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2020 NBA Draft scouting report: Deni Avdija (Part 2)

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FC Barcelona v Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Photo by Rodolfo Molina/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

If you missed anything from Part 1 of our Deni Avdija scouting report, please click here.

Let’s move on to Avdija’s defense, and there’s a bit more to talk about here than his passing.

Avdija played multiple positions with Tel Aviv, guarding a variety of players with different skillsets. At times, Avdija would sometimes find himself switched on to the opposing bigs, and while this didn’t always go to plan (as you might expect), there were instances where Avdija was able to hold his own.

Starting off of the ball defensively, the pick-and-roll out front creates a switch and a problem, and Avdija slides over to help out. On the entry pass, Avdija is able to challenge vertically to knock the ball out of bounds and allow Tel Aviv to set up again:

Avdija again picks up the big on a switch and while his teammate does rotate and block the shot, Avdija is still well placed regardless with his verticality:

In the post this time after the switch on the pick-and-roll (switching from his man on the wing, moving nicely in the flow of Tel Aviv’s defense), Avdija isn’t able to prevent the basket, but I think he’s defended this play well, forcing the turnaround jumpshot which is contested well by Avdija:

Looking at some other switches onto other positions, Avdija continues to highlight his versatility defensively.

On the pick-and-roll, Avdija — who starts this possession off of the ball, i.e. not one of the two pick-and-roll defenders — is alert and cuts off the drive of the offensive player who was about to get downhill. He then backs out and tries to break Avdija down off of the dribble from the perimeter. Avdija moves his feet well and when the drive inside is made, he’s able to contain it and make life difficult and while the shot is missed, he should probably contest the shot to close out. Had that gone in, it would’ve been a bad end to a good defensive possession:

Here, Avdija is the primary defender on this possession and switches on the pick-and-roll. The ball-handler is able to turn the corner and Avdija is able to get back and contest the shot, which is missed but the follow is tipped in:

Again, Avdija is involved in the pick-and-roll defense and switches on the screen. From here, he does well to stick tightly with the drive and helps force the turnover as the offensive player steps out of bounds:

This time as the help defender, Avdija is able to spot the danger in time rotates to the rim, forcing the pass. Then comes the second effort as Avdija again rotates to contest the shot at the rim, resulting in a miss:

In the corner, Avdija rotates from the center of the paint and springs the trap, forcing the pass backwards and the turnover as the ball escapes into the backcourt:

Let’s move on to some of Avdija’s one-on-one defense where, again, he impresses — not a lockdown defender but he is impressive.

To start, Avdija is able to stick with the drive and prevent the penetration, forcing the offensive player to kill his dribble and look elsewhere the shotclock winding down and the tough shot is missed:

Against the very accomplished Nando de Colo, Avdija is able to hold his own and contests the shot from de Colo, which is missed:

Again, Avdija is able to stay in front of his man, forcing the offensive player to look elsewhere:

That play might look ordinary but, if Avdija isn’t able to stay in front, it may mean the defense has to rotate and that opens up avenues elsewhere. Avdija being able to stay in front helps to that end.

On this defensive play, Avdija is able to keep up with the drive and the change of direction before using his length and verticality before contesting the shot which is missed:

Here, Avdija gets through two screens to stay with the ball-handler as he drives to the rim, keeping his arms raised and the shot is missed:

Verticality is something Avdija utilizes to good effect on the defensive end, given his long arms and size you would imagine this to be the case.

In transition, Avdija gets matched up at the rim and when pass inside is made, Avdija’s arms are straight up and contests the shot to great effect:

Off of a drive and pass at the rim, Avdija gets into the space of the defender, keeps his arms vertical and contests the shot very well to force the miss at the rim:

To start the third quarter, Avdija looks to be at a disadvantage inside but does all he can as he stays upright and helps forces a turnover on the travel:

Avdija’s defense is overall a positive but there are some bad moments too that we need to look at. You know, balance.

