Deni Avdija played professional basketball in Europe for years before making the leap to the NBA, which in theory meant he was more prepared in some ways than other rookies who came in from college. But despite that experience, he apparently never encountered anyone quite like Russell Westbrook.
With Westbrook now in Los Angeles after one memorable season in Washington, Avdija described his relationship with Westbrook as featuring plenty of tough love.
"Russ made me tough mentally, for sure. Playing with a great player like Russ, it wasn’t easy, especially as a rookie. He demands a lot off you on the court and I experienced it sometimes the hard way, whether it’s him shouting on me sometimes during the game," Avdija said.
Westbrook would also take that approach to the locker room during halftime and after games. He wanted to win and was not afraid to call out a teammate if he thought they could be doing more.
But as Avdija noted, all of that helped sharpen him. Westbrook not only showed Avdija the work ethic required to be an all-time great NBA player, he also demonstrated the trademark intensity and relentless competitive spirit he's long been known for.
While there may have been some difficult moments along the way, Avdija understands why Westbrook was hard on him.
"I just want to say thank you to him because he just made me stronger. He helped me come into the NBA and really made my mind better. I thank him for a great first year," Avdija said.