Could Deni Avdija be a Chicago Bull come Nov. 18, the scheduled date for the NBA Draft?
Draft experts en masse seem to think there’s a solid chance. Oddsmakers too. The fit is an easy one to envision: A 6-foot-9 forward with point guard skills, Avdija would bring playmaking, versatility and toughness to a wing rotation that has often been understaffed throughout the team’s current rebuild. Still just 19, Avdija is fresh off a campaign in which he became the youngest MVP in Israeli League history, and helped lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to its third consecutive league title.
Appearing recently on the Bulls Talk Podcast, former Phoenix Suns draft consultant and current The Stepien contributor Spencer Pearlman laid out why he believes a marriage between Avdija and the Bulls could be a fruitful one.
“Deni and Chicago is actually something I’ve thought a lot about. I think it’s a really good fit,” Pearlman said. “You could play him at the 3, play him at the 4. You could put some interesting lineups out there depending on, you know, do you want to play Lauri (Markkanen) at the 4 next to Wendell (Carter Jr.), or do you want to go small ball, have Wendell at the 5, Deni at the 4, which I think [Avdija] can do, because he’s physical. That’s another thing. He plays above his size.”
Indeed, a wing with Avdija’s push-the-pace inclination, off-ball instincts (as both a cutter and help defender) and facilitatory prowess appears made in a lab for the modern NBA. The exact brand of swiss army knife player the Denver Nuggets coveted in Artūras Karnišovas’ time in their front office.
But Avdija is not a surefire prospect. Questions exist regarding his lack of elite athleticism and physical tools (his wingspan is reported in the 6-9 to 6-10 range, unideal for his height). Above all, his sporadic outside shot has been a point of microscopic examination throughout the predraft process.
How sporadic? Avdija canned 33.3 percent of 183 total 3-point attempts across 59 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2019-20 season — 35.3 percent on 136 attempts in 33 Israeli League games; 27.7 percent on 47 attempts in 26 EuroLeague contests. Perhaps most alarming, though, was his 58.8 percent free throw percentage (114 attempts). Free throw accuracy has riddled Avdija throughout his basketball life. He shot just 42-of-82 (51.2 percent) from the charity stripe with Maccabi in 2018-19, and 27-for-45 (60 percent) in the FIBA U20 European Championship with Israel.
Pearlman said he’s buying the shot, and the fact that Avdija, by all accounts, possesses the requisite work ethic to flip his fortunes.
“The question mark is his shooting, and I personally bought it,” Pearlman said. “I know he’s a mid-50’s free throw shooter, I think that’s mainly him getting too down on himself if he misses a shot. I’ve been told he’s one of the hardest workers pretty much ever from an Israeli League assistant coach, so that’s obviously high praise.”
Avdija was eager to address concerns over his shooting at his media availability session at the virtual 2020 NBA Draft combine. Do with this bite what you will, but it sheds light on some key contextual points necessary to discussing Avdija’s game.
Listen to our full Bulls draft preview with Pearlman here or via the embedded player below. Read our full prospect breakdown of Avdija here.