Alright, you know what the big news around the Washington Wizards is: Deni Avdija is coming to the nation’s capital.
Last night and earlier this morning, the Bullets Forever staff (and an old friend) gave our thoughts on the news of his arrival. Here it is below.
Albert Lee: The Wizards have drafted Avdija at No. 9. Is he a safe pick given the Wizards’ poor track record of developing non-Americans (Oleksiy Pecherov, Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely, etc.) in the previous basketball operations era? Or will he be a big contributor for the Wizards over the next few years? After all, this is the second straight year the Wizards have drafted a non-American in the first round
Yanir Rubinstein: I interviewed Deni, his family, coaches, etc. and followed him closely this past year, while preparing the draft special on him for CloseUp360.
John Heiser: There’s a lot to like about Avdija. I started to come around on him when I learned that his father is Serbian and played professional basketball in Yugoslavia (the predecessor state of Serbia before the 1990s) and Israel. He met Deni’s mother (a track and field athlete) in Israel while playing there. I’m a sucker for a basketball love story.
He’s an inverted Rui in many ways. Rui has the power game and the in between jumpers but lacks instincts making plays. Deni has vision, playmaking but with finesse and an improved three-ball.
He’s not Luka Doncic, never was. He’s not Danilo Gallinari either. Deni is more of a small forward than Dario Saric ever was... but he could be Hedo Turkoglu 2.0. For those that forget quickly Hedo topped out at 19 points and 6 boards with 5 assists and 1 steal per game. Would Wizards fans be happy with that even if he never made an All-Star team?
They referred to him as a “blend player”. Instead of expecting him to blend, the Wizards should be helping him define his role. Thats been a challenge for young draft picks under Scott Brooks.
Tomas Satoransky and Troy Brown have wondered aloud to the media about what exactly Brooks wants from them. It’s not always clear that Brooks sees his guys the same way Tommy does. Rui Hachimura gets talked up as a small forward, but he plays mostly at the power forward and spends some time as a small ball center.
Sadly, neither pick, including Cassius Winston moves the meter defensively. I get it. NBA front offices who expect rookies to jump right in defensively don’t last long. There’s still a defensive culture to build and they haven’t put sufficient resources towards that goal.
Those improvements will have to come through free agency.... which starts like, now?!
Marcus Atkinson Sr.: I have a mixed view on the pick. I like Deni’s game but I question the fit. What exactly is his position in the league? If we’re going to say, well it’s position-less basketball then I wonder in a lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Avjida, and Hachimura, who is the best defender, and who is going to take on those challenging wing assignments?
It would be nice if Deni can defend at a high level but he will need to improve his lateral quickness (if possible) and his strength. If you put him at the 4 and take Rui out of the picture, it’s not such a bad combination, but that’s what scares me. This wasn’t a pick for fit, this was a BPA, so now how do you make it work?
The other item is what does this do to Troy Brown? Deni has similar skills, but a bit more size. Does this mean TBJ is more expendable now? I got a lot of questions, but I like his talent. The potential is there, but how will they help him realize it?
Greydy Diaz: I believe Avdija is a solid pick for the Wizards. The 19-year-old isn’t the usual rookie. As a professional player overseas since 2017, he’s had the chance to develop his game and have success early on. Avdija played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the top tier basketball programs outside of the U.S., for his first professional years and was the youngest player in the club’s history. Avdija is a three-time Israeli League champion, an Israeli League MVP and a two-time FIBA U20 European champion, among other accolades.
Avdija’s guard and forward skills make him versatile and will add value on both ends of the court. His quickness will fit in with Wall and Beal on offense. With the right chemistry and lineup, I see him fitting in perfectly and actually making an impact right away.
Akbar Naqvi: As far as value goes, Deni is fine, in fact some would argue he has been a steal as some teams had him fourth or fifth on their boards. On paper, he is a perfect fit for the modern NBA. The league is moving towards having smart playmakers at all positions that can do a bit of everything and play both ends, and Deni fits that mold. In a vacuum, this is a perfectly defensible pick.
However, it is clear he is far from a finished product and one could argue there isn’t a clear way he helps the team significantly in the short-term. He’s a good defender, but not game-changing like Okongwu or Okoro. He’s not a great shooter and his sub 60 FT% is legitimately a red flag, so it will be challenging to have him on the court without three or four other shooters.
I think some of the dissatisfaction around the pick from Wizards fans is more of a reflection of the team’s lack of clear direction. On one hand, the team says it wants to make the playoffs and expects to build around Bradley Beal, and has even been in rumors to trade Wall for Russell Westbrook, an example of a clear win-now move. However, in terms of the transactions that have actually materialized, the Wizards are operating like a rebuilding team by stacking up on young assets, drafting and signing developmental projects, and not really making any moves that would result in immediate improvement.
How this season plays out will answer a lot of those questions, though. If the team ends up better than expected, Beal has another all-star season, Wall comes back to at least 70 percent of what he was, the young players improve and Deni contributes right away, the Wizards could make the playoffs and convince themselves they are a young, competitive team with upside and potential for internal improvement.
But if the season goes south and they are once again a lottery team (which I think is more likely), then they’ll likely trade Beal and go all-in on trying to develop their young talent and adding more to a rebuilding team.
Kevin Broom: I had Avdija rated eighth in YODA with a score that would have had him 13-15 in a more normal draft year. In my analysis, Haliburton would have been a better selection. That said, Avdija is a good prospect who has the potential to become a good NBA player if he puts in the work to develop. He has good feel for the game and excellent ball skills, which won’t mean a whole lot if he can’t threaten defenses from three-point range. The atrocious free throw shooting is cause for concern in that area. His 58.8% this season improved his career free throw percentage.
I’m not a big fan of what the organization has said about him. I get that they’re excited to get him and they think he’s going to be good. They said the same things when they picked Jan Vesely. That’s not to compare Avdija to Vesely (they’re very different players) or to say Avdija will bust. I’m just saying it would be wise to temper expectations and let him develop. He has potential. It’s up to the Wizards to figure out how to maximize it.
Ben Becker: Well said, Akbar. The things Avdija does well would seem to make him unlikely to be an outright bust — though that potential is there if he can’t improve his shooting. While I like the thought of him attacking closeouts, he’s got to shoot it well enough that teams actually....close out on him.
I have this funny feeling in my gut though. Let’s see. High energy European player who athleticism for his size served him well as a young pro overseas. He’s the son of athletes. Solid all-around prospect with no easily identifiable elite NBA skills. He is also a suspect shooter, particularly from the line.
Does anyone else have Jan Vesely PTSD yet?
I am not saying Deni will flame out the way Vesely did by any means, but Kevin
Doom Broom did remind me that Tommy Sheppard played a big part in picking two colossal European lottery busts in Jan and Nikoloz Tsitishvili.
At least in Deni’s case, he wasn’t a reach; nine was a reasonable spot to pick him. That said, passing on Haliburton was a disappointment. He seems like a perfect fit as someone that could play with either John or Brad (or both), and I’m admittedly swayed by how much better he rated in YODA.
So yeah, I’m frustrated. It’s nothing particularly against Deni, but it just goes back to Tommy’s refusal to pick a lane.
We will have part two of our roundtable tomorrow morning!