In his first NBA game, Deni Avidja in some ways flipped the script for your usual top-10 draft pick. Instead of flashing the star potential we know he has, he played a sound yet effective game that was more impressive to watch live than it may appear in the box score. He played like a veteran.
Avdija only two took shots. He finished with seven points and four rebounds. In 28 minutes, those are modest numbers.
But it was clear on Wednesday night against the Sixers, the Wizards were better with Avdija on the floor, making it no surprise when head coach Scott Brooks tapped him to play crucial minutes in the fourth quarter after starting it.
"It was a dream come true. I don’t have words to explain how hard I worked for this and I prepared for this moment and how I did it," Avdija said.
Avdija's best moments came in team defense and when he passed the ball in the halfcourt offense; two traits you may not associate with 19-year-old rookies. He has a knack for the geometry of the game, knowing when the trail off his man to help on another, and knowing exactly when to fire a bounce pass to hit a teammate in stride.
Avdija's defense has generally stood out in his brief time with the Wizards, going back to his three preseason games. He has a good grasp of how to defend in space and when to selectively gamble for steals. He also has an innate ability to contest shots without fouling, sometimes getting just inches away from a shooter.
Avdija said team defense concepts were drilled into him at an early age while playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the EuroLeague.
"I’m all about team defense and helping my teammates. It’s a part of my game," he said.
Avdija also has a good understanding of space and angles on offense. He has great timing with quick passes and can hit cutters in stride as they sprint towards the rim.
Avdija honed his passing skills while playing overseas, but now has a supporting cast with unique offensive talents. He has never played with anyone as good as Russell Westbrook or Bradley Beal.
Avdija found Beal with a swift pocket pass that set up an easy slam against the Sixers.
"I enjoy passing, I like passing. It’s part of my game and I trust my teammates around me," Avdija said. "I have a great team to pass to around me, so I can be more happy."
Avdija said only taking two shots was a product of him not wanting to force anything. He wanted to play within the flow of the offense and make the extra pass when needed.
That approach did not go unnoticed.
"I think he played aggressive, made the right plays, played solid," Westbrook said. "It’s just a start for him. He’s going to be good in this league."
"He makes winning basketball plays and right now that’s all I care about," Brooks said. "If you do that, the game will reward you."
As Avdija's career goes on, he will certainly hope for more points, and a victory for his team. But Wednesday night was a promising start for his career, if you paid attention to the little things.