An inside look at top 2020 NBA Draft prospect Deni Avdija
There is no surefire prospect available at the 2020 NBA Draft. Most pundits think Georgia guard Anthony Edwards is the most complete player available, but it’s anyones guess how things will shake out after the top pick.
The Golden State Warriors are guaranteed to have a top-five pick this year, with a 14% shot at getting the first selection. The Dubs are reportedly keeping tabs on several prospects, including Israeli forward Deni Avdija.
Avdija is averaging 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in the Israeli Basketball Premier League for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Scouts like the 19-year-old’s feel for the game, and playmaking abilities.
I caught up with Israeli NBA reporter Eran Soroka, who has been keeping a close eye on Avdija this season.
Q: When do you think Avdija started to make a name for himself as a player?
Soroka: “He’s playing on the big stage. The EuroLeague is the second-best in the world. He played well at a younger age, like at the Under-19, and Under-21 tournaments, and led Israel —which had never won a championship— to two straight titles. He played dominant basketball, and was amazing on both sides of the court. He played above the level of the rest, and did it so graciously. He makes things looks easy. The way he dominated reminded people of Luka Doncic, now he’s not Luka Doncic, but he showed how good he can be. When Maccabi Tel Aviv started at the beginning of the season, they had Omri Casspi, and they had a full squad with [former NBA players] Quincy Acy, Tarik Black, but as the season progressed, a lot of players went down with injuries. Once Casspi went down, Deni started to get his minutes because of all the injuries, and started to get a lot of playing time. When he got the playing time, he got the confidence, which is all he needed. Then, he started to perform at a very good level. He made some amazing plays in a game against one of the top teams in the EuroLeague. He had some big dunks, and an in-your-face 3-pointer after making some beautiful moves over Jan Vesely, who is one of the top two-or-three players in the EuroLeague. This game was the coming out party, he proved to the people who weren’t sure that he was able to do it. He wasn’t a dominant player, for me he’s like a Joe Ingles type player. He makes everybody better, smart passes, smart cuts, he can dominate without having the ball in his hands. When he does have the ball, he can beat you with a lot of savviness. Then they had a game against Anadolu Efes Istanbul, which is one of the best teams. They have Shane Larkin, who is the MVP of the EuroLeague. At the end of the game, Anadolu setup a play to get Larkin the ball in isolation. Avdija was guarding him, so Anadolu kept running a pick-and-roll to get the switch, but Avdija ditched the switch, and made Larkin take a tough 3-pointer to win the game, which gave Maccabi a big win over the top-team in Europe. The maturity of guarding the best player in Europe, and making him miss was a good measurement of his growth. He’s playing with a lot of swag, he can go right, he can go left, and he can shoot from the outside. After Doncic’s rise, it made a lot of people notice Advija. When they saw at the age of 19 that he can do such things against quality opponents, and good former NBA players, it made his stock even higher.
Q: One of the knocks on Advija is his shooting. How can he improve on that when he gets to the NBA?
Soroka: He can be very streaky. He will shoot 40% one month, and then fall to like 10% the next month. But, I think now in the last couple of weeks, Advija has an advantage over the other prospects because he is playing. He’s playing against professionals in the Israeli League, he let every one see he’s growing his confidence in his shot. During the shutdown Advija concentrated on improving his shooting. He talked about during a recent interview and said he’s taking hundreds of shots a day from the outside. He became a much better catch-and-shoot player, he’s shooting 11-for-22 over the last while from the outside. High volume, and high percentage. The other knock was his free throw shooting. Earlier in the season he was shooting around 50-to-55%, but since play resumed, he’s shooting 68%. Not Mark Price today, but he’s better. It looks like he did use the advantage that he had, which is having a competitive place to play to showcase his skills. I don’t know how it will translate to where he’s drafted, but the fact is that he’s playing every day.
Q: How do you think he stacks up to other NBA players when it comes to his athleticism?
Soroka: I think Avdija has some good things going for him. He’s not looking like the most athletic guy, but he is quick, and has a good first step. He’s got good fundamentals when it comes to footwork. He knows how to be in a good stance, he knows how to take the right angle on a switch, and he knows where to be on both offense and defense. He’s not easily movable, he’s strong. His father was a good player in Europe, so he learned a lot off him. His positioning is good on defense, but we won’t know how he would do against a James Harden or Russell Westbrook, but he does have good fundamentals. His first EuroLeague game against Khimki Moscow, who has Jonas Jerebko, who he had a couple of great blocks against. He made a good read, and beat Jerebko to the baseline. He’s very intelligent, which can cover some of lack of athleticism. He’s very agile, versatile, has the wingspan. He has good size for a 3, and can play as a small 4 as well. He’s playing with a lot of confidence.
Q: What do you think of his fit with the Warriors?
Soroka: If I look at the top-three places to land, and I think Atlanta can be a great fit from the perspective because they’re a young team. I think he can fit very well with the Warriors. First of all, he’s learning a lot from Casspi, especially on the mental side. He said he’s picking Casspi’s mind, and Acy’s mind on how to be the in NBA. He’s a good kid who learns quickly. If he can maintain a 35% from the 3-point line, and make good reads both offensively and defensively, he can be a good fit with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. When I imagine Avdija’s smarts in terms of making the right cuts, and right plays, he would work well with Steph and Klay. I think people in Israel are drooling at the thought of Avdija joining the Warriors. One possible knock is that Avdija is such a young player, so he might not fit with a team whose championship window is now. He played more minutes against top competition than the other top prospects in the draft. He’s been playing in the EuroLeague, now in the Israeli League, which is the best outside of the NBA. With so many former NBA players playing here, the game resembles more of the pro style, than it does the NCAA. The other thing is playing with Maccabi, which is a club that has won more than 50 championships. They’re a European powerhouse. When you play for Maccabi, you’re expected to win every game, and every quarter. They had a couple of down years, and when they got Casspi and Avdija, they became a contender again. He knows what the pressure is like. You have hundreds of thousands of supporters. Playing with Maccabi is one of the best places to prepare yourself mentally for the NBA. They play two-or-three games a week, so he’s getting in a lot of game minutes. His nature, and maturity make him a fit. I don’t know if he can be a starter on a championship team, but if he can keep improving his shooting, I think he can be an amazing fit in Steve Kerr’s style of play.