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In Defense of Deni Avdija

Chicago Bulls

Once the most popular name to discuss in relation to the Chicago Bulls No. 4 overall draft pick, overseas standout Deni Avdija has faced a fair bit of questions/concern lately. 

I think we all know what that means [puts on “I love Deni” t-shirt]

Look, I get it. The last thing we want the Bulls to do is draft an overly-hyped prospect to start this new era. However, let’s remember which draft we’re dealing with. Even in the top-3, there is so no clear-cut draft hierarchy. We’re talking about a prospect pool that is filled with potential busts, and there is arguably no one player the Bulls can draft a No. 4 that has more or fewer question marks than Avdija.

Anyway, what we’re looking for here is upside, and Avdija – a mobile six-foot-nine forward who has a pretty tremendous feel for the game, especially considering he is only 19-years-old – has got exactly that. He has shown very positive signs in the passing and playmaking department, as well as increasingly solid flashes on the defensive end.

Avdija’s most talked-about weakness, though, is his shooting – be it behind the arc or at the free-throw line. For whatever reason, he has struggled to find a consistent stroke despite NBA analysts praising an otherwise good-looking shooting form. In 2019-20 he shot just 27.7 percent from 3-point range with Mcaabi Fox Tel Aviv over 26 games. A lack of touch appears to plague Avdija, which is something that can be hard to teach and, thus, understandably a red flag. However, and I may be alone in this opinion, his past shooting numbers do not bother me too much. Not only do I think some NBA coaching will do him well (not to mention, he is reportedly an incredibly hard worker), but some recent numbers suggest he’s better than we give him credit for. 

And, as a quick aside … Why are we pretending he is the only player with 3-point shooting problems? Killian Hayes, who has gained popularity in the Bulls Twitterverse recently, shot 21.8 percent from downtown last season (20 games). Meanwhile, LaMelo Ball hit only 25 percent of his 3’s (12 games), forward Isaac Okoro averaged 28.6 percent from downtown with Auburn last season, and projected No. 1-overall pick Anthony Edwards averaged 29.4 percent from long-range. For the most part, I think all of us would say these guys are capable of much better averages, and the same should go for Avdija. 

In fact (and here is where we get to the better stats), he’s already shown improvement in his most recent play with Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv in the Winner League when he shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range over 28 games. The competition may not be as difficult as the EuroLeague, but that shows progress, nonetheless.

Patrick Murray, a senior contributor at Forbes, wrote a post in July about Avdija’s recent production from behind the arc, and he shares some numbers that should comfort NBA scouts. 

Up until early January across 28 games in the Israeli league and EuroLeague combined, Avdija had only made more than one three-pointer in a game once, and that was in the second game of the season. Overall he shot 12-46, just 26% on just 1.6 attempts per game.

Since January 9th across 24 games, Avdija has made more than one three in 13 games, including in all 5 games since the Israeli league has returned. In total, across that span, Avdija has made 42-102 threes, a shade over 41%. That’s a very respectable mark on 4.25 attempts per game. 

No, this doesn’t mean Avdija is on his way to becoming a 3-point assassin, but it does show a pretty nice step in the right direction. And when we consider he was able to use the Israeli League hiatus to improve this much in one category, it bodes well for his potential NBA development. We can’t underestimate the fact that he looked himself in the mirror, worked on something, and showed immediate improvements. Again, I think Murray’s words sum it up well: “But for a young player to show this level of improvement across the season while playing in a professional setting against grown men, including in the world’s second-best club competition, is encouraging.”

Also, normally when players have a quality shooting form and the right work ethic, they can improve their free throw shooting, as well. The more Avdija touches-up his shot, in general, the better results we (hopefully) see at the line. 

If the Chicago Bulls don’t end up with Avdija, I’m not going to be heartbroken. I agree that his current “master of none” status is worth some concern; however, I don’t think we can just write him off because of his inconsistent shooting numbers. The kid can straight-up ball, and whatever organization lands him will have quite the fun project to work with. 



Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is a writer for Bleacher Nation and a human being. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.