Deni Avdija likes to downplay his matchups with other players, like when he goes up against another rookie from his draft class, even one who was drafted ahead of him. But on Friday night, as the Wizards earned their first win of the season on the road against the Timberwolves, Avdija effectively outplayed Anthony Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick.
Edwards has had a strong start to his season and may be the current favorite for rookie of the year. But for one game, Avdija made more plays and led his team to victory.
It was the best game yet for Avdija, who has shined so far in his young career. He's making an impact much sooner than expected and generally looking like he belongs, despite being just 19 years old.
Avdija had 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. He played sound defense, even when switched onto guards like Ricky Rubio, and finished a game-high +32 in the box score.
"I think Deni took a step in his young [career] tonight," head coach Scott Brooks said.
Brooks went into specifics of how Avdija showed progress on Friday. He noted one play where Avdija drove left and found Thomas Bryant running to the rim with a perfectly placed lob pass. Avdija has been relying mostly on his right hand so far, Brooks said.
On this particular play, he comfortably executed a pick-and-roll. A pick-and-roll with him at 6-foot-9 and Bryant at 6-foot-10 is a matchup nightmare for other teams.
"He's 19 years old," Brooks said. "He picks up things so quickly. He's a really good basketball player."
Avdija's playmaking stood out in general on Friday night. He also found Bryant for an easy dunk on a quick bounce pass in transition that slipped past two defenders. On another play, he forced a turnover on Rubio, then drove the ball in transition before firing a no-look pass to Jerome Robinson for three.
Avdija is the size of a power forward, but he can fly in the open court and has the vision to find teammates on the run.
"I took a big step today. I had some playmaking plays," Avdija said.
"I love playmaking. I love making plays for my teammates. I like making my teammates involved. I'm looking for them at every opportunity. It just makes me feel good, it makes the whole team feel good."
With Avdija's ball-handling and passing capabilities, it begs the question: is he a unicorn? The height requirements for that label have never officially been established, but at 6-foot-9 he's got some unicorn DNA.
Seeing Avdija take a noticeable step in his development within a single game is not surprising to Brooks or Avdija's teammates. They have come to realize he is an ardent student of the game.
Avdija has developed a reputation for being inquisitive.
"He's constantly learning," Bradley Beal said. "It's so funny because they told us when he first got here he's a man of a million questions. Deni asks a lot of questions. And that's a great thing because he just wants to learn, he wants to get better and he wants to be on the floor."
Brooks said sometimes those questions can be general. Sometimes they are very specific.
"I love the questions he's asking me," Brooks said. "[Recently] he said 'coach, can you play define playing hard?'"
Brooks then explained to him the details of hustling in an NBA game, like how to cut hard on offense and run through screens on defense. Avdija has a high motor and he wants to know how to put it to good use.
Through six NBA games, Avdija is averaging 7.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 51.5 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from three.. Per NBA.com, he has the highest net rating among qualified rookies. That's despite playing for a team that sits 1-5.
Avdija is already making his presence felt, despite likely just scratching the surface of his potential.
"He just plays basketball the right way," Beal said. "For a rookie, he's got great professional attributes."