In Deni Avdija’s short NBA career, he’s made a name for himself with his defense. Saturday in Utah, he rose to the occasion once again.
With the Wizards needing a defensive stop to end their four-game losing skid and the Jazz down to just over 10 seconds to play, the game turned to Avdija when he drew the assignment of Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell’s shot was no good as Avdija turned to the Wizards bench and quietly ‘Threw up the X’ toward his teammates on the bench to celebrate a 109-103 win for the Wizards when they needed it most. Teammate Bradley Beal ran toward Avdija doing the 'X' move, too, with a big smile on his face.
“It means ‘clamps,’” Avdija said postgame. “That’s how we define when I play good defense or I lock somebody up. We just do that. It’s just a fun joke in the team. That’s my signature out there when I lock somebody up.”
Against the Jazz, Avdija played 30 minutes, 22 seconds (a season-high) and scored 11 points with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. On the defensive end, Jazz players shot 7-of-20 from the field when guarded by Avdija. Mitchell went just 3-of-9 shooting when the Wizards’ second-year pro drew his assignment.
“Just another awesome defensive effort,” Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “I thought he was great. His size, his physicality, I thought he was much improved in the pick-and-roll. He played with a good purpose, didn’t do too much, let the game come to him. I just liked his aggression on the defensive end.”
Avdija has guarded other top players down the stretch, like Giannis Antetokounmpo this season and LeBron James last season. And the more his defensive game becomes consistent, the more he’ll produce on both ends of the floor.
“It’s just in the head,” Avdija said. “I think that I can add a lot offensively, too. My game will develop, I will develop offensively, but I think I can really help the team offensively. My confidence is growing and the guys trust me more offensively. The more I play free and the more I play without thinking about it, I keep helping the guys offensively too.”
Avdija was also quick to send praise to his teammates, noting that his defensive play would be for nothing if it weren’t for them. As a team, the Jazz shot 14-of-44 (31.8%) from the 3-point range and struggled to pull away from a Wizards team that had let games get away in recent weeks.
Beal scored 37 points in the winning effort as six Wizards reached double figures, including Avdija. The win lifted Washington back above .500 to 16-15 and, perhaps most importantly, provided some much needed confidence heading toward the new year.
“I didn’t know he could sit down and defend like that, which is good,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said of Avdija. “Need other guys like that. That energy that he gave tonight kind of rubbed off on everybody. We all buckled down on defense.”