New York Knicks: Deni Avdija could unlock team’s potential

The New York Knicks have options at the 2020 NBA Draft. None are quite as polarizing as Deni Avdija, but the upside is tough to ignore.


The New York Knicks are as familiar as any franchise in the NBA with the recent rise in international prospects turned NBA Draft stars. In recent years, New York notably selected Danilo Gallinari at No. 6 overall in 2008 and Kristaps Porzingis at No. 3 overall in 2014.

New York also invested the No. 3 overall selection at the 2019 NBA Draft in Canadian slasher RJ Barrett, although he’d admittedly played a season under the NCAA banner.

Looking around the NBA, international players have evolved into omnipresent forces in contemporary rotations. Gone are the stereotypes of yesteryear, as the likes of Steven Adams, Bojan Bogdanovic, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka have carved out productive roles on playoff teams.

Taking it a step further, the following international players made All-Star or All-NBA teams over the past three seasons alone:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece.
  • Luka Doncic of Slovenia.
  • Goran Dragic of Slovenia.
  • Rudy Gobert of France.
  • Nikola Jokic of Serbia.
  • Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia.
  • Nikola Vucevic, who was born in Switzerland and represents Montenegro in international play.

That doesn’t include players who were born overseas and attended colleges in the United States, such as Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam.

As international players make their mark as star-caliber players and high-level starters, the NBA Draft has evolved. Scouts are spending more time overseas and general managers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of drafting an international prospect.

That could open the door for the Knicks to move in on the most highly-coveted international player in the 2020 NBA Draft: Deni Avdija.

Deni Avdija is an intriguing 2020 NBA Draft prospect

The Knicks will enter the 2020 NBA offseason with one expectation looming large: The acquisition of a playmaker. It’s possible that New York could re-sign Elfrid Payton, who’s had a positive impact on the team in 2019-20, or even draft a point guard.

Compounded by the expected development of RJ Barrett in that regard, New York could be a solid offensive team sooner than later.

What makes Avdija such a compelling prospect, however, is the fact that he can actually help as a playmaker. It seems strange to say that about a power forward, but this isn’t a Julius Randle situation in the sense that a 4 can rack up assists.

Avdija has advanced court vision and the passing ability to not only find the open man, but lead his teammates to their spots.

Standing at 6’9″ with a frame that should fill out and enable him to operate as both a modern and traditional 4, Avdija is an intriguing prospect. He runs the floor well without the ball in his hands and is capable of catching and finishing in transition.

What makes him different, however, is the fact that he can also run the floor with the ball in his hands—and make pinpoint passes to the open man.

In the halfcourt, Avdija is capable of running the pick and roll as the playmaker. That creates the potential for a unique offensive play call for he and Mitchell Robinson, as well as the ability to create mismatches via switches from smaller defenders.

Avdija, like all young players, will need to improve his decision making, but he has a toughness and a swagger about him that jumps off the court.

Avdija’s shooting numbers aren’t where one would like them to be, but his form is solid and he’s willing to take shots off the bounce. Repetition will help, as will the spacing of the NBA game that’s created from downhill scorers who can kick it out to the perimeter.

Assuming Barrett develops according to plan, that alone would make Avdija a fantastic complement to New York’s franchise guard.

One must go back to the pick and roll when discussing scoring, however, as Avdija is just as capable of setting screens and rolling to the basket. Stronger defenders may stop him at the rim, but he has a fundamental nature to his dives to the rim.

With touch around the basket that should improve with time and experience, Avdija could develop into the complete package as far as secondary or tertiary scoring is concerned.

The concern with Avdija is that no one truly knows what to expect of him as an isolation player. His role wasn’t that of a shot creator with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but instead, a playmaker who was asked to operate within the system.

It’s possible that he could be a Gallinari type of scorer who can do a bit of everything without specializing in one area, however, and New York should covet that type of skill set.

Defensively, it’s a similar story with uncertainty pertaining to how he will contribute, but his toughness receives consistent praise. He works hard in the gym, shows intensity on both ends of the floor during games, and has the ceiling of a legitimate two-way player.

There’s more risk involved in selecting an international player in 2020 than ever before due to the limitations created by COVID-19, but Avdija deserves a genuine look.

If the New York Knicks help him realize his potential, Deni Avdija could be the missing piece of the puzzle.

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