The upcoming season is the most important of Deni Avdija’s career so far. Though he’ll be just 23, it’ll be his fourth year, and he needs a significant improvement in his performance to make himself part of the team’s future plans.
Through his first three seasons, Avdija has modestly upgraded his production — mostly by getting more rebounds. That’s fine — teams need guys to hit the boards — but the Wizards need some of everything.
His most significant performance uptick came on the defensive end in his second season. He regressed a bit (though he was still an above average defender in my estimation) in year three with an increase in personal fouls and a decrease in overall effectiveness. Some measures indicated that he had among the most challenging matchups in the league game to game, though NBA tracking data also suggest he had little impact on the opponent’s ability to make shots.
Wes Unseld Jr. and the coaching staff seemed to find a few ways Avdija could contribute offensively. The biggest was grab-and-go transition. Avdija has good speed for a 6-9 guy, and he’s a decent passer. While it was among the better plays for him, he ranked in the 46th percentile in transition efficiency for the entire NBA — a bit below average. The big drain on transition efficiency: turnovers. He committed a turnover on 19.5% of his transition possessions, by far the highest mark on the team.
In the half court, Avdija found some success coming off screens or accepting dribble handoffs that got him moving from left to right. That enabled him to drive and finish with his right hand. He also got fouled a decent amount on these kinds of plays. Once again, turnovers were a problem 35 assists to 26 turnovers. His turnover rate on drives was highest on the team for non-centers.
Barring radical improvement, using him as the ball handler in pick and roll sets seems like a bad idea. He was 19th percentile in pick and roll efficiency, which was the lowest mark on the team. Here too, he was plagued by turnovers — 27.7% turnover rate as the pick and roll ball handler.
The biggest challenge he has on offense isn’t turnovers, though — it’s shooting. His accuracy from the floor hasn’t budged in a meaningful way since he entered the league. Here are his three-point percentages by year:
And his two-point percentages:
His free throw shooting has gone up a bit, though it remains solidly below average. Making more shots should — in theory — give him more room to attack closeouts and unlock his passing potential. Without significant improvement on offense, it’ll be difficult for him to be more than a situational defensive specialist on a good team.
So let’s talk doppelgängers. The Statistical Doppelgänger Machine I constructed factors age and an array of pace-neutral statistical factors like minutes played, usage, preferred shot types, offensive and defensive rebounding, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, fouls, scoring, and an overall measure of the player’s production relative to era.
The Machine does not include variables for size, position, or athleticism, but even so individuals tend to get “doppelgängers” who are relatively close in each of those categories.
One interesting thing about Avdija’s comps is the range of positions — from traditional power forwards to guards.
The Avdija Doppelgängers
- Justise Winslow, 2017-18, Miami Heat — This was Winslow’s third season, and Miami still hoped he could become the player they dreamed of when they picked him. Decent rebounder with enough ball handling and passing that teams imagined he could be a point forward or point guard. Unlike Avdija, Winslow couldn’t stay on the floor because of an array of health problems. In eight seasons (so far), he has yet to approach league average.
- Kenny Thomas, 1999-00, Houston Rockets — At 6-7 and 260, Thomas had an 11-year career as a rugged PF. He rebounded and played physical defense, and I had him rated average or better in five of those seasons. He probably wouldn’t have made a team in the modern NBA because of his inability to shoot from anywhere except at the rim.
- Naji Marshall, 2020-21, New Orleans Pelicans — A 6-7 wing with enough skills to tantalize but can’t shoot. An undrafted free agent, Marshall’s overall production has been similar to Avdija’s on a per possession basis.
- Isaiah Roby, 2020-21, Oklahoma City Thunder — A second round pick in 2019, Roby spent three seasons in and out of the lineup with OKC before moving to the San Antonio Spurs, which released him when he injured his ankle. He did crack league average in 2021-22 before slouching back to replacement level last season.
- Josh Hart, 2019-20, New Orleans Pelicans — Now we’re getting somewhere. Hart was the final pick of the first round in 2017, and his first four years were a bit below average. He adapted to poor shooting from deep by cutting back on threes and doing more playmaking in his fifth season, and then he started shooting better. Two differences between Hart and Avdija are worth considering: Hart’s worst three-point shooting season is better than Avdija’s best so far, and can the Wizards afford to wait two or three more seasons to see?
- Bruce Brown, 2019-20, Detroit Pistons — A fascinating comp and another second round pick. This was Brown’s second season — before he abruptly started converting inside and rebounding like a forward. He later figured out how to shoot threes competently and developed into a secondary playmaker with a 2+ to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
- Marcus Smart, 2015-16, Boston Celtics — This was year two Smart when he shot 25.3% from three-point range. He followed it up by shooting 28.4% and 30.1% before getting to around league average for a couple seasons. Then he back slid to around 33%. He also became a terrific defender who was named Defensive Player of the Year. Overall, I have him rated only a bit better than average in four of the last five seasons. Last season, his PPA dropped to 95. That decline may have something to do with why Boston was willing to trade him.
- Jumaine Jones, 2001-02, Cleveland Cavaliers — Jones was a thoroughly average wing who topped out just below average. Like Avdija, he rebounded decently and got some steals.
- James Johnson, 2010-11, Toronto Raptors — Decent forward who was kinda average for 10 different teams in his 14-year career. He was a poor three-point shooter on low volume until he got to the Heat where became a subpar three-point shooter on moderate volume. His nickname was “Bloodsport,” and he has a kickboxing record of 20-0.
- Luther Head, 2005-06, Houston Rockets — This was Head’s rookie year (at 23 years old), and he got off to a reasonably promising start. He hit exactly average in year two and his production and playing time dropped from there.
Who’s next through the Doppelgänger Machine?
This poll is closed