We looked at how Avdija can get himself switched onto bigs...this doesn’t always go well.

On the pick-and-roll, Derrick Williams gets a head of steam and Avdija, while he rotates and keeps his arms vertical, is called for the foul and the basket counts:

Here, Avdija gets into a bad matchup and is just bullied in the post — and to the floor — but he can count his lucky stars the shot is somehow missed at the rim:

Avdija’s lack of size compared to some power forwards and centers can be an issue on the glass as Avdija — even though he is in a good position once the shot at the rim is missed — is beaten here to the rebound and the second chance is created:

On this play, Avdija is a little slow to react to the rebound opportunity and when he does, the ball is smashed in on the offensive rebound:

There are some possessions where Avdija does well to start the defensive sequence but falls away at the end. We saw a possession earlier where he did really well but then choosing not to contest at the end, which could have ruined all his good work up to that point.

Here, Avdija sticks with the drive from the wing but commits the foul at the end of the possession, leading to free throws:

Again, Avdija sticks with the drive coming downhill, but commits the foul on the made basket:

There are also times where Avdija was a little aloof defensively, leading to opportunities for the opposition.

Here, Avdija gets a little drawn to the action — perhaps this should have been communicated better by Tel Aviv as to which wing defender rotated inside for help — and it leads to a three-point attempt on wing with Avdija doing his best to do a decent job to contest:

On this play, Avdija is beaten by the cut, leading to the basket at the rim:

These plays/mishaps aren’t anything wild to write home about but it’s just to show that not everything is perfect with Avdija defensively. Where there is good, there is also bad to be shown — even if the bad stuff is very much outweighed by the good.

Well then, let’s land this shall we?

Deni Avdija is one the more well-rounded prospects ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft, but he also might be overrated somewhat by mainstream mock drafts and segments of NBA Twitter.

Offensively, there is enough to like, and I say ‘enough’ rather than ‘a lot’ for a reason.

Avdija is good off of the ball and a good cutter, which obviously makes life tough for defenders — there’s few things more annoying than having to track someone who is constantly moving. Avdija is just good on the move, be it in the half court or the open court — he is going to be effective from this point of view on offense. It might in fact be his greatest strength offensively right now.

It’s hard to gauge Avdija’s offensive package as a whole because he didn’t seem to have the ball in his hands a ton to work off of the dribble, to maybe showcase his capabilities off of the dribble. There were loads of other players who filled that role for Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the better European teams around (depending on where he’s drafted to, this could end up being the same in the NBA too). I would argue there’s a bit of a question mark when it comes to Avdija’s true capabilities off of the dribble.

Avdija was deployed off of the ball a lot more than he was deployed on it, and was in the right places when his teammates broke down the defense, whether that ended up in Avdija shooting for three or attacking the rim on closeouts with defenders wrong-footed.

Speaking of Avdija’s shooting from the outside, his best work in that department comes from catch-and-shoot scenarios, not off of the dribble. And because they come in catch-and-shoot scenarios, again, it’s about Avdija benefitting from teammates who break the defense down.

Even then, Avdija shoots 33% from three as a whole, so it’s not like he’s a 40% marksman. 33% is clearly not a great percentage. Obviously, volume comes into play (over three attempts a game), but Avdija will need to up that percentage in the NBA to further his ceiling, and to be fair he’ll have every chance on a — you would imagine — lower volume and better selection of shots to improve that percentage in the NBA.

From that perspective, there are other prospects I worry about more from three-point range than Avdija.

Avdija played a lot of positions offensively and I think he’ll be deployed at multiple positions in the NBA too. Perhaps not at center, but I think he can be deployed at small forward, small-ball four and I think he could have the agility to play an oversized two at times offensively — for someone who stands at 6 foot 9 inches, Avdija is quite mobile. I’d be worried defensively about that idea but we can get to that later.

