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Deni Avdija steps up for the NBA

Dov Halickman Photography

Since the start of the Euroleague and Israeli basketball league season began in October, there have been numerous NBA general managers and scouts who have who have attended games both in Israel and abroad. Why you ask? Easy, they’ve all come to see Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Deni Avdija live and in person.

What makes Avdija so attractive is that he slated to be a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft that will take place this coming June. The youngster, who will turn 19 on January 3rd has been the apple of the basketball world’s eyes for a few years already even earning comparisons to Slovenia’s Luka Doncic who is tearing up the National Basketball Association.
However, make no mistake, Avdija is no Doncic, he’s simply Deni Avdija.

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Born in Israel to a Serbian father Zufer who played basketball in the Holy Land in the 1990’s and Sharon Artzi an athlete in her own right and a Kibbutznik, Avdija has certainly been raised to succeed both on and off of the basketball court.

This season the 6ft 9in protégé is averaging a little over 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists a game in domestic Winner League play, while in the Euroleague Avdija’s numbers are less impressive playing only 6 minutes while averaging 4 points a contest. But that isn’t something that concerns the NBA brass as Avdija will continue his development in North America.

Over the summer Avdija played absolutely fabulous ball earning MVP honors while leading the Israel Under-20 team to the European Championship in Tel Aviv. Against players his own age or a bit older, Avdija can dominate both sides of the floor as the game runs through him. Playing all five positions in this tournament in front of over 15 NBA scouts definitely raised his already high stock even higher.

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NBA Draft experts have followed Avdija for a number of years throughout Europe while he played for the Under-16-20 Israel National Teams. In 2017, Avdija led the Under-16 squad with 12.3 points per tournament game to go along with 5.3 assists and in 2018 he jumped to the U-20 side where he scored close to 13 points per game and helped the blue-and-white capture the championship while earning a place on the all-tournament team as well.

So far, Sam Presti the General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers GM Koby Altman have watched Avdija live and in person this season as well as the legendary San Antonio Spurs Director of International Scouting Claudio Crippa. Add to that Trey Platt who is the Director of Pro Player Personnel of the Cavs and scouts from the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and many others to come and the pressure to perform increases substantially for Avdija.

However, that hasn’t stopped him one bit playing against Israeli league competition where he has excelled. Just this week Avidja dominated play versus Hapoel Holon clocked in with over 30 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed 7 boards, dished out 3 assists and blocked 3 shots as well. Not a bad day’s work for an 18-year old playing with men up to 10 plus years his senior.

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Certainly, the Israeli League isn’t the NBA, but it’s surely a terrific litmus test for an up and coming player. Obviously, if Avdija could produce the same numbers in the Euroleague he would be the number pick in the upcoming draft but the reality is that there are many other considerations that come into play in continental competition where Maccabi Tel Aviv sits with an 8-4 record after 12 games.

Doncic was dominating play at the Euroleague level as well as the Spanish ACB League, but one can not make a comparison between the situations. Doncic also led his Slovenia to the Eurobasket championship in 2017 but once again, he was brought up in a Real Madrid system from an early age and signed a contract with the powerhouse in 2012 when he was just 13 years old.

Avdija will now be taking on an even larger role with the club as the injury bug has ravaged Maccabi Tel Aviv. With Point guard John Dibartolomeo out for six months and effectively for the balance of the season, Nate Wolters on the shelf for six weeks plus Omri Casspi who has already missed significant time and will be out for at least another two weeks in a best case scenario, Avdija will be given every chance to shine both at home in domestic play as well as in Europe. With the ability to play multiple positions in an ever changing game, Avdija is already being counted on by his teammates and management alike.

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Veteran center Othello Hunter made it abundantly clear after the Holon game that he believes in all of the players who are on the team and doesn’t think they need to bring anyone else in. All-star guard Scottie Wilbekin also said that he has complete faith that the current personnel can step up, while coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos said that with the players on the roster, his team can battle it out in the Euroleague. That’s a lot of faith being put into one Deni Avdija and he knows it.

As he left the arena the other night Avdija stopped to talk to reporters and stated that he will give his best because at the end of the day we can all be sure he will give 100%. This will be his biggest challenge to date and he knows it as do all of the NBA scouts, general managers, teammates and fans. If the game against Holon is any indication, then one does not need to worry, Avdija will thrive under the pressure.

Dov Halickman Photography

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