If there’s a silver lining to this moribund Wizards season it’s the possible emergence of Deni Avdija as more than an end of the rotation specialist. There will be caveats and “tap the brakes” warnings in this article, which I’ll get to later. But first, let’s look at what he’s done the past week.
During that time, Avdija has posted five consecutive games with an above average Player Production Average (PPA). PPA is my overall rating metric that credits players for things that help a team win and dings them for things that don’t — each in proper proportion. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better.
This is the first time in Avdija’s career he’s put together a stretch this good. In fact, it’s the first time he’s done it for even four games. His overall PPA over the past five games: 168. That’s the kind of performance level — if sustained over a full season — warrants inclusion in All-Star and even fringe All-NBA discussions.
Over the past five, he’s averaging per 100 team possessions 26.7 points, 13.9 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.4 steals. Here’s the list of players producing at that level over the full season (sorted by PPA):
- Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets — PPA: 242
- Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks — PPA: 219
- Giannis Antekokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks — PPA: 212
- LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers — PPA: 194
- Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics — PPA: 192
- Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings — PPA: 163
- Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves — PPA: 152
- Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets — PPA: 128
This is the first tap the brakes moment. These guys have done it over a full season. Avdija’s done it for five games spread over a single week. Think about how good Avdija’s looked recently, and then keep in mind that the guys on that list above have played as well or better for entire seasons and careers. Some of those guys don’t have a full season in their career as “bad” as Avdija’s five-game hot streak.
It’s the best stretch of Avdija’s career, and it’s really not close.
Offensively, Avdija is on a heater. Over that last five games, he’s shooting 47.6% from three and his effective field goal percentage is a staggering 72.4%. His offensive rating is a heady 121 on 21.9% usage.
And here’s the next caution. Over a full season, these numbers are great. Heck, over five games they’re great. But the sample is minuscule. Yes, he shot 47.6% from three, but the total: 10-21. The difference between 10-21 and his career norm is a little over three made shots.
During the last five games, he’s converted 73.0% of his two-point attempts. His career average is 53.3%. On twos, that’s 27-37 vs. the 20-37 he’d have shot using his career norms.
Now, it’s not all hot streak. From the free throw line, he’s shot 53.3% (8-15) vs. a 73.3% career average (73.8% this season). That difference: three fewer makes.
Want another caveat? In this very small sample, it’s fair to question his overall impact on the game. The team has been -22 with him on the floor over the past five games. Their overall scoring margin over the same span: -3. They’ve been better with him on the floor in just one of the five games (the loss to the Toronto Raptors).
One more caveat — turnovers. Over the five-game stretch, he’s averaging 4.9 per 100 team possessions. About 23% of his attempts to use a possession resulted in a turnover. Average is 13.6%. His season average is about 15%. Only three players have a higher turnover percentage this season: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors; Ben Simmons, Brooklyn Nets, and Daishen Nix, Houston Rockets.
And his assist to turnover ratio over the past five is 1.6 to 1. That’s a bit below league average (1.8 to 1) and his own season average of 1.7 to 1.
This season, nine players turn the ball over as frequently as Avdija has over his last five games. They include some of the biggest names in the game, including Russell Westbrook (the reigning king of turnovers), Giannis, Trae Young, John Wall, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Jordan Poole, Ja Morant and Joel Embiid.
Most of these guys generate significantly more assists — the exceptions being scoring bigs like Giannis, Zion and Embiid. The other guy who doesn’t is Poole, who rates below average in PPA this season.
Jokic, by the way, is an absolute freak. He commits 5.2 turnovers per 100 team possessions while generating 14.3 assists — a 2.8 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.
To be clear, while there’s reason to be cautious in drawing meaning from the past five games, this is not the same thing as Andray Blatche’s fake improvement when Ernie Grunfeld hit the reset button and traded away most of the team’s veterans. In that season, Blatche’s “improvement” was phony — his per game numbers went up because he got more minutes, not because he was playing better, or even differently.
Avdija’s play has legitimately improved over the past five games. The shooting will cool off, and he’ll have to figure out how to generate this level of overall production when teams do basic game planning for him and force him out of his pet moves.
He’s been good enough to give reason for hope. At the same time, the fact that he’s never had this kind of success previously is reason to remain cautious until he shows he can sustain quality play over weeks, months and seasons.
But hey, at least there’s hope.