EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

NBA Draft Combine: Deni Avdija confident in shot despite poor numbers

Oct 1, 2020, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:00 pm
Deni Avdija, #8 of Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv competes with Michael Ojo, #50 of Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrad...
Deni Avdija, #8 of Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv competes with Michael Ojo, #50 of Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade during the 2019/2020 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season Round 28 match between Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv at Stark Arena on March 06, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Marko Metlas/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)
(Photo by Marko Metlas/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)

Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Deni Avdija was the most impressive prospect to speak over Zoom for the 2020 NBA Draft Combine.

The 19-year-old came across as about-his business and as a team-first player, which shouldn’t be all that surprising given his credentials. While gaining some big-time experience in the EuroLeague, Avdija also won back-to-back championships at the international level with Israel.

At 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds, Avdija’s attributes trend toward that team-friendly style as a point forward. He averaged 9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 21.7 minutes per game for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season.

When asked about his strengths and weaknesses, Avdija said he’s not interested in talking about that, and all that matters to him is gelling with his teammates and the desires of the coaching staff.

“I’m gonna bring what the team needs and wants me to bring,” he said.

“I don’t really like to talk about my game … I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team in that specific moment and just try to win. At the end of the game, I like to win. I love to win.”

Jeez. I wish I had that type of gusto in job interviews when I was 19 years old.

Avdija also perked up when asked about his recent shooting success since returning to action during the pandemic, and was direct in assessing why he believes the numbers are what they are (not good).

“I want to talk about my shot. I think a lot of guys who are not in the team, who are not in basketball don’t understand some things about the shot,” he said. “The shot is not always about your technique. I think my technique is good. I just think people don’t see the surroundings.

“People forget I was young, I was going through a team with a lot of experience, with a lot of pressure, with a lot of fans every night. I played several kinds of minutes. Sometimes less, sometimes more. It was kind of ups and downs with the shot and it also refers to what’s going on around. I think towards the end I felt very comfortable in the team and that’s the main reason why I think I shot better.

“I think my confidence raised and I felt better and the guys made me feel better. I think my technique — I can shoot. I’m a great shooter. I don’t think about the same shot, I always think about the next shot. If I couldn’t shoot, I wouldn’t shoot threes.”

It’s a great answer, but Avdija will have to deal with those inconsistencies in the NBA as well until he’s an established player. That’s going to take a while, and for a team like the Suns, they’ll surely hesitate at the shaky shooting numbers he put up overseas.

On 183 attempts across all competitions for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season, Avdija shot 33.3%, and his free-throw percentage is even more of a red flag at 58.8% on 114 attempts.

“I think it’s a matter of time, and I think it’s a matter of the head … I’m gonna get there,” he said of the free-throw shooting. “If it’s gonna take me to stay until 12 at night after practice to make 3,000 to get above 70%, I’ll do that.”

But that type of attitude and what Avdija does well will certainly have the Suns at least monitoring his draft range leading up to mid-November.

Avdija is ranked as a top-five prospect for some, and you’ll see him in almost every top-10. With the Suns picking 10th, he could certainly fill a “best available player” type of situation.

Wings that offer versatility are valuable, and that’s where Avdija fills in some skills that a lot of 19-year-olds do not have.

He’s a great team defender, particularly as a secondary rim protector, and is more than comfortable handling the ball to set up others running pick-and-roll.

Avdija is not anywhere near a top-tier athlete, and that’s where questions form beyond the shot. But as you can see in those clips, he’s got some giddy-up to him with line drive speed.

He very much comes across on film as the “team player” he touts himself as, and those are the types of guys the Suns covet. Of the forward/wing group involving Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Kelly Oubre Jr., none of them have the ball-handling prowess of Avdija, so it would be a new element to add to Phoenix’s rotation.

But would James Jones be willing to draft a forward with shooting questions, feeling OK enough to add some playmaking skills to his wing group at the expense of that? That’ll be percolating on draft night if Avdija has a bit of a slip down the draft.

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NBA Draft Combine: Deni Avdija confident in shot despite poor numbers