WASHINGTON -- Very little about Deni Avdija's time in the NBA so far has been normal. He was drafted in November of 2020, just after the NBA finished it's 2019-20 season in a bubble. There was no summer league and a shortened training camp before games were mostly played in empty arenas. His first offseason after his rookie year was shorter than normal, as the Wizards played into June, and he spent most of it rehabbing a fractured ankle.
This summer will be Avdija's first opportunity to improve during a regularly scheduled and healthy offseason. And he's excited about it, especially after the way he finished his sophomore campaign with a strong sprint to the finish line.
"[It's] really big. I have a lot to work on, a lot of stuff to work on and I know it. I know what I need to do better. Just finishing the season like that gives you motivation and energy. You know you can make plays, you know you can help the team win. I feel like just taking the next step," Avdija said.
Avdija, 21, closed the season averaging 8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting 43.2% from the field, 31.7% from three and 75.7% from the free-throw line. He improved in each of those categories from his rookie year.
Avdija ended the season on a high note. After going scoreless in three straight games from March 9-12, he averaged 12.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his final 16 games. During that time he had a game against the Pistons on March 25 with 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a block. Against the Timberwolves on April 5, he had 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.
Avdija said he was dealing with some personal matters during the time he struggled in March and it was a lesson in compartmentalizing as a professional.
"You need to know how to disconnect from the outside world and play basketball. That's what I did," he said.
Avdija said he plans to spend some time in Israel to see family and friends to begin his offseason. After that, he will get to work training for 2022-23 with some specific goals in mind.
Chief among them: develop his left hand. Avdija is a gifted ball-handler for his size, at 6-foot-9, but tends to favor going right.
"I feel like going left is really important," Avdija said.
Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. went through a laundry list of areas Avdija could improve this summer and also mentioned his left hand.
"I think some of it is feeling how defenders are guarding him. He's obviously a skilled playmaker. It's a little thing, but improving his court vision, making plays with his left hand, attacking and scoring with his left hand," Unseld Jr. said.
"His finishing is something we've talked about at length this season, it has to improve. But I like where he is as far as his aggression level. I think he's got a lot of confidence right now, confidence in his shot, and he's looked at as a playmaker for this group. I hope to see that carry over and use that this summer and expand it a little bit."
Finishing at the rim is an area Avdija showed plenty of room for improvement this season. He shot 63.3% within three feet of the basket, which ranked among the lowest on the Wizards roster. For comparison, 6-foot-1 point guard Raul Neto shot 66.7% on those plays. Rui Hachimura shot 84%, while Corey Kispert was at 79.1% and Kyle Kuzma, who is nearly exactly Avdija's size, shot 74.4%.
But overall, Avdija has plenty of positives from this season to take with him into the summer. He emerged as one of the Wizards' best defenders, to the point Unseld Jr. trusted him with increasingly difficult defensive assignments, and also grew as an offensive playmaker.
The ninth overall pick in 2020, Avdija has shown the potential to be an impact player on both ends of the floor. Maybe a normal and healthy offseason will lead to a big leap for him next season.