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All-NBA defender Larry Hughes breaks down the Wizards and Deni Avdija’s defensive jump

Hughes went into detail on the defensive turnaround for the Wizards on this week’s Bleav in Wizards podcast.

Washington Wizards v New Jersey Nets
Larry Hughes defending Vince Carter
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

There has been a lot of chatter amongst fans about whether or not Deni Avdija has All-Defensive First Team potential, even as soon as this season. I thought there’d be no better person to weigh in on Advija’s defensive potential than the last Wizard to make a First Team, Larry Hughes.

On this week’s Bleav in Wizards podcast, Hughes provided a technical breakdown of exactly what Avdija is doing differently this year that has led to such drastic improvement. It’s more involved than I could transcribe here so if that interests you, I would encourage you to check out the episode around the 29:00 point of the episode.

Both Wes Unseld Jr. and Avdija himself have credited his improvement to increased film study. Hughes has always been a proponent of spending a lot of time watching film and said that was a big factor in him making that First Team.

Washington Wizards v Miami Heat
Avdija challenging a shot against the Heat
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

That all makes sense at a superficial level but I wanted to know how film study actually translates into better defense. I asked Hughes to walk me through how that manifests on the court to help fans understand that growth. It got fairly technical but he explained that it includes understanding opposing players’ tendencies, knowing what teams do in particular situations, the time it takes to cover certain amounts of court or make certain plays, understanding how aggressive to be based on time and score, and several other factors.

The other thing Hughes thought would help defensively is just continuing to build that reputation with officials but also increased communication with referees. Hughes said he used to go to officials before games and “plant the seed” that he had fast hands so they needed to watch closely and not just assume he fouled someone if he reached for the ball. That dialogue lead to more success because he was letting them know what to keep an eye out for in advance rather than just yelling at them about something in the heat of the moment.

Overall, Hughes was impressed with Avdija’s improvement and thinks he has elite defensive potential because of how good his positioning already is, however, he thinks it’s way too soon to talk about him making a First Team this year. Per Hughes, there needs to be some marquee statistic that makes a player stand out to voters. For him, it was steals, which he lead the league in during the 2004-2005 season.

Hughes goes for a steal
Hughes going for a steal against Eric Snow
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Hughes doesn’t feel Avdija’s hands are quick enough to accumulate that many steals but thought defensive rebounds could be where Avdija stands out. Avdija recently recorded his first-ever back-to-back double-digit rebound games so it looks like he’s already making strides in that area. Hughes felt that if he continues improving at this rate and keeps getting attention for his defense that he has a chance of earning votes in future seasons.

Hughes is also personally familiar with Wes Unseld Jr. and Tommy Sheppard so I wanted his take on the jobs that both men have done so far. He had nothing but nice things to say about both when they were hired into their current roles and did not seem surprised by their success.

Also, in this episode, we addressed Spencer Dinwiddie’s passive approach, how much switching to a new basketball threw off players the last time the NBA switched, the more physical style of play this season, and why Bradley Beal has struggled offensively.


Episode breakdown

The Wizards’ success so far and national media attention - 1:00

Playing for Wes Unseld Jr. as an Assistant Coach in Washington before - 3:00

Tommy Sheppard’s promotion and Hughes’ experience with Sheppard - 7:00

Spencer Dinwiddie’s pass-first mindset - 13:00

You’d rather teammates tell your point guard to shoot more than shoot less - 16:00

Shooting against a zone and when teams dare you to shoot - 18:00

Switching basketballs and how Steve Nash helped them switch back before - 22:00

More physical play and rule changes - 26:00

Deni Avdija and film study - 29:00

Open dialogue with refs - 31:00

How does film translate to better defense? - 34:00

Can Avdija make a All-Defensive First Team? - 39:00

Not playing the same style as everyone else - 42:00

Bradley Beal’s offensive struggles - 45:00

What is the ceiling for this team 52:00

Previewing the upcoming schedule - 55:00