I would also be worried about Avdija’s ability to create offense himself and I honestly don’t think that should be his role, certainly heading into the NBA as a rookie. But I also struggle to see him growing into as this 20 point per game scorer, I don’t see him as a 17 point per game scorer and perhaps even 15 points per game.

Now, the counterargument to that is that Maccabi Tel Aviv didn’t place him in a role to be that player or to show that he was capable of more offensively, so he perhaps could become more of a scorer than he has shown heading into the draft but I’m not so sure, and that’s how I feel right now heading into the draft. I think there is definitely room, perhaps a lot of room, for Avdija to grow and improve offensively.

What also helps Avdija offensively is his ability to make plays at his size. Again, this aspect wasn’t massively tapped into at Tel Aviv but it was flashed, enough to show that Avdija could do it. He’s smart, he can make a pass, he can make quick decisions and he’s unselfish — Avdija is just a handy facilitator at that size.

But again, I don’t see him as this secondary playmaker — I view him more as a player being able to make plays at his position, whatever that may be at any point on the court. I think too much has been made of his playmaking abilities, and I think this may be slightly reflective of the fact Avdija’s turnover percentage (17%) is higher than his assist percentage (14.8%).

Defensively, Avdija shows great potential given his quick feet at 6’9”. He is smart when it comes to team defense, he defends multiple positions (going beyond that at times, which had mixed results), he can switch and he’s a good one-on-one defender. How much of that will translate to the NBA immediately remains to be seen — if Avdija is playing at the four, perhaps not so much from a physical point of view. But from a lateral quickness point of view, he’s got the potential to stick with defenders and challenge them using those long arms and vertical tendencies.

He can be a little lackadaisical at times and can be caught napping/drawn to the ball at times too but these are few and far between. He’s probably guilty of committing a tad too many fouls at times and he’s not as much of a defensive playmaker when it comes to steals and blocks but overall, there’s quite a bit to like about Avdija’s defense.

Simply but, he is a dependable, plus defender heading into the NBA Draft — 2.9 defensive win shares and a 99.9 defensive rating, per RealGM.

You may think at this point I’m not very high on Avdija, and while I’m not as high as some people are on the young Israeli forward, I think Avdija projects as a positive on both sides of the floor. While I don’t think there’s superstar potential, maybe not even All-Star potential, I think Avdija’s greatest strength is his versatility, the ability to be able to plug him in absolutely anywhere. I don’t think there’s a team in the NBA that you couldn’t insert Avdija into.

Unlike someone like LaMelo Ball, where the fit is very important and something you need to be sure of before selecting him, that is not the case with Avdija.

He has size and the ability to play the right position. he’s versatile on both sides of the ball, he can score in a few different ways, he can make a few plays, he can hold his own defensively — and help out effectively too — and while he may not be a master of any one particular thing, he can do a lot of different things well. These things make it possible for basically any team to plug Avdija into their system, whether it’s starting or off of the bench.

This is what makes Avdija such an intriguing prospect because there are many different players who do the the things Avdija can do to a higher level but fewer can do as many of those things in one player than Avdija.

As for a role in the NBA, it depends on who drafts him. He could immediately slide into some starting lineups and play 20-25 minutes a game. I also believe he could come off of the bench and play 15-20 minutes very easily too. I can’t speak highly enough of the ability to insert Avdija into any rotation immediately and he’ll do well. I just don’t think he’s going to change the fortunes of a languishing organization.

Let’s look at what some other outlets are saying about Avdija and where they see him potentially being selected.

ESPN rank Avdija No. 4 overall on their ‘Best Available’ list, with Jonathon Givony having this to say about his strengths. As a reminder, I look at what these outlets say last in this process, as to better lean on my own evaluation and my own thoughts/opinions so if there’s anything we haven’t addressed already that is brought up here, it’s something I didn’t take as much notice of — spoilers: I don’t see everything — and we’ll talk about it now.

