- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2020

Even for Deni Avdija, a rookie who comes to the Washington Wizards already with professional experience in Israel, it took a moment to settle in after stepping onto the court for his first NBA preseason game Sunday night.

“In the beginning, I’m going to be honest and I’ll say, like, ‘Whoa,’” Avdija said postgame. “Like, you’re in Barclays Center and you’re playing against all those players you saw on TV.”

But Avdija wasn’t star-struck — at least not for long — in a matchup against Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. In Washington’s first preseason game, the first-round draft pick soon came into his own, showing a confidence that helped buoy his team during the 119-114 loss.

The 19-year-old finished with 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting to go along with four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes. While Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook didn’t play — meaning Wizards fans didn’t get a real hint of what the squad might look like this season — Avdija’s debut shows early promise that he could be a key contributor in his first year.

“First of all, I’m not afraid of anything,” Avdija said. “And don’t expect it to be perfect like that all the time. And I know it. I mean, I shot perfect today, but I’m not expected to shoot like that next time. I’m going to put those shots in confident, I’m gonna keep those reps. I’m repping a lot, a lot, a lot of shots and teaming up with my mechanics. But I know I’m just going to shoot it with confidence and what’s going to happen, going to happen.”

Playing with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the EuroLeague for two seasons, Avdija shot 31.6 percent from three-point range. He knocked down all three of his triples Sunday night, though, including one from the right wing to open his scoring account.

He drained a second-chance trey late in the second quarter, too, before taking a defensive rebound the length of the floor as time ticked down. Avdija showed his speed despite a 6-foot-9 frame, finishing with a floater at the buzzer.

Avdija also displayed his post moves, working down low at certain points and finishing over defenders.

“I’m not going to expect the next games that I’ll be perfect from the three-point line,” Avdija said. “But, you know, if I have that confidence and I’m going to shoot it, so, you know, I might as well not be afraid.”

Perhaps one of his most impressive contributions came on an assist. Avdija found Moritz Wagner open under the rim for a dunk, splitting two defenders with a bounce pass. He has only played 24 minutes of preseason basketball, but Avdija lived up to the billing in those minutes.

He credited his experience playing professionally abroad for his quick start, although Avdija cautioned against creating inflated expectations. Still, a 15-point performance is strong start for Washington’s first-round selection.

“He’s not going to go every game and not miss a shot,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “But he played the right way. He wasn’t looking to force anything. If there’s a pass, he made the pass. Open shot, he made the open shot. He drove when he had to drive. I thought he just — he was solid.

“And in order to have success in this league, you really got to just be solid. Spectacular, it only happens occasionally. But if you’re solid, you’re gonna have big-time success in this league.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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