Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija (9) in action during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Deni Avdija

The Israeli-born and bred player is a rising star in the NBA.

By Howard Blas, JNS

Israel’s Deni Avdija isn’t letting the Washington Wizard’s abysmal (nine wins, 45 losses) record get in the way of his own personal record-breaking season. The 23-year-old small forward was the Wizards’ ninth overall pick in the first round of the 2020 draft and has spent his career to date with the team.

The Kibbutz Beit Zera native and former Maccabi Tel Aviv player is beloved by the Washington Jewish and general community. Their love continues to grow as Avdija’s minutes and stats improve almost daily.

On Feb. 14 in the team’s 133-126 road loss to fellow 23-year-old star Zion Willamson and his New Orleans Pelicans, Avdija scored a game-best and career-high 43 points. He was 13 for 24 on field goals and six for 10 on three-pointers (a career-high) in his 40 minutes of playing time. In addition, he pulled down 15 rebounds, and had three assists and one block as he achieved his eighth double-double of the season.

Avdija’s 43 points are the most for a Wizard player this season, and he became the first Wizard to score 40-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a game since Moses Malone accomplished that feat on Jan. 12, 1987.

The NBA.com commentators praised Avdija throughout the game, calling one of his drives to the basket “the drive of the game.”

“He was taking the right shots that the offense gave him. We put the ball in his hands and he was attacking. But then when he was open from three, he let it go. He just read the game well. And we put him in positions to take advantage of his quickness and his athleticism to the rim and he shot when he was open. It was really a team effort tonight,” recounted interim head coach Brian Keefe in a post-game press conference.

Avdija patiently answered many questions from the media post-game. Asked what had changed for him during his very successful month of February, he thought carefully and replied, “Nothing has really changed, I’m just more confident. I’m working hard, I’m more patient.”

He continued: “It’s been a long four years for me, with ups and downs. I’m sure I’m still gonna have some downs like every other basketball player. But seeing my growth and my teammates here with me throughout this process has been great. Without them and their push, I couldn’t have this good of a stretch.”

It has been a good week for Avdija, who continues to shine even as the team keeps losing. He scored 21 points, and had 13 rebounds and 39 minutes of playing in the team’s 119-113 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 10, and scored 25 points and 7 rebounds in 34 minutes of court time as the Wizards lost to the Dallas Mavericks 112-104.

Following the game against Philadelphia, Keefe praised Avdija’s performance. “He has shown some tremendous growth, even in the last six to eight games. He had a big game on the board, guarding multiple guys, his playmaking, his attacking; he is showing growth. I’m trusting him to make decisions with the ball and attack the rim. But what I like is his rebounding. He has been hot these last few games, and that is what I need from him,” he said.

Avdija’s impressive statistics include scoring more than 20 points in a career-best 10 games, including four straight for the first time in his career. He has also scored in double figures in 36 games this season, including in 21 of his last 25 outings.

Avdija feels that the key to his success this season has been “sticking with it. I know my spots now; I am confident in my shots. I worked hard this summer, and I’m in a good mood.”

He is also pleased with the support the Wizards have shown him since arriving in the NBA. “Obviously, the franchise believed in me and signed me for another four years. I’m just playing to compete, to win, to not overthink too much.”

Avdija, who signed a four-year contract worth $20 million, will reportedly earn a base salary of more than $6 million this year.

When asked about his age, Avdija playfully replied: “23 is young in life, but in this game, you grow up fast. Four years in this league really matures you. I’m still young and excited, and have a lot to work on. I’m not stopping here!”

The Wizards resume play on Feb. 22 at the Denver Nuggets following the Feb. 18 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis.