2020 Israeli League MVP Deni Avdija is a projected top 10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. The 19-year old has already won at multiple levels, leading Israel to the 2019 FIBA U20 European Championship and Maccabi Tel Aviv to the 2020 Israeli League title. But the NBA is a big step up, even from Euroleague, for a player his age. Will he be ready? Where will he fit on an NBA roster?
Deni Avdija’s basketball journey began in his hometown of Herzliya, Israel, where he started playing for Bnei Herzliya at 8 years old. When he was 12, Deni moved to Maccabi Tel Aviv, the best club in Israel, having already been identified as one of the most talented youth players in the country.
At 16, Deni signed a long-term contract to the professional team of Maccabi Tel Aviv, although he continued to play primarily with the youth team. He was the star of the Maccabi youth team which made it to the final stage of the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in 2019 and won the Israeli youth league in 2017, 2018, and 2019. At 18 years old, Avdija was the MVP of the 2019 U20 European championships won by Israel in Tel Aviv. It was his second U20 tournament gold medal, he previously made the all-tournament team of 2018 tournament.
In 2019-2020, Deni became one of the key pieces of Maccabi’s pro team. Towards the end of the season, he would regularly play 30 minutes against Israeli competition and 20 minutes per game in Euroleague. Avdija had many teammates this season with NBA experience or on the NBA radar including Amar’e Stoudemire, Scottie Wilbekin, Tarik Black, Omri Casspi, Quincy Acy, and Nate Wolters. He primarily played 2 and 3 on offense and 3 on defense as a pro but was able to switch on all positions on defense. He didn’t have the ball in his hands much, especially in Euroleague, because of the quality of his teammates, mostly playing as a spot shooter and occasionally a secondary playmaker. Avdija was a playmaking 4 when competing with his age group and he projects as a playmaking combo forward at the NBA level.
Avdija is very mature for an athlete of his age with good size for the 3 position. He is a good athlete in the open court, he has great speed and acceleration for his size and above average vertical athleticism.
Avdija’s movement is upright but smooth. His feet are slow and his hips are very tight. His struggles to turn his hips are especially noticeable in on-ball defense where he is slow to react to a first step and change direction. Avdija is strong, especially in his lower body, an area which he has improved greatly in the last year. It’s become noticeably tougher for older, stronger players to push him around in the post. Avdija was noticeably bigger and stronger in Israel’s summer restart. He still has room to grow but his strength is impressive for his age.
Probably the biggest concern with Avdija is his shot. He is historically a poor free throw shooter (58.5% on 378 attempts since 2018) improving only minimally in the past few years. His 3-point percentages are more promising, around 32.5% since 2017 with some improvements in recent years. He shot 33.3% on 183 attempts from 3 this season, but his increase in volume was the most notably change throughout the season. In the 2019 portion of the year, he shot 27.9% from 3 with a volume of 3.2 attempts per 36 minutes, more in less in line with his 2018-2019 professional stats. However Avdija attempted 3’s nearly twice as often in 2020, 6.3 times per 36 minutes, for a percentage of 35.0%. Whether or not this is sustainable is a big question for NBA teams picking in the top 10 to ask themselves.
Avdija has good looking upper body but he does lean slightly forward on his jumpshot. At times he puts his weight too far forward on his toes which doesn’t allow him to get proper dorsiflexion and limits his lift off the ground. He dips the ball as his feet get set but he doesn’t get low enough with his lower body to maximize the power from his legs. This is especially apparent in stepbacks or one dribble pull ups where he is wildly inconsistent due to his footwork.
Avdija isn’t afraid to shoot off the dribble but he’s not a shot creator. A lot of his off the dribble 3’s are primarily to get his feet set to shoot over a smaller defender giving him too much space. Even in catch and shoot situations he likes to get his right foot down after he has already caught the ball which slows down his shot prep. His right knee goes slightly in as he plants his right foot to shoot but not enough that it should be a major concern unless it’s exaggerated to compensate for the deeper shots he’ll take in the NBA. Avdija does not have the makings of an elite shooter but he’s shown that he can be counted on to knock down a couple catch and shoot 3’s if left open.
