As much as any in recent memory, this year’s NBA Draft is shrouded in mystery. Not only does the 2020 class lack a clear top prospect, we still don’t even know when the draft will be or in what order teams will pick. Last week, the NBA announced the postponement of the lottery and combine, which were scheduled for later this month, and the league is reportedly expected to push back the draft as well.
That leaves the Hawks -- and other NBA cellar dwellers -- in a state of uncertainty, but one player who could realistically wind up in Atlanta is Israel’s Deni Avdija. At 19 years old, Avdija has established himself as arguably the best international prospect in the upcoming draft class and could give the Hawks a boost on the wing. Last month, The Athletic reported that Hawks GM Travis Schlenk was planning on flying to Europe to watch Avdija play before COVID-19 shut down most international travel.
On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Pickman wrote about Avdija’s NBA future, his fame in Israel, and his status as a symbol of hope in his home country. He will likely become the highest-picked Israeli player in NBA history and just the fourth Israeli-born player to take an NBA court.
"I’m serving my country for basketball,” Avdija told Pickman. “It’s something that every kid dreams of.”
Like most prospects in his draft class, however, Avdija’s game presents both encouraging signs and red flags. He averaged just four points per game on 51.5 percent true shooting in 14 minutes per game for Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, but EuroLeague statistics for teenagers aren’t always representative of their full ability or potential at the next level. SI draft expert Jeremy Woo ranked Avdija seventh on his latest big board -- just behind Isaac Okoro, another potential wing target for the Hawks -- as did The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie in his latest rankings.
At 6-foot-8, Avdija is a gifted passer who sees and feels the game well, even if his jumpshot and explosiveness lag behind that of most other potential lottery picks. He’s not the same kind of playmaker as Luka Dončić, another European forward who played professionally as a teenager before coming to the NBA, nor is he as accomplished as th 18-year-old Dončić was in 2018. But Avdija is an interesting playmaking combo forward who gets by on outthinking opponents, and players like Dončić have been instructive examples of how those traits can work in the modern NBA even in the absence of eye-popping physical tools.
"He has a lot of intangibles that will really play out,” said Avdija's Maccabi teammate and former NBA forward Quincy Acy. “He rebounds the ball well, he competes and he has a great feel for the game.”
In Atlanta, that could make him an interesting counterbalance to Trae Young as a secondary playmaker and spot-up shooter, though his limitations as a one-on-one defender would make him a tricky long-term fit. Avdija might be best served in a system that will allow him to be more dynamic, and Atlanta better off with a cleaner fit with the rest of its core.