication, he would be a very good NCAA player if that was the path he chose. At 6-foot-9, his size, speed and agility really separated him from the competition. Auburn traditionally has a very good defense, led by head coach Bruce Pearl, and after a period of time they resorted to just fouling him. That was even the case on a 1-on-3 fastbreak.
Avdija ended up with 25 points, a good portion of which came from the free throw line. He got past defenders with regularity and faced hard contact in the lane when going for layups. Avdija, per usual, was much crisper dribbling to his right. He made a series of moves to blow past opponents and on just about all of them he took off using his right hand.
Avdija missed a few layups that may or may not have featured some contact. But he also had some strong finishes at the basket, including in the third quarter when he drove right from the slot and threw down a one-handed slam. He was also fouled on that play.
Not long after, Avdija cut baseline and finished with a reverse slam with his right hand. In the third, he also dunked on a give-and-go play.
On another dunk, a fastbreak slam, Avdija leapt from about the half-circle inside the free throw line. He jumped from a similar distance to dunk after the whistle in the second quarter. Each play seemed to show a bit more lift from Avdija, who is now about a year removed from rehabbing a broken right ankle.
In fact, Avdija dunking was a common sight in this game. Though there is no official tally, he dunked at least four times on plays that counted. Consider the fact he only had seven dunks all of last season for the Wizards.
Avdija was able to show a lot more than his dunking in Monday's exhibition. He played the five on defense at times and then ran the offense as the point guard. Avdija made a series of crafty passes to set up his teammates, though also ran into some turnovers against Auburn's scrappy defense, which has a knack for deflections.
Avdija hit a pair of long range threes as well. His shot release looks to be a bit quicker than it has been the last two NBA seasons. That's an adjustment he's been working on since he got into the league.
There were some plays Avdija attempted that were encouraging, even though they didn't result in points. Early in the third quarter, he tried a stepback three. It rimmed out, but was quick and smooth. It was the type of play he rarely, if ever, tries in the NBA. But it also could be a glimpse into his future, if he can work that into his repertoire.
Avdija had to not only go up against a physical and well-coached Auburn team, he was bombarded with traps and double-teams. That may have resulted in his somewhat slow start of three points in the first quarter before he more than doubled that to score eight in the second quarter. By halftime, Avdija had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.
In addition to leading Israel in the box score, Avdija displayed a side of him we don't often see in the NBA simply because of his youth. He was a more vocal leader, taking teammates aside to give guidance.
That's a role more experienced NBA players like Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma often play for the Wizards. But over time, Avdija could develop into that type of presence, just as they did after establishing themselves in the league.
Avdija may not be the oldest player on Team Israel, but his NBA experience is invaluable. It was interesting to see him impart that to his countrymen.
Avdija arguably got just what he needed out of Monday's game. He played against a lower level of competition, though in a very visible setting, and was a standout. If you knew nothing about either team and watched this game, it still would have been clear he was the best player on the floor.
It was potentially the type of confidence boost some players get out of Summer League. Like, Josh Giddey returning to Las Vegas and lighting it up for the Oklahoma City Thunder, for instance.
Avdija never played in the Summer League, but Monday's game essentially served the same purpose. Whether it means something in the big picture, we don't know. But it seemed to represent a positive step in his continued development as a young player.