By Rob Charry
As he tries to acclimate to the NBA, Deni Avdija got some much-needed good news: The Israeli first-year pro was picked for the Rising Stars Challenge featuring the league’s 20 top rookies and second-year players.
Avdija, the Washington Wizards’ No. 1 draft pick this season and No. 9 overall, was to represent the World Team against a U.S. squad during All-Star Weekend. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, they won’t play the game this year, as the All-Star events are condensed into just one day of activities on March 7 in Atlanta.
The league’s assistant coaches voted for the Rising Stars representatives.
Avdija, 20, has had an up-and-down rookie season, in part because of contracting COVID-19, which sidelined him for three weeks in January. Shortly after he returned to action, the 6-9 forward lost his spot in the starting lineup. (Avdija had started his first 16 NBA games in part because of injuries to veteran players.)
His coach, Scott Brooks, said he hasn’t lost faith in his prized rookie.
“Rui [Hachimura] and Deni are a big part of our future,” Brooks said Wednesday after practice, also noting the team’s No. 1 draft pick from 2019. “Deni hasn’t played as well as he started the season, but that’s also part of being a young player. You have to be able to fight through it. Adversity helps. Everybody goes through it.”
Avdija is averaging 6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 21 minutes per game.
“I’ve learned a lot of things, faced against a lot of good players — all in all it made me a better player,” Avdija told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m doing whatever I can to help the team win and what the coach needs me to do on the floor.”
The Wizards will celebrate Jewish Heritage Night on Thursday night. The Israeli artist Kobi Aflalo will sing the national anthem and Avdija will address fans in Hebrew and English. Video messages from former NBA player Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to be chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft, and other Maccabi Tel Aviv and Israeli national team players, will be shown throughout the game.