Deni Avdija is the top-ranked European prospect born in 2001 .
Last measured at six-foot-seven without shoes at the 2018 Basketball Without Borders, the combo forward is said to have grown to six-foot-nine since and has completed a very impressive year of basketball on his way to the NBA.
First, Avdija was named MVP of the 2019 U20 European Championship, leading Israel to a title in home soil, playing against competition on average a year-and-a-half older than him.
He was the primary shot creator on the team, averaging 22.7 points per 40 minutes on 28.6% usage and assisting on 27.6% of Israel’s scores when he was on the floor.
Then, the 19-year-old went on to earn a rotation role with Maccabi Tel Aviv throughout the year. His 59 appearances and 1,284 minutes logged this past season are both leading marks on ESPN’s top 100.
His roles differed, however, depending on the level of competition.
Avdija averaged just 14.5 minutes per game and logged 15.6% usage in his 26 Euroleague appearances, acting more as a minutes-eater who took half of his shots from three-point range and simply focused on executing the scheme on defense.
It’s worth mentioning Maccabi had one of the deepest teams in Europe and was a favorite to make it to the Euroleague Final Four, if not for the pandemic making it impracticable to finish the season. It’s plausible to make the argument that Avdija simply making the rotation on such a stacked roster, even if in a small role, was an accomplishment for someone his age.
In the Israeli BSL, he averaged 27.6 minutes per game and logged 21% usage in 33 appearances, enjoying more freedom to operate on the ball and acting as more of a difference maker in help defense. His free throw, assist, steal and block rates were higher in the domestic league than they were against continental competition.
His influence even grew a little further as the league returned from the pandemic break for a 37-day sprint to finish the season. As Maccabi dealt with a number of injuries, Avdija earned a more prominent role during the postseason and averaged 19.2 points per 40 minutes in 12 appearances, helping lead Maccabi to the title and earning MVP honors along the way, becoming the youngest MVP in league history.
His role in the NBA is more likely to mirror the one he played in the Euroleague than the one he did on home soil and there is skepticism surrounding his shooting and the extent to which he’ll be an impact player as a help defender against the caliber of athleticism he’ll meet in the NBA.
Nonetheless, Avdija looks the part for what the NBA looks for in a combo forward these days and there’s plenty of video available of him in various contexts to be certain that he knows how to play. That has been enough for him to solidify his status as a top five prospect in a class lacking a whole lot of star potential at the top, with ESPN ranking him fourth on its top 100, at the time of writing.
Avdija is a good off ball defender, not only trustworthy to execute the scheme but capable of making an impact in help defense.
His awareness is probably his biggest asset, as he’s a regular presence near the rim, on hard rotations off the weakside and stepping up to the front of the rim as the last line of defense when he’s the lowest man to the baseline.
Avdija is more likely to challenge a shot via verticality but can also block a shot on a clear rotation, as well as make a play on the ball while guarding his with arms up near the rim, leveraging his rumored eight-foot-10 standing reach . His average of 1.2 blocks per 40 minutes last season is the eighth-best mark among perimeter players on ESPN’s top 100.
He has a track record of crashing the defensive glass in every event he’s participated in. His 21.7% defensive rebound rate is a top five mark among perimeter players in this draft class. And besides reacting to the ball, Avdija has also shown the hustle and the toughness needed to mix it up on scrums and contribute to the rebounding process by boxing out bigger players too.
His knack for making an impact in the hidden areas of the game really stands out, as he is adept at switching on the fly to make up for breakdowns against people movement, scramming guards out of big men on rolls into post position and shadowing mismatched post-ups to hunt for an opportunity to intervene and maybe make a play on the ball at the last second.
His closeouts are another method of making a positive contribution that doesn’t get tracked on the box score. Avdija shows urgency hustling back to the three-point line and impressed with his body control while managing to challenge the shooter in his personal space without crashing into him for a three-shot foul. He’s also proven himself capable of staying balanced to defend off the bounce when he has managed to run the shooter off his shot.
On the other hand, all that focus on helping elsewhere has a cost, with Avdija prone to getting caught ball-watching while his man cuts backdoor from time-to-time.
And though he’s shown quite a bit of promise reading the game, Avdija is not much of an asset in the passing lanes, lacking the speed and the length, with his below average six-foot-nine wingspan for someone his height, to fly around for steals and deflections. His average of 1.2 steals per 40 minutes is a bottom 20 mark among perimeter players on ESPN’s top 100.
Avdija bends his knees to get down in a soft stance and has a few lateral slides in him to stay in front of similar-sized players but lacks the physicality to chest up and contain dribble penetration through contact, thus not profiling as the sort of ace defender who can check the most threatening opposing wing-ball handlers in the near future.
He was asked to switch against ball-screens quite a bit towards the end of the season and showed glimpses of being able to hold up against different types.
Avdija can’t get skinny over a screen at the point of attack and got blown by quick north-and-south guards at times, thus not profiling as an option to crossmatch onto smaller players regularly, but flashed some quickness to stay in front when shook side-to-side and guarded with his arms up near the rim to discourage these smaller opponents from attempting to shoot over him.