- Big enough to play PF but has the ballhandling, creativity and playmaking skill of a PG. At his best operating out of pick-and-roll, where he displays excellent timing and vision, allowing him to make every read and pass in the book. Aggressive offensive player who is in attack mode every time he steps onto the floor. Loves shooting pull-up 3-pointers in transition. Brings toughness, competitiveness and swagger.
- Was learning how to play without the ball this season in a more compact role at the pro level. Elite cutter thanks to his strong feel for the game. Capable of playmaking out of secondary ball-handling situations.
- Has made significant strides on defense. Covers ground well and plays with real intensity getting over screens, battling on the glass and rotating to protect the rim. Gets in passing lanes, blocks quite a few shots and rebounds well.

Looking at the first point from Givony, I didn’t get to see a ton of these pull-up threes in transition myself but I don’t doubt the fearlessness from Avdija (and we saw a bit of that in some of the shots we looked at).

The off-ball movement we’ve discussed, I might not go as far as ‘elite’ for his cutting but it’s one of his better qualities. Also not sure about Givony’s comment about blocks, Avdija only averaged 0.6 blocks on the season and 0.2 blocks per game in the EuroLeague.

Let’s look at what Givony had to say about Avdija’s areas for improvement:

- Inconsistent shooter who has converted just 32% of 3-pointers and 58% of free throws over a large sample. Mechanics have been tweaked repeatedly to the point that you rarely see him shooting the same way, sometimes kicking his legs out excessively or looking stiff with his release.
- Wasn’t asked to do much in terms of creating his own shot in isolation, pushing in the open court or playing pick-and-roll this season.
- Struggles to create offense from a standstill. Right-hand dominant and much more limited when pushed to dribble or finish with his off hand. Reliant on changes of speed and using his body to create space, which might prove more difficult against NBA defenders.

The free throw shooting we listed at the top when looking at Avdija’s averages but didn’t talk about — we’ll talk about it now. When a prospect doesn’t have the most amazing three-point percentages, some people like to lean on their free throw percentage for potential future success shooting the ball. Avdija’s 58% shooting from the stripe comes on 1.9 attempts per game, and perhaps more worryingly in the I-BSL, Avdija shoots 59% on 2.9 attempts. As a rookie, Avdija may not get the opportunity to score the ball a lot but he’s got to make his free throws count on the fouls and free throws he does draw.

Givony references Avdija’s role offensively and how he wasn’t asked to do a ton with the ball in his hands. This can cause intrigue, as you ask yourself ‘Is there more he could possibly do?’ but it also could say something about how Maccabi Tel Aviv felt about Avdija doing more because, ultimately, even in the I-BSL Avdija still averaged under 30 minutes a game and less than 10 shots per game, despite him trailing leading scorer Scottie Wilbekin by 0.1 of a point — is there something to be said for that? Or did they simply not want to rely on someone they knew was going to be leaving for the NBA?

Givony also talks about Avdija’s preference to his right-hand, which is a very good point that I haven’t talked about. I didn’t notice Avdija using his left-hand a ton and while he perhaps doesn’t rely on his right-hand as much as someone like Killian Hayes, he’s definitely not as comfortable with his left as, say, LaMelo Ball. Givony then goes into a little extra detail about how Avdija might struggle to generate offense from a standstill, which is something I am also concerned about.

Let’s look at what Sam Vecenie of The Athletic has to say about Deni Avdija, mocking him No. 4 overall to the Chicago Bulls:

This pick does not change. New president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas played a significant role in the most successful international scouting departments in recent years with the Denver Nuggets before being elevated to his prior role within the organization. He’ll have a good feel for Avdija, who has enamored scouts with versatility on the ball at 6-foot-9. He’s much more of a point forward type than a lead ballhandler a la Luka Doncic, but his dexterity with the ball in the open court is impressive, and he can make terrific passes both out of pick-and-roll and out on the break. The key question here is the jump shot, as Avdija has been quite inconsistent throughout the course of his career.

