By Max Feldman
Nearly one year ago, FOG published an article spotlighting Deni Avdija to take a deeper look into his game, as European prospects often get overlooked by American media. In that piece, I mentioned, “Any team near the top of the draft would be extraordinarily lucky to land Avdija” (FOG Spotlight: Deni Avdija, 3/19)
A year later, I am back to touch back in on why Deni Avdija should be a guaranteed top three selection.
Deni has been playing for one of the best teams in the world outside of the NBA, and while his productivity in the Euro League is not eye-opening, the sheer presence of an 18 year, now 19 years old, on the court competing and producing with grown men and many former NBA players should not be brushed off. Deni is not a benefactor of American media showing his dunks, his ankle-breakers and deep 3’s all season long similar to other top prospects. Deni’s statistics do not jump off the page like some other top prospects. Yet, he has floated around the lottery all season long, at times dipping for hollow reasoning.
So, why all of the sudden should Deni Avdija’s garner top three consideration…?
When it comes down to evaluation time, uncovering an international prospect that brings about the type of “safety” and “floor” that Deni does brings about is a mostly unprecedented case. I have found myself higher on Deni throughout the entire process, but when it came down to rating Avdija on the FOG Aggregate Model, I was struck to find that Deni simply does not have many weaknesses to his game. The vision, the fluidity, the outlet passes, the feel for the game, the timely cuts, the P&R handling ability, the smooth shot release and the offensive versatility all stand as the widely recognized highlight skills. But diving deeper, there are two things that strike me about why Avdija deserves to be alongside LaMelo Ball in the top tier of the 2020 NBA Draft. First, the ability to guard all five positions. Deni can guard the 2-4 with effectiveness as a 6-9 wing with solid strength for his age blended with quick feet and advanced defensive instincts. Even further, Deni can guard the pick and roll effectively switching, helping or staying on any positional player. Finding a player with the defensive versatility of Avdija is rare, and although there are better perimeter and interior defenders at the top of the draft – Okongwu, Wiseman, Okoro, Vassell, Maxey – Avdija has the most advanced blend of a switchable skillset. He has work to do on that end and is far from being an elite interior or perimeter defender, but he does have the most untapped defensive potential in an NBA focused on ice and switch P&R defensive coverages. Secondly, Avdija’s ability to finish around the rim. Avdija shot 64% on 2-point attempts with an overall true shooting percentage of 58.6%. Avdija can finish with both hands and is extremely smooth in the paint. A glaring trend that sticks out when watching Avdija is his ability to make the game look easy. He takes great shots. A rare trait for a 19 year unlike other lottery prospects – Ball, Edwards, Maxey, Hampton, Okoro. While the question of volume might arise, Deni has shown the ability to play different roles through competing in the Euro League, the Israeli Cup and down to the U-20 European Championship. With all that, Deni has essentially mastered the offensive objective of finding a good shot or helping his teammates find a good shot. The shooting numbers from deep are not uber impressive, certainly in need of development and repetition, but does illustrate natural form from the base all the way up. So many lottery prospects in the past and this year leave so much room to project shot selection and offensive IQ at the next level, Deni has a vast track record of taking efficient and effective shots from all three levels.
Comparisons help fans evaluators get a better look at prospects, especially overseas prospects. I’ve seen them all. Luka Doncic, Gordon Hayward, Hedo Turkoglu and so many more. There’s one thing I take away from all of them. Deni Avdija plays the game the right way. Would I select a bigger Luka Doncic with less scoring punch and ball handling in the top three? Absolutely. Would I select a less advanced shooting, slightly less athletic but better passing and bigger prime Gordon Haywarrd in the top there? 100%. Would I select a better defending, far better playmaking and quicker Hedo Turkoglu with offensive initiating tendencies in the top three? Every day of the week. Every team needs young players who play the game the right way. Teams in the lottery bust too often searching for players who MIGHT become Hall of Famers because of their measurements or vertical ability, rather than solidifying a base for a rebuild with experienced, highly skilled prospects who already know how to play at the highest level. Besides LaMelo Ball, Deni Avdija is the lone prospect in my eyes that will be an elite fit regardless of the team that drafts him. Yes, I know the upside is not as “sexy” as Edwards, Okongwu, Okoro or Anthony. But I do feel extremely confident saying that Deni Avdija has a higher floor than all of these prospects. I do feel that Avdija plays beyond his years and fill a needed role earlier in his career.
Every single NBA team needs a player like Deni Avdija and there should be no hesitation selecting him in the top three picks, regardless of how the NBA Draft Lottery falls.