Against bigger players, Avdija impressed with his tenacity attempting to front the post to deny an easy entry pass and with his employment of his length to challenge easy feeds. He also held his ground his reasonably well when the ball did get entered and showed a good deal of toughness to boxout bigger players.
When he was put in the pick-and-roll while defending the inside screener in Spain pick-and-roll, Avdija approached the ball-handler in more of a hunched down posture rather than bending his knees to get down in a proper stance but slid laterally fluidly and quickly enough, showing some ability to stop the ball.
He is a good ball-handler in transition, operating off the grab-and-go to push the ball up the court and create for others on the run. The versatility of passing on the break stands out, as Avdija has shown dexterity on outlet passes, bullet passes in between the defenders transitioning back, throwing darts to a shooter sprinting to the wing or the corner and tossing a skip pass to a trailing joining the offense late.
Late in the season, Maccabi had him triggering offense in the half-court to accommodate Scottie Wilbekin working off screens and even running point full-time in a game Wilbekin missed.
As he had shown in the junior ranks, Avdija is a good shot creator for others out of middle high pick-and-roll. Though he is not one of those genius passers who can anticipate a passing lane a split-second before it materializes, Avdija is not just a basic operator who delivers over the top or on drop-offs out of a straight-line drive, having shown the body control to mix in change of speeds and putting the defender in jail in order to create a numbers advantage, engaging the last of line of defense before delivering well-timed bounce passes and wraparound passes.
Avdija hunts for opportunities to take a smaller matchup to the post as well, most commonly looking to pass out of it.
He assisted on 14.8% of Maccabi’s scores when he was on the floor last season, with a 1.27 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Avdija turned the ball over on 17.1% of his possessions. He struggled with his handle against pressure and was prone to crashing towards a help defender from time-to-time.
But, overall, he had a good year producing off the bounce against the level of competition he played against. His 65% two-point shooting on 217 such attempts is the fifth-best mark on ESPN’s top 100, with Vit Krejci as the only other perimeter player ahead of him.
Avdija doesn’t have a particularly quick first step but showed some speed with the ball on a straight-line for someone his size, able just go around bigger players while turning the corner or getting downhill in the pick-and-roll, if guarded two-on-two.
He also did well while playing through contact, having returned from the pandemic break noticeably stronger. He was able to maintain his balance and his momentum forward through contact, showing attention to detail to tuck the ball to protect it in traffic, to get to the basket in a position of strength.
Avdija hasn’t yet developed much in terms of dribble moves or side-to-side shake but has broad shoulders that suggest he’s likely to add even more bulk as his body develops, making it possible he could develop into a wrecking ball-sort of driver.
He can go up with power off one foot with a head of steam behind him and unleashed an euro-step to weave his way through the crowd at one point but has generally acted as more of a two-foot leaper in traffic. Avdija is more of an up-and-down leaper than someone flexible enough to hang or adjust his body in the air on the regular but showed some versatility to his finishing with a runner off a behind-the-back move, underhanded finishes around rim protectors and finger-roll finishes off that euro-step.
When he didn’t pass out of working with his back-to-the-basket, the versatility of his post scoring was noteworthy; patient approach, power moves to back his way into short toss-ins, head fakes to bait his man out of position and short turnaround jumpers over the defender.
His foul-drawing hasn’t yet translated to the pros, though. Avdija had a 42.9% free throw rate in the 2019 U20 European Championship but a lousy 28.9% free throw rate with Maccabi last season, one of the 20 lowest marks on ESPN’s top 100.
Though his development as a shot creator in lower levels offers some potential for him to become more than just a shoot it-or-move it floor-spacer, odds are Avdija is still more likely to operate primarily off the ball in the NBA.
With that as the case, shooting will inevitably be his swing skill and there is a lot of skepticism surrounding what kind of shooter he really is at this point of his development.
Avdija returned from the pandemic break with a more compact release, attempting to eliminate the did for rhythm out of his approach. It didn’t immediately translate into an uptick in percentage, as he hit just a third of his 64 three-point shots in the final 12 games of the season, at a pace of 7.3 such attempts per 40 minutes.
For the most part, Avdija gets little elevation off the ground but fully extends himself for a high release, able to get his shot off over most closeouts. There is value in the fact he pulls the trigger aggressively and he’s shown a little bit of versatility by taking shots off light movement on one-dribble three-pointers in dribble hand-off/side pick-and-roll hybrid actions. His 45.8% three-point rate is the 12th-best mark among wings on ESPN’s top 100.
He is more of a shot taker than a shot maker for now, though. Avdija hit a third of a 183 three-point shots last season, at a pace of 5.7 such attempts per 40 minutes.
More concerning is how he has struggled from the foul line for years, casting doubt over whether he even has the touch in place for a jump-shot to be built upon. According to our stats database, between all of his appearances with Maccabi and the Israeli National Team, both at the junior level and in the pros, Avdija has shot just 58% on 402 free throws over the last three years.