This week on Bulls.com, Sam Smith will be writing a series of stories featuring 2020 NBA Draft prospects speaking to the media via the NBA's virtual combine. Up next, we have Israeli forward Deni Avdija.
Deni Avdija is the mystery man of the 2020 NBA Draft. Talking about 20/20, you can see clearly that the 6-8 Avdija has the potential to be an NBA star for this era, a versatile Swiss Army knife of a forward who can make plays, defend and facilitate with an improving shot. He's not Luka Doncic. Get that out of the way. Perhaps Detlef Schrempf or Danilo Gallinari? Maybe even a little bit Gordon Hayward.
But after more than a half hour of interrogation Wednesday from reporters through the NBA Draft Combine—after which Avdija thanked media and said he had fun—Avdija remains just as big a mystery.
He said he hasn't met or spoken with representatives from any NBA team. He expressed no particular interest about any team or even how he would fit or play. He doesn't have anyone he likens himself to or inspires him. Actually, he said he really doesn't even like to talk about his game. Though he's known back in the Euroleague as a Gary Payton-esque trash talker and admitted he's such a bothersome and curious little brother type that his Maccabi Tel Aviv teammate Amar'e Stoudemire often became frustrated with his endless questions about the NBA.
Which may make it even more difficult for the Bulls with the No. 4 selection in this draft, a draft in which the wing weak Bulls in a wing dominant NBA may be trying to figure out if to wing it with Avdija.
"I think Chicago is a good young team with a lot of potential," Avdija said in a comment he applied to basically every team he was questioned about. "I'm going to work as hard as I can and do the best as I can for the team to be successful and to win."
This NBA Draft, which is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 18, figures to be especially difficult given the usual young players, the relative lack of exceptional talents at the top and the inability of teams to spend any time or have workouts with potential picks.
"You lose the human and the personal touch when you don't get to bring players into your market," Bulls General Manager Marc Eversley said later Wednesday in a Zoom media conference. "Whether that's over at the Advocate Center and watching them work out on the floor or it's interviewing them face to face, there's a component of taking players to dinner or lunch and actually sitting with them and talking to them. I think those types of things are potentially lost when you don't get to spend time with them face to face. I put a lot of value in talking to people and spending time with people. It's great to talk over Zoom. But I really think there's a deeper connection when you get to spend time with somebody face to face."
And so it becomes film review and notes from when they played, which for many of these guys was almost a year ago with the virus shutdown in March.
The Israeli league did resume play in June after a three-month moratorium and Avdija was the Israeli league MVP. But in the Euroleague, the 19-year-old only averaged about 14 minutes per game and four points. Though it's not unusual for youngsters to play little in the senior leagues. It was a question raised about Doncic, who at a similar age in the Euroleague started half the games and averaged about eight points. It's how he became the third pick in the 2018 draft and lower on the draft boards of many teams.
"If they are interested in a wing and they think I am the right guy, I'll make sure I'll play the best I can and get what they need and what they are missing in their team to be a good team and a good winning team," Avdija said. "Honestly, I can play one through four. It's not about me, but what the team really needs and what the team wants me to play. I'll play and do the best I can."
Just about all of Avdija's responses were a prosaic version of that comment, all about winning the game instead of anything individual or personal.
Of course, Avdija should be commended for not only agreeing to spend so much time with media when so many top potential picks have avoided the Combine. But for doing so in perhaps his fourth best language, Avdija's English coming through clear, direct and more mellifluous than most people from Brooklyn.
Avdija's father was a pro basketball player from Yugoslavia who moved to Israel. Deni was born on a kibbutz and began playing professionally by the time he was 16. If he's as elusive on the court as he is in interviews, he'll be hard to stop.
"What Luka did and what he is doing now is great," Avdija said. "He's a great player. We came from the same league and I understand why people see familiar things. I just want to make it clear he's a great player and he has his own path and skills and I have my own path and skills. I have my own abilities, the goods and the bads. I just want to be the best Deni Avdija I can be and I just don't want to be compared to anybody. I'm excited for every team I am going to talk to. It's a dream come true and I'll be honored to play wherever. I'm just focusing on working and preparing for the next level and the next step. Each team that is going to draft me is going to get the best of me. I'm super excited to take my game to the next level and I am going to work the hardest I can with any team."
Avdija learned well to offer the usual promises about hard work, plenty to learn, playing up to the appropriate percentage and being "excited and humble.
"I'm ready to work and I just like to see myself improving," he said.
Avdija likely will become the most celebrated NBA player from Israel. "Anytime you can make history of any kind is a good thing. To represent Jewish history and the state of Israel is an honor for me. I'm just going to try to do the best I can to make everybody proud," he said.
"First of all, I'm going to bring what the team needs and wants me to bring," he said. "I think I'm a very positive person. I think I'm a good teammate. Other than that all the things will come through the years and what the coach wants me to do. The major thing I can bring is good chemistry, to have a good vibe on the team.
"I don't really like to talk about my game," Avdija said. "I'm just trying to do what's best for the team in that specific moment and just try to win. At the end of the game I like to win. It's really hard for me to lose. I am going to give 100 percent every night to win. I need to work on a lot of things and improve a lot of things and I am doing it and I am working very hard, but I don't really like to talk about my game."
Avdija did talk about his shot, which is regarded as his potential weakness. Though his three-point shooting improved in the June restart, it still was below 30 percent last season in the Euroleague and a head scratching 56 percent on free throws. His form looks adequate, though his release has been inconsistent.
"I think a lot of guys who are not in the team, not in basketball don't understand some things about the shot," he said. "The shot is not always about your technique. I think my technique is good. I just think people don't see the surroundings. People forget I was young, I was going through a team with a lot of experience, a lot of pressure with a lot of fans every night. I played sometimes more minutes, sometimes less. It was kind of up and down with the shot. It also refers to what is going on around, but toward the end I felt very comfortable on the team and that's the main reason I think I shot better. I think my confidence raised and I shot better. I think I'm a great shooter. I don't think about the same shot. I always think about the next shot. If I couldn't shoot, I wouldn't shoot threes. But as long as I shoot I am confident."
As for the free throws, Avdija said he'll be at practice until after midnight until he gets it right.
"I'm excited to have this journey," he said and then thanked reporters for their questions.
But just who is this Deni Avdija? Is he all that?