With the abrupt suspension and possible complete cancellation of the NBA season, it’s been a quiet fortnight or so in Wolves World. The games won’t start for at least another two months (if they do at all), but there is still plenty to look forward to in the incoming offseason.
The NBA Draft is perhaps the most important of those upcoming events, especially for a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves, whose woeful season has positioned them as one of the highest-profile teams come draft night. The Wolves currently hold the 3rd worst record in the league which, per Tankathon, lands them with the odds you see below to rise or fall in the lottery. They also have Brooklyn’s first round pick, which will convert if the Nets land outside of the lottery.
Keep in mind that, within the true spirit of Minnesota sports, the Timberwolves have never been lucky enough for the ping pong balls to fall their way and move up in the draft standings. Even if that doesn’t change this year, you can bet president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas and his front office cohorts have a plan for any and every scenario.
In our first glance at the Canis Hoopus Draft Radar, we gaze at Deni Avdija, one of the most promising international prospects in this year’s class and a player who should certainly be piquing the interest of Timberwolves faithful.
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)
Draft Age: 19.46
Position: Small Forward/Power Forward/Point Forward
Weight: 215 lbs
Israeli Super League
21 games, 26.6 minutes, 12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 blocks.
55.5 field goal percentage, 37.5 3-point percentage, 50.9 free throw percentage.
26 games, 14.3 minutes, 4.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists.
43.6 field goal percentage, 27.7 3-point percentage, 55.6 free throw percentage.
Along with Killian Hayes, Deni Avdija is the highest-rated international prospect in the 2020 class. At just 19-years-old he is already making a name for himself in European and FIBA play while still proving their is plenty of potential left to tap into. In most mock drafts, you will find him going between 3-10, making him an ideal candidate for Minnesota’s first pick.
His father was a professional basketball player and his mother was a track athlete, so you know that Avdija has elite athletic genes. Even in his young career, he has already won two FIBA under-20 gold medals with Israel, including 2019, where he won the Championship Most Valuable Player award. On top of that, he has won the Israeli Basketball Super League championship with Maccabi Tel Aviv on two separate occasions (2018, 2019).
- IQ & Passing Ability
The first thing that sticks out when you examine Deni Avdija’s game is his ability to make high-level reads and passes at combo forward size. While it doesn’t always bear out in the numbers, it should be one of his biggest assets at the next level.
Playing for an illustrious franchise like Maccabi Tel Aviv, the 19-year-old is surrounded by quality players that space the floor and knock down shots — much like he will be when he is drafted to the NBA. He uses this to his advantage and has become adept at kicking the pass out to the open man after collapsing the defense.
They aren’t always simple passes, though. His mind quickly scans the floor and finds the right player in the right way. Take the two passes below for an example. First, he probes the middle of the floor before hurling the pass to the spotted-up shooter. Noticeably, he sees the closing defender and throws the pass with enough leeway to lead his teammate into more space, allowing him to get off an open triple.
This pass is even more exquisite. In a broken floor situation, he seems to see his man well before making the pinpoint dish. He draws the interest of multiple defenders, rises up and leads his teammate into the pass with perfection. These kinds of dimes make it clear his eye for a pass can work one step ahead of the average 6-foot-8 baller.
He was able to make more of a box score passing splash with the Under-20 Israeli National Team in July last year. For the gold medal-winning squad, he averaged 5.3 assists in 32 minutes per night. Unlike his experiences in FIBA basketball, Maccabi Tel Aviv doesn’t often run plays for him to handle the rock and be a primary initiator, so a lot of his passing pop comes in transition.
With speed to burn, Avdija loves to race the opposition up the floor and make plays for his teammates. This should translate well at the next level, especially since he will likely be boxed into a tertiary or lower role as a creator to start his career. That’s where plays like this will become a fan favorite.
As aforementioned, he hasn’t received a lot of opportunity as a pick-and-roll playmaker at Maccabi Tel Aviv. When he has, Avdija has shown some encouraging signs while still clearly displaying inexperience in that role. In limited PnR duty, it is likely he will have no trouble finding the occasional diving or popping big — especially with his ability to get to the rim and finish providing a threat for defenses.
He isn’t going to be an elite passer like the latest international star Luka Doncic, but Avdija has the potential to become a true point forward. Whether he does or not will come down to the role he is allowed to play and continuing to grow as a ball-handler.
- Cutting, Off-Ball Movement and Finishing
When he isn’t setting the table for his teammates, Deni Avdija is a genuinely smart and effective off-ball mover. Perhaps because of his spotty 3-point shooting, the 19-year-old doesn’t seem satisfied with standing still and waiting for a catch-and-shoot opportunity, opting instead to dive toward the rim and get himself in his teammate’s line of sight.
Even after being forced to give up the ball himself, Avdija doesn’t give up on the play or think his job is done, he finds a new lane to plunge into and a new way to get himself an easy deuce.
When he catches the pass, Avdija doesn’t rush or panic his way into a bad shot, he is as cool as you’d like, finishing with a full weaponry of deft touches, plus the occasional forceful jam, of course.
Just like his ability to pick out his teammates in the right place at the right time, Avdija’s ability to make precisely-timed cuts shows how high his basketball IQ is. Lately, it has become more and more obvious that intelligent players are the most valuable archetype in the draft.
