Six-foot-nine point forwards don’t grow on trees.
So when an NBA team has an opportunity to snag one, common sense says they should.
The Washington Wizards, who had Deni Avdija atop their draft boards coming into the 2020 NBA Draft, considered themselves lucky when the Israeli star fell to number 9 after being projected in the top five.
Yet, after “earning” a starting spot, as head coach Scott Brooks said after training camp, Avdija has been relegated to the bench — playing spot minutes, his role diminished to that of a late second round pick.
In his first five games of the season, Avdija was a consistent presence on the court, averaging 26 minutes through those games. He showed off a 3-point shot — a part of his game that scouts worried about — by knocking down 7 of his first 16 tries from deep. He flashed his court vision, connecting with Thomas Bryant on pick-and-rolls.
When other rookies were just trying to stay above water, Avdija was on pace for an All-Rookie selection. His professional experience had already shaped him into a serviceable NBA player, it seemed — and he was just 19.
But over the last few games, Avdija’s role has been scaled back. He played a career-low seven minutes against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, taking just one shot. A few games prior, Avdija took and made just one shot against the Denver Nuggets in 20 minutes.
Few teams in the NBA can justify not playing a talented, 6’9” point forward, or rarely running any set-plays for him — but a team that’s spent most of the season at the bottom of the standings can hardly come up with an excuse.
For the Wizards, entering the season without clearly defined roles has become somewhat of a habit. It wasn’t until Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal held a meeting to discuss each players’ role that the Wizards started to play competitive basketball.
Avdija, though, is a player who brings a definition-less perspective to basketball. That’s what makes him special — a ninth-overall pick worthy of long-term investment. And that’s why the Wizards were so enamored by Troy Brown Jr., another 6’6” guard with outstanding court vision who’s collected countless DNP-CDs this season after being projected to start.
Players at this stage of their careers have fragile confidences, and it starts to show on the court. Perhaps it’s why Avdija has been largely invisible in the Wizards’ offense.
But for the Wizards to truly make the most of Avdija’s career, and not make Wizards fans wonder “how good he could have been if he landed in, say, San Antonio,” the team has to not forget about him — and why they were so thrilled he dropped to nine on November 18.
While Brooks and his coaching staff undoubtedly feel the pressures of making the playoffs, and what that could mean for their futures in Washington — Avdija will (or, at the very least, should) be in the nation’s capital for years to come. Whether or not the Wizards make the playoffs, the team’s primary goal must remain the same: develop the players who will be there tomorrow.
Right now, Avdija isn’t playing behind a bonafide starter or veteran — he’s losing minutes to the likes of Garrison Mathews and Isaac Bonga.
And with every lost minute, lost shot attempt, or lost sense of confidence, the Wizards are losing a rare opportunity to advance Avdija’s career in Washington.