2020 NBA Draft: Washington Wizards luck into Deni Avdija with ninth pick

Washington Wizards Deni Avdija (Photo by Nikola Krstic/MB Media/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Deni Avdija (Photo by Nikola Krstic/MB Media/Getty Images) /

The Washington Wizards got someone nobody expected in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. Deni Avdija, welcome to D.C.

Heading into the 2020 NBA Draft, most mocks floating around had the Washington Wizards picking Onyeka Okongwu. Isaac Okoro was a fan favorite. Even names like Devin Vassell and Jalen Smith were linked to the Wizards. Nobody was thinking about Deni Avdija.

The most highly touted prospect in Israeli basketball history was projected to go long before the Wizards were on the clock. Nobody thought Avdija, a 6’9″ wing with point forward potential, would still be there at number nine. But he was, and the Wizards couldn’t pass on the upside. According to GM Tommy Sheppard, Drafting Deni was a “no brainer.

While Avdija may not have had the most impressive stat line with Maccabi Tel Aviv against EuroLeague competition (4.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 27% 3PT), he does have the resume to prove he’s a stud. Avdija dominated the Israeli Premier League as a teenager and became the league’s youngest MVP when he won the award last season as a 19-year-old. Outside of that, he was named MVP in two Basketball Without Borders camps (BWB Europe 2018 in Belgrade, Serbia, and BWB Global 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina). Plus, he led Israel to go in the 2018 and 2019 FIBA U20 European Championship. In 2019, he was named tournament MVP, too.

Avdija has been a professional basketball player since he was 16 years old, and that resume speaks to his vast experience. Playing so much high-level basketball has helped Avdija develop an extremely high basketball IQ and a nice all-around game. He has great vision and can be a secondary playmaker while also possessing a solid handle for his size. He exhibits sound fundamentals, and while he’s not a difference-maker on the defensive end, Avdija isn’t a liability, thanks largely to his length.

But what’s the deal with his jumper? Avdija isn’t a lethal three-point shooter. While he has the ability to hit from outside, he struggles with consistency. During the 2019-20 Israeli Premier League season with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Avdija made multiple three-pointers in only three of the first 17 games. Then the season was suspended due to COVID-19. When Avdija returned, he came back to the court with a reconfigured shot. He shot 42 percent from outside over the team’s final 12 regular-season games and made multiple threes in eight of those final 12 games. So is it fixed? Maybe. Maybe not.

Even more concerning, Avdija shot below 60 percent from the foul line in both the EuroLeague and Israeli Premier League during the 2019-20 seasons.

The jumper will make or break Avdija. If he’s fixed it, great. If not, the Wizards will have to help him out if they want to unlock his full potential. Without it, though, Avdija can still impact the game. He passes extremely well and moves well without the ball, which will be critical as he develops without being the focal point of the offense. Or even close to it.

Next. 2020 NBA Draft: Deni Avdija profile. dark

Avdija’s history as an incredibly hard worker and his ability to accept his role — often as the youngest player on championship teams with Maccabi Tel Aviv — will allow him to fit seamlessly on a team that already has some established stars. Plus, he’ll be able to affect the game without necessarily being a lights-out shooter as he solidifies his mechanics.

Once his shot comes together, watch out. As many have said already, the Wizards might have lucked into the steal of the draft.