Deni Avdija ready for pivotal summer, possible extension talks

Avdija ready for pivotal summer originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Kyle Kuzma may have described Deni Avdija's 2022-23 season better than his numbers could, as his year-over-year stats produced only slight differences.

"I think that he had a stretch of more games this year than last year where he put together good games. I think he can build on that," Kuzma said.

Avdija's game-by-game ceiling indeed was higher this season, at least in terms of his scoring and rebounding. After reaching the 20-point threshold just once last season, he accomplished the feat six times this year. He also reeled in double-digit rebounds 15 times this season compared to four times a year ago.

This important context adds layers to his overall season numbers. Avdija improved his yearly stats from 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game to 9.2 and 6.4, respectively. That was, however, in slightly more minutes, which left his points per-36 minutes (12.4) the same year-over-year.

By going off for big games this season more regularly, Avdija showed more of his offensive upside. The trick moving forward will be to make those types of performances more and more frequent.

"I think it needs to be more consistent. I showed how I can help the team in a variety of ways, but also on bad nights I need to find a way to get back into the game," Avdija said.

Avdija plans to work on his outside shot this summer and also his ballhandling skills, particularly with his left hand. Avdija knows the scouting report from other teams focuses on forcing him to the left as he is more comfortable and effective driving to his right.

Improving his outside shot could open up other parts of his offensive game. Avdija's 3-point percentage dropped this season from 31.7% the year before to 29.7%. If he can more consistently make threes, teams will have to respect his shooting range and that could create opportunities for him to attack closeouts off the dribble and to draw more attention when running pick-and-rolls.

There are also some less tangible areas where Avdija can improve.

"I think with Deni everything is about confidence and mindset. We've seen many, many games when we're playing lesser opponents and he dominates," Kuzma said.

Wizards president Tommy Sheppard sees it similarly.

"When he's confident, he does some amazing things out on the floor," Sheppard said.

As Avdija charts out his offseason, it would be helpful if he can get through the summer healthy. In his first offseason in the summer of 2021, he was coming off a broken ankle he suffered late in his rookie season. Last summer he was healthy at the onset but hurt his groin shortly before training camp while playing for the Israeli national team.

Kristaps Porzingis says he and Avdija have plans to work out together this offseason. Porzingis can help Avdija continue to refine his game, as the two have grown close over the past calendar year.

"Most importantly, this guy, he has the want and the hunger and I know this summer he's going to be working. He wants to get better," Porzingis said.

The Wizards would love to see a big leap forward for Avdija, who is still only 22 years old. His development is a crucial element in their overall plan, as a key rotation player and the longest-tenured of their recent first-round picks.

Avdija could also benefit immensely from a big year next season, as he's entering the final year of his rookie deal. He is technically eligible for an extension if his camp and the Wizards can agree on a new contract by the October deadline.

Sheppard commented on the possibility of a new deal with Avdija during his postseason press conference.

"We don't really ever negotiate publicly. I think Deni has been a bright spot as a young player that has come through and been able to start or not start, defend multiple positions. He's done a lot and he's earned more responsibility. We made a trade this year to help elevate his area," Sheppard explained.

"[As far as] extensions, if there is something that makes sense for both sides, certainly we're willing to sit down and talk about it. We've got a lot of bigger things to do between now and free agency. We've gotta really focus on the draft."

The Wizards have gone several different routes with players in Avdija's current position over the years. Some have reached extensions early like John Wall, others have done so after playing out the final year of their rookie contracts like Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. Others, like Kelly Oubre Jr. and most recently Rui Hachimura, have been traded after extensions were not reached.

None of those instances perfectly paralleled the position Avdija is in now. But what they do tell us is that even if Avdija doesn't get an extension this fall, it doesn't mean he won't get one the following summer. The Wizards would have the option to make him a restricted free agent.

Avdija said his contract future is not of concern at this moment. He will let his agents and the Wizards handle business matters.

"I love to win and I think I'm a winning player. D.C. has been my home for three years, but for now we don't know and I guess only time will tell," Avdija said.