Don’t be surprised when his cutting and inside scoring are the first things to translate to the big leagues. They are skills that don’t require high usage or ball dominance and are the types of plays that keep coaches happy.
- Slashing Ability
With a quick first step and an ever-evolving arsenal of dribble moves, Avdija’s ceiling as an effective slasher looks to be growing by the day. As aforementioned, he hasn’t been given a vast amount of ball-handling duties with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but you can see in his international play just how advanced his driving and dribble penetration game is compared to other players his age.
Watch here how he sells the crossover and uses that burst to get his shoulder past his defender. Once he is into the seam, he uses the nifty finishing ability we’ve previously discussed to get the bucket.
When he gets a step on his defender, you can really see just the velocity that accompanies his first step.
Although he is getting better and better, he struggles to create separation with his handle at times. This will likely give him some issues in the early portion of his NBA career. However, he is aided by the fact that he can turn a contested look into two points with the touch and nose for a bucket. Expect to see plenty of plays like this at the next level.
If he does manage to continue enhancing his dribble-drive ability and harness that acceleration that he possesses, Avdija could become a legitimate on-ball shot creator in a few years time.
If Avdija is going to become more than just a solid role player, it’s going to be because he developed into a good-to-great shooter. At this point, there is still plenty of question marks surrounding his ability to do so.
According to Real GM, He is shooting a very encouraging 37.5 percent from deep in the Israeli Basketball Super League, but the competition is far too weak to make any sweeping declarations based on those numbers. When he steps into tougher surroundings, he has struggled. In the EuroLeague — the second-best basketball competition in the world — Avdija is converting just 27.7 percent of his 3-point attempts.
To throw more gunk into the already muddy waters, Avdija is converting just 53.2 percent of his free throws in the two leagues combined. The Ability to knock down freebies at the charity stripe has long been an indicator of shooting success from the outside, which isn’t a good sign for the young Israeli. He also doesn’t have the prettiest looking shot form, seeming to lean forward slightly too much to keep a shot doctor satisfied.
Even then, he has certainly flashed the potential to knock down off-the-dribble triples, which should sprinkle some hope onto his shooting potential. If he can connect on tough looks like this, the hope is that he will be able to at least make a respectable amount of open catch-and-shoot jumpers when he is drafted.
Whether or not he can make triples at a 35+% clip could be make or break for Avdija and is perhaps the most interesting plot of his to watch unfold.
Unlike the shooting, I’d buy stock in Avdija becoming a legitimately helpful defender when he finds his groove in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he is going to be a Robert Covington do-it-all forward, but it’s likely he can become a solid team defender who doesn’t get bullied on the ball.
From what he has shown in international and club play, the 19-year-old flashes the ability to rotate and block shots at a high level for a 6-foot-8 forward, while also, at times, struggling with ball-watching and chasing quicker players around the perimeter. Let’s start with the good. Both of these plays show elite instincts and awareness of where to be and when to be there. This indicates the potential to become a high-level rotational defender one day.
In addition, he does a fantastic job staying walled-up and avoiding swinging his arms down and committing a foul. This is super important for defenders and should especially help him early in his career when referees will be sweating over the slightest bit of contact.
Then there is the less encouraging stuff. On this play, his eyes are glued to the ball and completely unaware that his man, Timberwolves legend Derrick Williams, is about to cut right by him and dunk on his head.
This should improve as he gets NBA defensive techniques drilled into his head on a daily basis. How much it improves might be the difference between a solid defender and a legitimately good one.
On the other hand, I’m more skeptical that he will ever be able to keep up with shooters coming off pindown screens. He simply doesn’t have the nous to make himself skinny and fight through screens effectively. He is quick on his feet, but doesn’t avoid contact with the pick-setter well enough. Here, he is completely dumbfounded. With the way players look for and draw contact in the NBA, this is three free throws at best.
Even with those flaws, it’s easy to see why one would buy Deni Avdija’s defensive stocks. If he does end up a plus defender, he could end up one of the more versatile forwards around the league.
Fit With Minnesota
With D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and presumably Malik Beasley locked up and occupying three slots of the starting five, a combo forward like Deni Avdija slots in well position wise. He could comfortably start at small forward or slide up to power forward in the small-ball lineups that coach Ryan Saunders loves to trot out.
In that scenario, Avdija would give Russell much-needed relief as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker while simultaneously providing a hard cutting, sweet finishing off-ball mover that should work seamlessly with Towns. Minnesota’s franchise cornerstone works best in an offense sprinkled with shooters and cutters and Avdija could fit into that if he can knock down enough of his triples.
However, if he fails to answer his question marks, it could really hurt his potential to flourish in the Twin Cities — at least early on. Minnesota’s system revolves around taking and making long-range jumpers, if Avdija is the weak link and can’t convert open triples, it gives defenses a player to double off and force to make shots.
Defensively, even if the Israel national does enter the league and bring his exciting team defending with him, it’s unlikely he is going to be a genuine difference-maker on that end immediately. Unfortunately for both he and the team, a high-impact defender is what they need ... desperately. When Minnesota’s defense is getting massacred, it’ll be hard to keep Avdija on the floor and leave someone like Josh Okogie or Jarrett Culver on the pine.
Overall, he isn’t a bad fit on this squad by any means. And who knows, it could and probably will look very different by the start of next season. If Gersson Rosas and the rest of the front office believe he can be a respectable shooter, he might just be a top-tier target for them.