NBA Mock Draft: ESPN projects Deni Avdija to Charlotte Hornets

Mitchell Northam

Could the Charlotte Hornets draft a player from overseas with their first-round pick this summer?

According to ESPN, that scenario could come to fruition.

In his latest mock draft - published Jan. 10 - ESPN's Jonathan Givony has the Hornets selecting Israel's Deni Avdija with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Givony also gives the Hornets' just a 10.4 percent chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick.

So, who is Deni Avdija?

Here's what you need to know.

  • He's 19 years old, but has been playing professionally since 2017.
  • Avdija was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and plays for a club in his native country, Maccabi.
  • His father, Zufer, is Serbian and a former professional basketball player. He represented Yugoslavia in the 1982 FIBA World Games, helping the country win the bronze medal.
  • Avdija has represented Israel in the past two FIBA U-20 European Championships. Israel won the gold medal in both 2018 and 2019. He was named MVP of the 2019 tournament.
  • Avdija has helped Maccabi win two Israeli League titles, in 2018 and 2019.
  • According to Basketball Reference, Avdija is playing 13.4 minutes per-game for Maccabi this season, averaging 3.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists per-game.
  • One of his best games this EuroLeague season was on Dec. 17, when he tallied seven points, seven rebounds and three assists across 14 minutes in a win over Zenit Saint Petersburg.
  • Avdija has been to Charlotte once before: In February 2019, he was at the NBA All-Star game, participating in the league's "Basketball Without Borders" global camp. He left the event with MVP honors.
  • It's unclear how tall he is, being listed some places at 6-foot-7 and others at 6-foot-9.

ESPN's Mike Scmitz profiled Avdija this past summer. He pointed out what the young Israeli prospect is good at already and also where he has room for improvement.

On his shot-creation skills: "When he wasn't pushing in transition or operating out of ball screens, Avdija took defenders down to the post, where he is more often than not looking to create for others. This bodes well for Avdija's ability to punish switches in the NBA. He can make a short turnaround, use his strength to create opportunities or employ fairly crisp footwork to draw fouls. He sees both sides of the floor from the block and loves to hit the weakside shooter on the wing."

On his lack of efficiency when trying to finish: "Avdija struggled mightily around the rim all tournament, to the point where he appeared to develop a case of the yips for stretches, blowing wide-open right-hand layups or air-balling short floaters. He lacks a degree of physicality as a finisher, too often shying away from contact and lacking versatility in his technique. Predominantly a one-leg jumper, Avdija must find more ways to keep the defense guessing while utilizing his size and strength, in order to benefit in the long run."

The Hornets last spent a draft pick on Arnoldas Kulboka of Lithuania in the second round of the 2018 draft. While the 22-year-old 6-foot-9 forward hasn't played for Charlotte yet, the Hornets still own his NBA rights. Kulboka is playing this season for Spain's RETAbet Bilbao Basket, where he's averaging 9.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per-game while shooting 38.4 percent from three-point range.

Charlotte spent a first round pick on France's Alexis Ajinça in 2008. The center played in just 37 games for the club before he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 2010.

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