Regardless, he actually fits really well with this roster. The Bulls could use someone with the frontcourt ball skills of Avdija, as Lauri Markkanen is more of a shooter, and Wendell Carter is more of a screen setter and dribble handoff guy who can make smart reads. If the team believes Avdija could play some 3 and handle the secondary ballhandler responsibilities, I’d love his fit next to Coby White as well, given that White is much more scoring-inclined than the typical guard.

The things Vecenie discusses when it comes to positives to Avdija are similar to what we’ve talked about: the versatility, playmaking at position and the ease to fit in along with, for example, the ‘scoring-inclined’ Coby White.

You’re not drafting Avdija to be that scoring guard/forward, you can fit him in alongside another. He’s not a player you build around, he’s a player you plug in to fit around the player you’re building around. The demand for someone like that should be high and given how everyone feels about this draft lacking on star power, there aren’t many better players to select than someone dependable like Avdija. If he develops into something more, that’s a bonus but no GM should lose their job based on their performance in this particular draft alone — the top-end talent simply isn’t there.

I’m not sure I’m quite with Vecenie throwing Avdija in the same sentence as Doncic when it comes to being a ‘point-forward’ — I honestly don’t buy that for a second seeing as, even before he came to the NBA, Doncic was running the show for Real Madrid. Deni Avdija was doing no where near the sort. I just don’t think that’s a fair comparison for Avdija because, as someone who extensively watched Doncic at Real Madrid, what Doncic did was truly special. No one should be comparing Avdija to Doncic — that’s not a thing that should happen.

Finally, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated mocks Avdija No. 8 overall to the New York Knicks. This is what he had to say in August, and even though his more recent mock has Avdija No. 4 to the Bulls (notice the trend?), there’s something in particular he mentions that I want to talk about:

The Knicks ended up falling to No. 8 after being leapfrogged by the Hornets, which puts them in an interesting spot here, likely picking from whichever of the top prospects slips. New York badly needs a point guard, but should be able to address that position at No. 27, which affords them more options here. Avdija remains a somewhat divisive prospect, and offers more in terms of floor than he does star upside. His high-end potential as a starter hinges on his ability to make threes, and the development of his handle to a point where it enables him to be a true secondary on-ball playmaker. Avdija has shown growth in both areas, but not enough to offer teams complete security, particularly given he’s likely to be an average defender at best. But if the Knicks buy his shot improving, he’d be an interesting fit with R.J. Barrett. It also wouldn’t be shocking to see New York explore trying to move up in the draft to land a player they covet, with Ball and Obi Toppin both potential fits.

Woo talks about floor/ceiling and how Avdija offers more in security than he does a star, and I absolutely agree. I believe that Avdija’s floor is higher than most but perhaps his ceiling isn’t as high as others in this area of the draft. Again, depending on your setup, that might be important and it might not be. I think it’s important though which you believe in — if he’s a star or a plug-in piece.

I think he’d be perfect in Golden State if they decide to keep the pick (which is where it’s rumored he wants to go) because you’d plug him into what is around there.

So, with ALL of that said... I like Deni Avdija quite a bit, but I like him more as a player you can just plug in and get on with life rather expecting/hoping he becomes a star — I just don’t think that top-end superstar talent is there. That said, I think he’ll be a very meaningful and positive contributor for a playoff team one day, whether that’s starting or coming off of the bench. I think there’s a strong likelihood Avdija will be a starter in the NBA someday but whether that’ll be immediately or further down the road depends on the team who selects him. But an NBA star? I don’t think so, personally, but very happy to be proven wrong.

Should the Hawks (a) keep their pick and (b) Avdija be available at No. 6 overall, I would find it at least a little bit hard to imagine Hawks President of Basketball Operations Travis Schlenk passing on Avdija. It could be a choice between that or taking a point/combo guard and avoiding having to shell out in free agency for a backup point guard, choosing perhaps to save it for a veteran wing.

The NBA Draft is only a few weeks away and the answers everyone has been wanting for a very long time will be revealed very soon...