Deni defying the doubters


Rob Engelhardt '20, Staff Writer

In this year’s upcoming NBA Draft, there are a few household names: James Weisman, Cole Anthony, Anthony Edwards and Lamelo Ball. Every one of the names mentioned above deserves to be in the conversation for a lottery pick, but I think most people are forgetting to include Israeli phenom, Deni Avdija.

Now you may wonder who the heck is this guy? Allow me to spread some light on the man.

Deni Avdija is a 19-year-old overseas basketball sensation that scouts are drooling over. Avdija is 6’-9” with incredible ball skills and a beautiful shot to go along with his playmaking ability. Deni has been turning heads in the Euro League while averaging 12.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 2.5 APG. Last season, Deni led his club, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, to their best finish in club history placing fifth in the whole league.

From the time Deni was a young boy, coaches knew that he was going to be special. Maccabi’s head coach, Avi Even, said, “When he was really young, he had this swag. He was that kid that everybody loved.”

Deni holding his MVP trophy at the 2019 FIBA U20 World Championships

Most believe this drive and swagger came from his parents, Zufer and Sharon. Zufer, his father, was a standout basketball player himself, playing in the Euro League and leading his home country of Yugoslavia to a bronze medal in the 1992 FIBA World Championships. On the other hand, his mother was a star track runner and basketball player herself. Undeniably, he was a born a winner and grew up loving sports.

This swagger is a part of his game that he has been able to transcend into his Euro League play. His flashy passes and video game type fastbreaks are a part of his game that the fans love to watch. But what most fans don’t pay attention to is his drive and focus.

When asked about his goals as a player, he said, “I just want to be the best player that I can be. I am not trying to play anyone else’s game but my own.”

This kind of attitude and drive is something that sets him apart from other players at his age. Only being 19, he can best be compared to NBA superstar, Luka Doncic, in terms of age and talent. Luka, a former Euro League player himself, has already began living up to the hype and exceeding his lofty expectations as a 21-year-old player in the NBA.

Avdija’s versatility is another part of his game that makes him special. On offense, he can run the point, score and dish the ball nicely to other playmakers. His athleticism makes him a difficult matchup for defenses to contain so if players decide to back off him and let him shoot, he will take over the game. His shot is lethal enough to change the momentum of a game single-handedly.

His defense is where scouts say he needs to improve. He averages 3.0 blocks per game which is among the leaders in the Euro League, but if he wants to play point guard in the NBA, he must improve his on-ball defense.

Think of Ben Simmons for example. Simmons is a 6’-10” point guard with handles and good finishing abilities, but no jump shot. Deni is very similar to Simmons except for the fact that he actually has a consistent jump shot.

Now I’m not saying that Deni will be as good as Simmons is or even be a top five pick in the draft, but whoever does draft him is getting a raw, athletic talent that could very well be a future all-star. The scary part about Deni though is that he’s only been playing the game for six years… his upside is tremendous.