Checking in on the eight players drafted before Deni Avdija

Dec 22, 2020 | Deni Avdija

Israeli prospect Deni Avdija entered the 2020 draft with the possibility of being selected within the top five picks, so when he fell to the Washington Wizards at ninth overall many considered the foreign sharpshooter to potentially be the steal of the draft. Here we check in with how the eight rookies selected above Avdija have performed throughout the preseason.

1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Preseason Averages: 11.3 PPG 3.6 RPG 2 APG

Preseason Breakdown:
The top selection in this year’s draft, Edwards has looked like the project many felt he would be coming into the league. With an NBA body and elite athleticism, the Georgia product has demonstrated an early ability to get out in the fast break and stay ahead of the pack to capitalize on opportunities at the rim, yet both his perimeter jump-shot, as well as his defensive ability remain in question. At best his jump shot looks passable, at worse it feels forced and this was exemplified in his twenty-five percent rate from three across three exhibition games. Edwards certainly possesses the physical tools to become a plus defender, yet his effort level on that end feels lacking in comparison to his offensive aggression. As the top selection in his class, Edward’s undoubtedly has All-Star expectations, yet his one-dimensional skill set as an isolation scorer paired with a shaky jumper could condemn the Timberwolves rookie to bust status without significant improvements.

2. James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Preseason Averages: N/A

Preseason Breakdown:
Possibly the biggest question mark at the top of the draft class, Wiseman’s potential in today’s NBA will be determined by his ability to anchor the Warriors’ defense and knock down both mid-range and potentially perimeter jumpers. A physical beast who used his size and athleticism to dominate the post in college, Wiseman will likely need to shift his game to that of the modern NBA big man, a swift defender capable of guarding multiple positions on the floor while forcing the defense to respect his range as a shooter. Unable to play in the preseason due to COVID-19 protocols, the former Memphis star must prove capable of evolving his offensive game from that solely low post threat come the regular season. Wiseman enters the league surrounded by more talent than anyone else selected within the lottery and therefore should have the opportunity to grow into his role without the pressure of immediate stardom. I believe in Wiseman as an eventual NBA star, and his progression will benefit from beginning the season with the expectation to simply contribute as a role player for the contending Warriors.

3. Lamelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Preseason Averages: 8.5 PPG 5 RPG 3.75 APG

Preseason Breakdown:
Three meaningless games into his career, Ball is already must-watch television. The flashy floor general has shown off all of the skills that made him the most tantalizing prospect in this year’s draft, throwing pinpoint cross-court passes while proving his unorthodox jump shot has NBA range. Ball is a walking highlight reel, but he is also the most promising talent the Hornets have gotten their hands on since selecting Kemba Walker in the first round nine years ago. The youngest Ball brother still has much to improve in finding consistency on his jumper, as well as maintaining at least neutral value defensively, yet similarly to Edwards, Ball has the height and wingspan to become a defensive nightmare for opposing guards. The hype train on Charlotte’s savior has left the station, and there’s no going back.

4. Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
Preseason Averages: 11.25 PPG 4 RPG 0.5 APG

Preseason Breakdown:
Likely the most surprising selection within the top five, Williams has justified Chicago’s unexpected decision in early exhibitions. The Florida State forward has shown a knack for creating his shot creation by utilizing his plus size and tight handle. Both a threat from the mid-range and beyond the arc, Williams is a potential defensive mismatch for smaller wings attempting to stop him from finding his way into a good look. Known in college for his defensive versatility, as a larger forward capable of both staying with quicker swingmen and holding his ground against larger players in the post, Williams is an ideal defender for the modern NBA, which values the ability to cover multiple positions more than ever. Nobody expected Williams to be taken among the top five picks, and his early removal from the board likely assisted the Wizards in landing Avdija, yet to this point in the rookie’s career he has looked well worth the investment.

5. Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
Preseason Averages: 11.25 PPG 1.75 RPG 2.25 APG

Preseason Breakdown:
Another prospect who came off the board earlier than many projected, Okoro received extended opportunities with the ball in his hands during the preseason with Cavs’ guards Cedi Osman, Collin Sexton, and Kevin Porter Jr. all missing time due to varying injuries and circumstances. Okoro took advantage of Cleveland’s lack of shot creators on the floor to the tune of an eighteen point debut that certainly opened some eyes. An excellent collegiate defender due to both instincts and athleticism, Okoro’s potential as a scorer was the major question mark entering the draft. If the Auburn product gets a chance to be a primary ball-handler come the regular season, he has looked capable of carrying a significant load offensively.

6. Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks
Preseason Averages: N/A

Preseason Breakdown:
Unable to play during the preseason due to left foot inflammation, Hawks fans will have to wait until at least December 28th, when the defensive-minded center will be re-evaluated by the teams’ medical staff. Okongwu fits the mold of a modern NBA center, an imposing shot-blocker, and an ideal pick and roll partner, yet his fit with Atlanta is certainly questionable. Okongwu’s ceiling appears similar to that of rim running center Clint Capela, which would be an excellent model to replicate if Capela wasn’t already on his team. The Hawks hope their first-round selection can be a pick and roll mate for franchise cornerstone Trae Young, yet in Capela, they have essentially a more polished version of Okungwu who’s still only twenty-six years old. As neither big men are capable perimeter shooters, it is unlikely they can coexist offensively and therefore I worry Okungwu will be unable to develop to the same degree he would on a team without a stalwart at the five spot already.

7. Killian Hayes, Detroit Pistons
Preseason Averages: 7.75 PPG 3 RPG 2.5 APG

Preseason Breakdown:
The Pistons hope to have found their point guard of the future in Hayes. The French product has shown flashes of offensive talent as both a scorer and facilitator in preseason action, yet has struggled both in finding consistency on his shot, as well as protecting the basketball. Quite frankly, Hayes has been a turnover machine to begin his career, averaging three per game in just twenty-one minutes a night. Turnovers are to be expected at a higher rate among rookie ball handlers, yet to receive the usage necessary to showcase his ability to get to the rim and find open teammates, he must cut back on the frequency at which he coughs up the basketball. Hayes is a project, and Detroit has possibly the best possible veteran for him to develop behind and learn from in Derrick Rose, yet to prove his value as a top selection Hayes must play with more intention in his game.

8. Obi Toppin, New York Knicks
Preseason Averages: 7.25 PPG 6 RPG 1.5 APG

Preseason Breakdown:
Selected just before Avdija, Toppin to the Knicks just felt right. A New York native who was emotional on draft night at the thought of representing his city, Toppin’s game has rightfully been compared to former Knick and Maccabi Tel Aviv star Amare Stoudemire. Toppin and Stoudemire share a similar ability to rise to the rim, as well as body types that allow the forwards to maneuver offensively both on the perimeter as well as in the post. Toppin has brought much-needed energy to the Knicks exhibition games and looks to have the offensive touch to score from anywhere on the floor. The question with Toppin has always been defense, and in a league in which big men without defensive versatility struggle to stay on the floor no matter their offensive prowess creates concern for the Dayton stars’ long-term potential. If Toppin becomes an average defender, he can be an All-Star, if not he will likely be relegated to the role of offensive spark plug where his defense can’t hurt his team in limited minutes.

9. Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards
Preseason Averages: 10.3 PPG 6.3 RPG 2.3 APG

Preseason Breakdown:
Avdija falling to Washington with the ninth pick has given him the expectation to potentially be the steal of the draft, and in doing so prove more capable than those taken above him. Whether or not fair, Avdija has risen to the challenge, most notably in going six for six from the field for fifteen points in his debut. The Wizards plan to compete this season, with an offense centered around superstar backcourt duo Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, and therefore Avdija doesn’t need to be a primary shot creator to establish himself as a valuable asset as a rookie. Washington needs a knockdown three-point shooter who can guard multiple positions and occasionally handle the ball, three qualities that the Israeli pro has looked more than capable of throughout three preseason games. Avdija has a chance to begin the season in the starting lineup for a likely playoff team, and that alone should allow him to gradually develop into the star the Wizards hope they found.

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