Avdija is a solid finisher with both hands. He extends the ball and uses his size well near the rim with soft touch, especially on underhand finishes. He does a good job of using off-foot and inside hand finishes to throw off the timing of rim protectors. These creative finishes are important because he’s not a high-flyer; his finishing package is much more about finesse than vertical athleticism.
When he draws defenders, he is composed and patient. He’s not afraid to go up and finish around multiple bodies near the rim though he does prefer to look for teammates when help comes. Avdija has had impressive flashes of finishing through defenders and as he matures into his body, he could become a threat to finish over opponents more often.
Avdija is a solid ballhandler, especially at his size. He stays low with the ball and doesn’t play with it too much. Avdija is primarily a straight-line driver, he’s very physical, doing a good job of using his body and initiating contact to keep his man on his hip and get to his spots. Avdija will use hesitation moves or one or two counters, if needed. He’s capable of going to his crossover and between the legs moves but they’re not quick enough for him to do too much in terms of breaking down his defender.
He overdribbles in place around the arc when he’s looking to set up his shot but makes quick decisions when he’s looking to drive or pass. Avdija won’t be counted on to run the offense for long stretches but his ball movement and handle will allow him to be a secondary initiator and run second-side offense.
Avdija is an extremely gifted PnR passer, using his size to see and make passes above the defense. He reads the roll man’s defender and is getting much better at reading the weakside help more consistently. He can make live dribble passes with his right hand to every spot on the court. His left hand is not as advanced but he still has success creating while going left, he sees the floor well and trusts his handle going both ways.
Avdija is a high level passer overall, he’s very patient while the play develops and sees the whole floor. He frequently hits teammates in stride behind the defense because of his ability to see a play develop a step ahead of his opponents. He’ll occasionally make flashy passes in the half court but doesn’t take too many chances.
Avdija has passing skills that he has not been able to showcase at the men’s level yet. When playing with youth teams from Maccabi or Israel, a lot of his assists came from the paint or low post. Avdija’s quickness and strength with the ball relative to his competition allowed him to get more paint touches off the dribble and take his time in the paint. He can use his positional size to post up and put himself in mismatch situations around the basket. He keeps his eyes up looking to pass while posted up but he can score over smaller defenders and he has a quick spin he can use to get to the rim even on better post defenders.
Avdija’s teammates have an easier time getting open because of the attention he draws around the basket. Passing is his first option in the post, his patience and ability to see offense develop before it happens is highlighted around the basket. As Avdija catches up in age, he will be able to get to the paint more where he has a lot of success creating for himself and, especially, others.
One of Avdija’s greatest areas of growth in the last couple years is his ability to read the entire floor pic.twitter.com/CaglKlGviy— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) September 7, 2020
Most of Avdija’s rim scoring at the men’s level has come off of cuts. He does a great job of reading his man and anticipating his teammates off the ball. His impressive cutting ability is magnified when playing with smart players and good ball movers who see what he sees and hit him for easy baskets.
Avdija’s timing on cutting is very impressive. He will thrive with high IQ guards pic.twitter.com/cO8zQmMCPi— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) September 7, 2020
Avdija takes his chances to run in transition with and without the ball, leaking out quickly from the perimeter as a big target for breakout passes. He is very skilled on the break. He uses his straight-line speed and long strides well in transition to get to the rim and finish. Avdija has excellent body control at top speed; he can gather, elevate, and finish without slowing down.
Avdija is a great scorer in transition but he might be a better passer. He runs the break fast while still seeing cutters, creating opportunities for others, and making passes with good touch. He prefers to take the ball up the court himself but his first look off of a rebound is a teammate running ahead of the defense. Despite occasionally forcing these full court passes, he throws them accurately for the full length of the court.
