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Young International Swingman is Ready for the Big Stage
If there’s one thing that the 2020 NBA Playoffs from the Orlando bubble taught us, it’s that the international guys playing these days are definitely NOT your father’s international guys.
Luka Doncic (No. 3 overall, 2018) made a massive splash with the Mavs this summer. Nikola Jokic (No. 41, 2014) established himself as the best offensive center in the game – and arguably one of the best passing bigs of all-time. The Heat might have been a healthy Goran Dragic (No. 45, 2008) away from upsetting the Lakers for the NBA title.
By all accounts, the top international player in this year’s Draft is Deni Avdija – the 19-year-old Israeli-Serbian small forward who, last season with Maccabi Tel Aviv, was named the youngest MVP in league history.
In terms of “your father’s international guys,” Avdija’s dad, Zufer, played 11 seasons as a pro in Yugoslavia and Israel and helped Yugoslavia win the bronze medal in the 1982 FIBA World Championship. And although Deni is also eligible to represent Serbia internationally, he chose to play for Israel – winning two straight FIBA U20 European Championships, earning MVP honors as the second-youngest player in the tournament two summers ago.
Though he’ll still be a teenager when he’s drafted, Avdija is already a seasoned professional, having joined Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth squad at 13 and making his debut with the parent team by the time he was 16 – becoming the youngest player in the history of the prestigious international powerhouse to do so.
Avdija didn’t put up eye-popping numbers last season Maccabi, averaging 12.9ppg, 6.3rpg and 2.7apg. But NBA scouts love his versatility as a big (6-9) wing with a high basketball IQ who’s not afraid of the spotlight.
This November, the 19-year-old looks to become the highest-drafted Israeli player since former Cavalier Omri Casspi was the 23rd overall pick by Sacramento in 2009 and odds are excellent that he’ll be tapped near the very top. Scouts see an experienced, do-it-all jumbo guard/wing player with an intriguing skillset too tough to resist.
STRENGTHS Avdija checks off so many of the boxes NBA front offices covet these days. He’s got very good size at 6-9, 225, although his wingspan is reportedly just average. He projects at multiple positions. He’s very young (but experienced in international play). And he’s got an intuitive feel for the game.
Projected as a small forward, Avdija is a capable and willing passer and his court-vision and ball-handling skills could easily make him a team’s secondary playmaker. As a wing player, he excels in transition – both leading the break and filling lanes – or in the halfcourt – utilizing his versatility in the pick-and-roll.
Offensively, he can create his own shot and likes to create against smaller opponents in the post. He has outstanding court vision, is unselfish and is a tremendous cutter off the ball.
Avdija has the potential to be an above-average defender as a pro. As an underrated athlete, he has good lateral quickness for his size and quick hands. He’s a very good shot-blocker, especially coming over from the weakside, and rebounds well for his position.
WEAKNESSES Avdija is a good athlete, but he doesn’t have the kind of burst to be blowing past NBA defenders. And he’s not known for seeking contact around the rim.
Most of the concerns about Avdija seem to center around his shooting accuracy, including from the stripe, which will need to improve at the NBA level. In 26 Euroleague games, Avdija shot under 30 percent from three-point range and over the course of his career he’s around 70 percent from the line.
Avdija is a passionate, competitive player, which can work both for and against him.
HOW HE'D FIT In today’s game, long wing players who can create for themselves and others is a precious commodity. And Avdija has almost all the qualities that position demands.
If Training Camp tipped off today, the Cavaliers small forward/big wing spot would consist of the incumbent, Cedi Osman, a pair of first rounders from last season, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr., as well as Alfonzo McKinnie.
Avdija would certainly beef up that group and simultaneously serve as a complimentary playmaker to take Collin Sexton and Darius Garland off the ball at times. He would allow the Cavaliers to go big – considering the deep, talented front line that finished off last year – or small – using a combination of Garland, Sexton and any of the aforementioned wings.
In other words, he’d fit right in.