But Brooks had a lesson for his young wing player: Don’t let wins and stat lines determine your happiness.
“I said, ‘Deni, I like to see you smile.’ He says, ‘Coach, I’m having fun!’ ” Brooks said. “I said: ‘Well, that’s the point of the game. Have fun every night. Fun should not be predicated on making a shot or missing a shot because if that’s the case, then, if you’re a great shooter, you’re only going to have fun every other shot.’ ”
Brooks’s sage words were part of a bigger message he’s trying to instill in Avdija as the forward looks to make the most of his first year on a Wizards team that sits three games out of the play-in tournament following a 110-107 win at Golden State on Friday night. Whether Avdija turned in a substandard shooting performance, as he did Friday when he scored two points; earned a double-double in garbage time, as he did against Detroit on April 1; or poured in 16 points in the game against Orlando, no minutes are wasted minutes.
Games, after all, are almost the only time this season Avdija gets to work on his skills. Low-stakes opportunities to develop are few and far between.
“The thing with Deni and all the rookies, there’s no summer league, there’s no September — no training camp — and there’s no shootarounds and no practices,” Brooks said. “That’s very difficult, and then there were safety protocols for three weeks. So the consistency — it’s hard to say how players, what they can do and how they can get better. But I think what he’s going through is no different than any rookie. Very few can go through a rookie year and not go through ups and downs.”
Said Avdija: “I felt like, all right, we’re going to play a lot of games, didn’t practice a lot, but I know myself and the coaches do a really good job with me and [helping me] understand the system, understanding the NBA rules and game style. And then I feel like every game, I’m just understanding things way better.”
The oddity of Avdija’s rookie year is why Brooks, who often reminds reporters that the forward began his career as a 19-year-old in a foreign country, is understanding of some tumult.
Avdija is averaging 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds this season and shooting 41.8 percent overall and 32 percent from three. But before a strong quartet of games beginning with the double-double against Detroit and ending in the win against Orlando, Avdija had three low-scoring games and a 12-point, eight-rebound performance against Indiana. He followed that up with a three-point performance against the Hornets in which he made 1 of 10 from the field.
Scoring inconsistencies have come along as Avdija searches for an identity on court. The Wizards saw his potential as a secondary playmaker when they selected him ninth overall in this past year’s draft, and Avdija flourished most as a starter in his first 16 games of the season when he was active on the defensive end and able to push in transition.
But as the season wore on, Avdija found himself more and more often parked around the arc on offense, waiting for the ball to come to him as Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal and, more recently, Rui Hachimura dominated primary scoring duties.
Still, the 20-year-old feels his playmaking abilities are coming along despite fewer opportunities.
“I feel like the teammates and coaches trust me more on playmaking and creating for others,” Avdija said. “Me, myself, I love creating for others. I’m always going to make the extra pass to other teammates to make the shot. That’s my game; that’s how I grew up playing. That’s my game style, and I won’t change. That’s me.”
Brooks can depend on Avdija to help Washington out on the boards — no small feat considering Westbrook chases down 10.6 rebounds per game, nearly five more than the next best active rebounder on the team, Hachimura (5.8). At 6-foot-9, Avdija’s size and experience in the Israeli pro league, where the forward has said he learned to play a bruising style of defense, remains a critical asset to the Wizards.
He showed as much Friday, when he balanced out his two-point scoring night by leaping for a huge block on Golden State’s Damion Lee with Washington up one with 1.2 seconds to play.
“Without that, we probably don’t have a chance to close the game out,” Brooks said.
He later noted: “He’s strong. He’s a strong kid, and sometimes I don’t think he realizes how strong he is and how fast he can run. I think as he gets more experience, he’s going to see that more — he’s rebounding right now at a very high level. And that’s great because he plays with that fearless approach around the rim and we need rebounders. . . . His shot is going to keep improving. I’m not really worried about his threes; he works on it. He’s doing everything he has to do. I’m more trying to get him to get involved in attacking and trying to get to the free throw line even more.”