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Avdija’s second season was a step in the right direction. Can he take the next step?

New York Knicks v Washington Wizards
Wizards forward Deni Avdija
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

The people voted, so the first player on my offseason analysis docket is Deni Avdija. Vote below for who’s next.

This season, his improvement was right in line with expected progress by players his age. In my PPA metric (in PPA, average is 100, higher is better and replacement level is 45 — more here), he went from a 48 in his rookie year to a 69 in 2021-22.

His usage went from an ultra-low 12.0% to a below average 16.3%, his scoring went from 12.5 points per 100 team possessions to 17.1, and he boosted his assists from 2.3 to 4.2. His rebounding ticked up very slightly, he produced more blocks and steals, and he trimmed his fouling slightly (5.1 per 100 possessions to 4.7).

Avdija also doubled his free throw attempts from an anemic 1.7 per 100 teams possessions to 3.4 and shot much better from the free throw line (64.4% to 75.7%).

From the floor, his shooting was about the same as it was his rookie year. The bump in assists is good, but his turnovers rose in lockstep. His assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.9 in both his rookie and his second season. League average: 1.9.

Overall, his offensive efficiency ticked up from 103 to 106. Compared to league average, that’s from -9 points per 100 possessions and -6 points per 100 possessions.

The Official Narrative Machine kept asserting that Avdija improved late in the season. That really wasn’t the case. Here’s a table showing his usage and offensive rating (points produced per 100 individual possessions) month-by-month.

Deni Avdija Offensive Efficiency by Month

MONTH USG ORTG
MONTH USG ORTG
OCT/NOV 13.3% 104
DEC 17.3% 107
JAN 15.0% 107
FEB 15.5% 105
MAR/APR 19.4% 102
SEASON 16.3% 106

Keep in mind that in February and March/April, the league’s offensive efficiency was 114-115 points per 100 possessions. A more accurate way to describe his latter part of the season performance is that he played with more aggressiveness and used more possessions. That may lead to improvement in the future, but his actual performance — in terms of doing things that help teams win games — did not improve.

His calling card this season was defense. That end of the floor remains the most difficult to measure with stats. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric estimated Avdija was an excellent defender this season — 35th overall and 8th among SFs. On the other hand, ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus metric calculated that he was a net negative on defense and ranked him 66th among SFs.

NBA tracking data showed that players shot about 2.3% worse when Avdija was the closest defender, which is a good number.

One of the lessons I learned from my defensive tracking project a few years ago is that good defense isn’t about one defender locking up his man, but is about stopping the other team from scoring. A defender who can stymie his own man has some value, but only if it’s limiting the other team’s ability to score.

How is that relevant to Avdija? First, the Wizards were 3.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the floor. That’s good, but their defense with him in the game would still have ranked just 21st this season (about the level of the New Orleans Pelicans or Los Angeles Lakers). With him sitting, they were the level of the 29th ranked Houston Rockets.

Second, the defensive part of PPA blends the individual with the team’s performance when the player is on the court, as compared to league average. In other words, players get more credit for helping make an average defense good than they do for helping raise a terrible defense to bad.

The defense part of PPA sees Avdija as a good but not elite defender. This matches with both watching him play and with conversations I’ve had with assistant coaches and front office personnel around the league. As Avdija played more, the scouting reports reflected what folks who watch the Wizards play frequently observed: he doesn’t go for fakes, and he’s big, physical and moves his feet well, but he can be attacked with quick and decisive moves. And he’s prone to fouling.

A couple assistant coaches said they knew immediately if their players paid attention to the scouting report late in the season by how they attacked Avdija. The assistant coaches I talked with also said Avdija seemed relatively easy to frustrate — being called for fouls, teammates blowing assignments, his own mistakes, or simply being beaten by a good opponent seemed to get in his head. They said they were reaching this view by his on-court body language and behavior on the bench when he came out of a game.

Here’s a look at the team’s defensive rating month-by-month this season with Avdija on the floor.

Wizards Defensive Rating by Month with Avdija

MONTH tDRTG
MONTH tDRTG
OCT/NOV 102.6
DEC 116.1
JAN 115.9
FEB 111.1
MAR/APR 120.4

By the way, the table above does not show that Avdija is a bad or subpar defender, or even that his individual defensive effort slipped. What it does show is that his defensive impact waned over the course of the season. That’s unsurprising for a perimeter defender — centers typically have the biggest and most stable impact because of their ability to influence more possessions. It’s also another indicator that at this point, he’s a good defender, not an excellent one.

While Avdija’s strength is his defense, he needs to continue working and improving on that end.

What matters most, of course, is the player’s overall impact. In basketball, there’s limited ability to make offense/defense substitutions so teams have to take the whole player. As mentioned previously, Avdija’s overall impact grades out to solidly below average this season.

Kevin Broom

Here’s the key to the ekg above:

  • Wizards silver: rolling full-season PPA after each game
  • Wizards red: 5-game rolling average
  • Wizards blue: 10-game rolling average
  • Cherry blossom pink: 20-game rolling average

Game-by-game analysis shows that he strung together three consecutive average or better PPA scores just twice this season. Another way of looking at performance is by how often he hit certain PPA benchmarks.

  • 200+ PPA: 6 — 7%
  • 150+: 10 — 12%
  • 100+: 27 — 33%
  • Below 100: 55 — 67%
  • Replacement level or worse: 31 — 38%
  • Negative: 16 — 20%

What should be on his offseason workout plan?

  1. Shooting. It’s difficult to thrive in the NBA as a 31.7% three-point shooter unless you’re an overwhelming athlete who can get to the rim at will and convert at a high level. That’s not Avdija.
  2. Ball handling — especially with his left hand. He made a handful of plays with his left hand late in the season, which was nice to see. The more he played, the more defenders forced him left. His tendency was to pick up the dribble, pass quickly to a teammate, or turn his back so he could keep the ball in his right hand. To unlock what seem to be above-average passing skills, he needs to be able to attack with either hand.
  3. Strength. He doesn’t need to bulk up or add weight — quickness is paramount in the NBA. Getting stronger would help him hold up at the point of attack, enable him to switch onto bigger defenders, help him on the defensive glass, and improve his finishing at-rim.
  4. Decision-making. Overall, I think his basketball IQ is pretty good. What I’m talking about here is his shoot-pass options. He caused a fair number of turnovers by driving into the lane and trying to force a pass to a big man. I’d like to see him drive all the way to rim and finish or draw a foul — or draw defenders and then make the pass.
  5. Stop complaining. I know Bradley Beal sets a terrible example. But, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Wes Unseld Sr. coaching moments. In one particular game, Bullets forward Harvey Grant kept losing defensive rebounds to opponents coming over his back. Grant started in on the refs, but Unseld cut him off with these words: “Get him off your back, Harvey.” Back to Avdija: the refs have been consistent in how they officiate Avdija, which is consistent with how they officiate across the league. Stop whining about it and adjust. In Avdija’s case, the simplest fix: don’t put your hands straight up and then come forward and bump opponents with your chest. That’s a foul, and it’s getting called that way.

Overall, Avdija remains a reasonably promising prospect. If he improves his skills — especially the shooting — he could be a valuable contributor to a good team. The question for him is the same as it is for nearly every young player: Is he willing to do the work to improve?

Who’s next?

Poll

Which player should Kevin analyze next?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Rui Hachimura
    (66 votes)
  • 15%
    Kyle Kuzma
    (31 votes)
  • 15%
    Daniel Gafford
    (31 votes)
  • 34%
    Corey Kispert
    (67 votes)
195 votes total Vote Now