The Washington Wizards have had a rocky start to the season, to say the least. Despite predictions that they would make a playoff push following the acquisition of All-NBA guard Russell Westbrook, they are currently the 14th seed in the Eastern Conference and boast one of the worst defenses in the league. They have also dealt with the additional adversity of a COVID-19 outbreak on the roster and had six games postponed, leaving them out of practice with a daunting gauntlet of make-ups in the future.
The team’s poor start has Wizards fans and oddsmakers alike predicting that head coach Scott Brooks’ firing is now only a question of when not if. Unfortunately, Brooks is still the Wizards head coach, and until the day he is relieved of his duties, he will continue to run the team as he sees fit. This presents an unfortunate reality for rookie forward Deni Avdija, who has been criminally misutilized by Scott Brooks, a coach who has been previously criticized for his lack of offensive creativity.
First #NBA Head Coach to be fired? 🤔
— BetOnline.ag (@betonline_ag) December 18, 2020
Deni Avdija was selected by the Wizards with the ninth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and was immediately called “the steal of the draft” by many pundits. He is just 20 years old and has been playing professional basketball in Israel since 2013. Avdija was hailed for his outstanding basketball IQ and maturity despite his youth, as well as his passing instincts and ball-handling ability. The biggest question mark about how his game would transfer to the NBA was his shooting. He shot just 27.7 percent on 1.8 3-point attempts during his last season with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
When reading a scouting report about Avdija, he appears best suited to a point forward role where he is given on-ball opportunities to be a playmaker from the elbow, and the Wizards seemed like a destination where this could take shape. Avdija operating as a secondary playmaker and ball-handler would help alleviate some of the pressure from Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook as well as inject some life into the Wizards stagnant, pick and roll dependent offense. Coach Brooks has had other things in mind for Avdija thus far, however.
Since the beginning of the season, Avdija has had few opportunities to be an on-ball creator, and most of the few he has had have come off of inadvertent, fastbreak-starting rebounds rather than as part of the halfcourt offense. So far this year, Avdija is averaging 1.85 seconds per touch, which ranks in the 33rd percentile among qualified players. Brooks has taken a player who was endlessly praised during the draft process for his savant-like passing instincts and doubted for his underwhelming shooting numbers and relegated him to a 3-and-D role.
To his credit, Avdija has played well despite his less-than-desirable circumstances. The shooting concerns seem overblown in retrospect, as he is hitting 45.7 percent of his 3.2 3-point attempts per game. He has also been one of the Wizards better defenders despite his below-average athleticism, posting an even defensive BPM. This is likely due to his strong understanding of team defense from his many years of prior professional basketball experience. He is thriving despite being in an unfamiliar role not befitting of his talents, and Brooks still plays Avdija just 23.2 minutes per game.
Avdija is a tantalizing young talent with a unique skill set, but it seems unlikely that he will ever be able to reach his full potential if Brooks continues to misutilize him and play him so sparingly. Despite the limited sample size, he looks to be one of the Wizards more solid draft picks in recent years. Fans can only hope that a lightbulb goes on in Coach Brooks’ head, or that maybe an insightful assistant coach will be able to open his eyes to his indiscretions. Until that happens, or Brooks is fired, it appears Avdija will be spending his rookie season in basketball purgatory.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, ESPN and NBA.com
‘From our Haus to yours’