Former NBA scout Jason Filippi shares his thoughts on Israeli NBA prospect Deni Avdija.
After a triumphant summer in which Deni Avdija led Israel to the European U20 Championships and was selected tournament MVP, he subsequently entered this season with lofty expectations. However, despite the additional pressure, he did not disappoint, as he was able to seamlessly carry on the momentum that he had established from last summer into the 2019-2020 season. He made his debut in the Euroleague for Maccabi Tel Aviv at just 18 years old, showed consistent improvements, and had just started to fill a bigger role on the offensive end of the floor before the season was suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. He has certainly lived up to all of the hype and has solidified himself as a high lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. In a year loaded with international talent, I would even go as far as to say that Avdija is the top international prospect, at least in my book.
A 6’9” combo forward, Avdija is probably better suited to be a small-ball four in the NBA. Nonetheless, he has shown impressive versatility on both sides of the floor where he is also proving to be a much better wing defender than initially expected. His inconsistent three-point shot remains his Achilles’ heel, but the rest of his game is airtight. Avdija’s versatility and overall skill set have led me to draw comparisons to European players like Nemanja Bjelica, Dejan Bodiroga, Danilo Gallinari, and Toni Kukoc. His ability as a facilitator at 6’9” also reminds me of Ben Simmons. Avdija is the most polished European prospect I have seen since Luka Doncic.
My evaluation of Avdija has not been put together overnight, as I have been following him for several years now. I first saw him up-close at the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Junior Tournament in Mannheim, Germany in April of 2018. There, Avdija stood out despite playing with and against players two years older than him. Holding his own against much older players would prove to become a common theme for Avdija. In both the 2018 and 2019 European U20 Championships, he led his team to the finals and made the all-tournament teams. In 2019, he was even named the MVP. With all of that said, it was not much of a surprise to see that he quickly adapted to playing against veteran players at a higher level of competition this year during EuroLeague play for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Another common theme that has become evident in Avdija’s development is the fact that he seems to be continuously improving — he has looked better each time I have seen him. Whether it be an aspect of his game that he has mastered, a new skill that he has added, or visible improvements in his body, I believe it all to be a testament to his reputation of being such a hard worker. He also appears to be exceptionally mature and poised for a 19-year-old. I have spoken with many different intel sources and have been impressed with the positive feedback. Off-the-court he is a player that you would want as a part of your organization.
Avdija has managed to gain the respect of his peers at the EuroLeague level very quickly, and I am sure he will be able to do the same in the NBA. In addition to possessing a high skill level, he also has mental toughness. He comes from a winning culture and is already used to playing under great pressure. I think he will be able to transition to the NBA very well.
Though born and raised in Israel, Deni has strong Serbian ties. His father, Zufer Avdija, was born and raised in what was then Yugoslavia. He is a former professional basketball player, having played the bulk of his career with Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade, Serbia. He finished his playing career in Israel, where he met Deni’s mother, Sharon Artzi, who was a high-level track and field athlete. Deni has basketball in his blood and has seemingly always been destined to be a high-level pro basketball player.
Over the course of the last several years that I have been evaluating Deni Avdija, he has grown a lot as a player in both literal and figurative senses. He has already been heralded as the most talented Israeli player ever, and with the consensus being that he is more likely to overachieve than to underachieve, I trust that he will maximize his talent. I believe that Avdija will be a successful NBA player.