The NBA has been tracking Deni Avdija for longer than many college prospects. He made his EuroLeague debut at age 17 in 2018. Then last summer, he put together the signature performance that propelled him to the top of the draft discussion—his MVP showing at the FIBA U20 European Championship that helped Israel take gold.
Now, with the NBA draft set for Nov. 18, the 19-year-old has "blown away" the Golden State Warriors, who own the No. 2 overall pick, according to The Athletic's Ethan Strauss.
After he returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2019-20 for a limited role, with a combined 18.5 percent usage (combined EuroLeague and Israeli BSL, per RealGM), we only saw flashes of spot-up jumpers, cuts and passes, as opposed to the stretches of takeover scoring and playmaking he delivered in July against teenagers.
All of the questions related to Avdija's game are tied to a big one: Does he have star potential, or will he be the role player he was for Maccabi?
Where Will Avdija Max Out as a Shooter?
Opinions vary on the 6'8", 210-pound Avdija's shooting and whether it's a plus or a minus on the scouting report. Buying versus selling the jumper could significantly move the needle when projecting his future.
This past season, he shot 27.7 percent from three in EuroLeague and 37.5 percent in the I-BSL, in which he played more (26.6 minutes) and averaged 1.3 makes per game.
Over the years, the results have been all over the place, particularly in FIBA: 28.6 percent during the 2019 U20s, 40.7 percent during the 2018 U20s, 34 percent during the 2017 U16s. In 33 games with Maccabi in 2018-19, he combined to shoot 27.7 percent from deep.
The made shots have seemed pretty persuasive in terms of the eye test on his mechanics. If you never looked at his percentages, you would likely think he was a more natural shooter.
Arguably the biggest worry lies within his free-throw numbers—to some, a stronger indicator when projecting shooting. He shot below 56 percent in both leagues this past season. In 140 games dating back to 2017, he's shot 56.5 percent from the free-throw line.
The other concern is the lack of shooting versatility. A heavy majority of his shots have come off the catch as a standstill shooter. He hasn't been used often for running hard off screens and shooting after movement. Occasionally, when his confidence is pumping, he will ice his man and knock down a pull-up or step-back three. But outside of FIBA tournaments, when he was a top option with a green light, it's been rare to see Avdija connect off the dribble.
On the other hand, he turned 19 in January, and his role has constantly changed, which could affect his rhythm. And in total for 2019-20, he made 40 threes in 47 combined games, averaging just 19.8 minutes. He's already capable, and his size and form suggest he should continue to remain a spot-up threat in a spaced-out NBA.
But how much will the lack of shooting versatility limit his scoring? And are his free-throw numbers a result of mental or fundamental issues?
How Well Will Avdija Be Able to Create and Separate?
Avdija played mostly off the ball with Maccabi, but for Israel, he was used as an initiator, and the encouraging results increased his NBA appeal. He averaged 5.3 assists at the U20 tournament but just 1.7 assists during the season. Can the creation and playmaking translate against NBA wings and forwards?
Thinking about taking Avdija in the top five means buying his FIBA performance and potential to develop into a player whom coaches can run offense through.
A skeptic may point out that Avdija lacks wiggle and explosiveness. A believer may buy his ball-handling, IQ, passing skills and unselfishness.
The bigger question may concern shot creativity for himself. This past year, he relied mostly on transition, catch-and-shoot chances and cuts. He's a driving threat as well as a comfortable finisher with his floater and layup packages. But no dribble-jumper game could limit his scoring potential and upside in general.
Best Used as a Wing or a Big?
Versatility defines Avdija's game. A best-case scenario pictures him playing either forward spot depending on matchups.
He projects best as a 4 who can exploit his ball skills and mobility from baseline to baseline. But at this stage of his physical development, certain power forwards will be able to play through him inside the arc. And there is some fear that he may have trouble defending NBA wings around the perimeter.
Does he have the quickness to deny dribble penetration? Can he hold his ground in the paint when matched up with bigger, stronger 4s? Checking both those boxes could turn Avdija into a valuable defender because he already demonstrates admirable IQ, focus and competitiveness.
Offensively, his jumper will need to improve to work as a wing, where he would create mismatches with his size.
Avdija in the Draft
Scouts feel confident in Avdija's floor. It's his ceiling projection that's led to debate within NBA circles.
In terms of draft stock, he has two key factors going for him: extreme uncertainty regarding 2020 prospects and the fact that Avdija can fit in every lineup. It's tough to picture any scenario in which he slides outside the top 10.
While Avdija's game might not scream "All-Star," there are also plenty of questions about LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman and everyone else in the class. In this particular draft, teams may value the certainty that comes with Avdija's tools, versatile skill set, experience, intangibles and comfort level in the top league outside the NBA.
Plus, for the majority of lottery teams, drafting him wouldn't lead to any positional log jams. He's a flexible piece to build with.
Whether Avdija is a centerpiece or a supporting piece, however, will be determined by his progress as a shooter, creator and defender.