Avdija's playmaking impresses Porzingis


The Wizards' loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday night, which featured a 23-point collapse, may lead to an uncomfortable film session for the team when the players have to watch back what went wrong and ponder how to prevent it from happening again.

But in order to build their large first-half lead, they at least had to have some things go right. And one of them was the playmaking from second-year forward Deni Avdija.

Avdija, 21, finished the game with a modest, but well-rounded line of seven points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. The four assists all came in the first half and three of them in the first quarter during a stretch of a minute and 45 seconds.

That run displayed many of his best traits on the offensive end. On one play, he set up Daniel Gafford for an alley-oop dunk off a pick-and-roll. On another, he flew down the court to find Kristaps Porzingis for an open dunk on a no-look pass. 

In the second quarter, Avdija stole the ball and pushed the pace to help set up Porzingis for another dunk on a hockey assist. Avdija fired a pass to teammate Ish Smith, who tossed it right to Porzingis for the slam.

Porzingis has only played with Avdija for eight games now since coming over in a trade, but he's taken notice of Avdija's play-making abilities.

"He has really good instincts for finding his teammates and pushing the ball in transition. He's not afraid to make a play, I really like that about him," Porzingis said.


"He's real good, he's real like sneaky with those passes. He was just kind of driving to the rim and he knew I was there and, boom, just threw it back to me without looking. That was pretty cool from him and I expect more of those plays as he keeps pulling his game up."

There is some irony in how Avdija's career has transpired so far, in that he's drawn more attention and praise for his defense, particularly earlier this season. When he entered the draft in 2020, Avdija's biggest selling points were on the offensive end, as at 6-foot-9 he has an unusual blend of ball control, agility and passing vision for his size.

A Western Conference general manager recently remarked to NBC Sports Washington how they didn't see Avdija's defensive potential coming into the draft. Though he still has a ways to go to establish consistency on that end, that part of his game has taken some around the league by surprise.

It could suggest two things about his overall upside. For one, there remains a good deal of offensive potential that he still hasn't tapped into. Secondly, it indicates he has a chance to be a two-way player, meaning he could impact games on both ends of the floor.

Right now, he may just be scratching the surface of being that type of player, as he averages only 7.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting just 42.6% from the field and 30.7% from three. Avdija remains a long-term project who shows flashes of being very good.

"I think that's another strength that we've seen him display, especially in pick-and-rolls, but in the open floor," Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said of Avdija's play-making. "I think he's got a good feel and he can pass, play-make. He's showing a more consistent level of finishing in the paint."

Of the young players the Wizards are currently developing in the everyday rotation, Avdija is the youngest. Even rookie Corey Kispert, whom they drafted in the first round last summer, is two years older.

Avdija has also only played a total of 125 NBA games, which is about 1 1/2 seasons based on a normal, 82-game schedule. His inexperience may have shown in the second half on Monday. After reaching halftime with four assists, he had zero in the second half and shot 0-for-5. 

It is still very much the early stages of his career, but Monday was a reminder of some of the unique skills he has, which the Wizards hope will become more and more prevalent over time.