Avdija has below average quickness, most noticeably as he reacts to a first step. He gets into trouble crossing his feet or bringing them too close together which causes him to lose balance. Despite this disadvantage in lateral quickness, Avdija can cut off his man and use his body to stop drives after getting beat. As long as he is not completely blown by, he is able to give his man a couple steps and effectively get his chest to him to slow him down, or stop his drive completely.
While this is an impressive skill, it’s obviously not a good sign that he has to catch up with his man so frequently. At the NBA level, ballhandlers will not only be bigger and quicker but they’ll do a better job of taking advantage of the step they can initially get on him. He will have to do a better job of reacting to the first step and get quicker when he moves laterally to defend the perimeter in the NBA.
Deni’s feet are not good on defense but there is something to be said for his ability to use his body to catch up with his man. Of course, in the NBA his matchups might be too quick for this. He has to get quicker. pic.twitter.com/I0rmHhnjQs— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) September 7, 2020
Secondary Rim Protection
Avdija quickly identifies drivers to the rim and gets to the paint to help, he does a great job of going straight up on vertical contests. He is strong in the air, absorbing contact and making finishes a lot more difficult for his opponents, rarely committing fouls in situations that refs usually look to call them.
His shot-blocking is another part of his game that he only flashes at the men’s level but becomes apparent when playing with players his age. He makes the most of limited vertical pop with excellent timing to reach shots at their highest point. While his ability to block shots will always be limited by size and athleticism, Avdija has legitimate secondary rim protector potential in the NBA because of his IQ and use of verticality.
Avdija is a solid secondary rim protector. He is really strong in the air and elite at using verticality. Most of his blocks are in youth competition but he clearly took something away from his time playing around the rim. Deni can have success playing the 4 on defense in the NBA pic.twitter.com/VxKRYxQxST— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) September 7, 2020
Deni Avdija’s biggest question mark is his shooting. His 3-point shooting is inconsistent but his free throw shooting is terrible. By all accounts, he is a hard worker who has already put hours into working on his shot but so far the results have not showed up at the free throw line. He improved to 71.8% on a very small sample of 39 attempts during the restart. There is still some hope that he can at least become a decent free throw shooter because of his age and work ethic. His form on free throws has no glaring issues but he has never been able to shoot above 60% for an extended period of time.
While Avdija’s shooting projection is certainly a major area of concern, spacing with him on the floor is not. If he’s given too much space on the perimeter, he is willing to shoot off the dribble or off the catch. Avdija’s cutting and movement without the ball is elite. His off-ball movement draws attention away from shooters and forces the defense to pay attention to him on the perimeter even when he’s struggling to hit his shots.
Avdija’s playmaking is the most promising aspect of his game. He has great vision and while his handling is not as flashy as his passing, he does enough to get by defenders and is already learning how to use his body and size to his advantage. His passing to every spot on the court off of a ball screen is advanced for his age. His IQ is high and he should be able to pick up on the nuance of PnR in the NBA relatively fast. Not only does his size allow him to see over the defense coming off a screen but perhaps more importantly, his size and proficiency in post-up situations may force teams to match up bigger defenders on Avdija that will have trouble with his playmaking.
Avdija is still more of a 3 than a 4 on defense at the NBA level, but his potential is higher guarding 4s. His footwork is not ideal at the moment and should improve with coaching but his quickness will limit his ceiling defending the perimeter.
He’s strong down low, especially for his age, there are surprisingly few Euroleague players who can bully him down low. Avdija has shown the ability to protect the rim playing the 4 and 5 in youth levels. It will be an adjustment to do it on an NBA court but he has done a solid job of vertically contesting around the basket at the pro level and it’s an area he can excel in as he gets stronger. Avdija is still a few years from his athletic prime and a lot of the strength he needs will come with age.
At just 19, Deni Avdija is one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the 2020 draft class. He just spent a season working his way up the rotation of one of the teams closest to the NBA level you can find. The development of his shot is a significant factor in how successful he will be but even if it does stagnate he will still find ways to impact winning. At the moment, he is a skilled forward with positional size and defensive IQ that should grow as a secondary playmaker and versatile defender as he gets stronger and smarter.