Editor's note: As the Warriors prepare for the 2020 NBA draft, during which they will have a lottery pick for the first time since 2012, NBC Sports Bay Area will present a twice-weekly series spotlighting two players expected to be evaluated. This is the 11th of a 12-part series over a six-week span.
The first thing to understand about 2020 NBA Draft prospect Deni Avdija is that it’s unfair to compare him to Luka Doncic, even though there are commonalities beyond honing their games on European soil.
The next thing to understand about Avdija (AHV-dee-ya) is that the 19-year-old Israeli still is intriguing enough to be on the board of every lottery-bound team, including the Warriors.
Partly because so little separates the top 15 players and partly because he does many things well but nothing spectacular, Avdija’s draft projections read like a stock-market graph -- as high as top-three and as low as late lottery.
Though NBA teams became aware of Avdija as a 16-year-old, it was after his performance in the 2019 FIBA U20 European Championship, where he led Israel to the gold medal and was named tournament MVP, that they intensified their interest.
In 2018-19, it was mostly NBA scouts crossing the Atlantic to observe Avdija. In 2019-20, those trips were upgraded, as a procession of general managers took seats in mostly smallish gyms. The Warriors, according to multiple league sources, were among those taking a long look.
Video study of Avdija reveals someone more comfortable with the ball than with his shot. Someone more comfortable creating than scoring, but able to do both. His defense is more well-intentioned than effective. He’s a lanky kid whose swagger and high effort -- two elements that mirror Doncic -- compliment his broad set of skills.
Some compare Avdija’s game to those of Mike Miller or Danilo Gallinari, others to Hedo Turkoglu, Boris Diaw or Joe Ingles. I’d lean heavily toward the latter, mostly because Avdija’s basketball IQ seems high and he’s a better passer than shooter.
“Is he good enough to get minutes right now? Not on most teams,” one Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Bay Area. “But for his age, he’s got some polish, some things you can’t teach. You can see that he really wants to be good, that he believes in himself and is willing to be ‘the guy.’ Personally, I like that.
“That said, I think he could develop into a rotation player in a year or two. If he can get his shot to be more consistent -- and that’s something that can be worked on because I think he’ll want it -- he can have a pretty good career.”
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Avdija will be the second Israeli drafted in the first round. The first was Omri Casspi, who was drafted No. 23 overall by the Kings in 2009 and was a reserve for most of his 10 seasons. Though they both measure 6-foot-9 in shoes, Casspi and Avdija play very different offensive games.
Casspi, who spent most of the 2017-18 season with the Warriors, was a combo forward whose best work came off the ball, cutting and using screens to exploit the defense. Avdija is, in short, a small forward with guard skills who might evolve into a stretch-4.
His bloodlines offer promise. His Serbian father, Zufer, was a Euroleague power forward. His Jewish mother, Sharon Artzi, participated in track and field, as well as background. Deni has been around the game practically from birth.
The success of Doncic over his first two seasons surely turned more eyeballs to Avdija. Doncic is the first European teenager to immediately have success in the NBA. He proved legit as a rookie, becaming a star in his second season.
“Everyone has their own pace,” Avdija told Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report last November. “But Luka is a one-in-20-years-player.”
Listen to Avdija on this. He will not enter the league as a roster centerpiece, certainly not a franchise savior. He’s a piece, period, with an opportunity to be a very good piece and a chance to be even more.
Deni Avdija profile
Birthdate: Jan. 3, 2001 (19)
Hometown: Beit Zera, Israel
2019-20 stats (Israeli Basketball League): 12.3 points (55.5 percent FG, 34.3 percent 3p, 50.9 percent FT), 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists.
What they’re saying: "He’s a tough kid, smart, played at a high level long enough like a lot of guys that have come over from Europe -- Doncic, (Ricky) Rubio, (Kristaps) Porzingis. He’s been a basketball .... I don’t want to say prodigy in the way that Doncic was, because Doncic was Mozart. If Doncic was Mozart, this kid’s Elton John." – ESPN analysis Fran Fraschilla, to Cleveland.com