The secret appears to be out on Deni Avdija. The Israeli teenager is arguably the most intriguing and talented player in the 2020 NBA Draft class.
That fact is definitely not lost on the Golden State Warriors, who were reportedly impressed after working out the Maccabi Tel Aviv forward on Oct. 22. As owners of the No. 2 pick in the draft, the Warriors will take a long, hard look at selecting Avdija with an asset that has potential to shape their future significantly as they face a unique crossroad.
A team with the privledge of adding a top draft pick to a veteran-laden, championship-caliber roster is uncommon for obvious reasons, but it's not unprecedented. Golden State only has to scroll back 17 years to find a franchise in a very similar situation, which was also giving heavy consideration to a heralded prospect playing in Europe.
Detroit's Big Miss
The Detroit Pistons were fresh off a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals as they sat with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. With a strong core of Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, Detroit had an opportunity to fortify a long-term, title-contending roster. All they had to do was either draft a solid player from a highly-touted class led by LeBron James, or trade the pick for significant talent.
General manager Joe Dumars did neither, choosing to take a home run swing on 18-year-old Serbian Darko Miličić, passing over Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The ensuing disappointment of Darko barely getting off the bench in his first Pistons season was wildly outshined by Detroit's midseason acquisition of Rasheed Wallace and unlikely run to a championship, knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. But when Darko checked in for only 37 games the following season amid concerning reports about his development, it started to become clear that Dumars had made a massive error in judgement.
Instead of pushing the roster over the top into a team capable of solidifying a dynasty, Darko became a punchline in Detroit. His stock plummeted to such depths that the team gave up on him midway through his third season, shipping the 20-year-old to Orlando for Kelvin Cato and a first round pick. Stepping on the court for only 553 total minutes while averaging 1.6 points per game, the Darko Era was over in Detroit.
After narrowly falling to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2005 Finals, followed by Conference Finals losses the following three seasons, it became apparent that Detroit one was piece short of a roster that could have captured multiple championships in the 2000s. And without a younger building block in the post-Chauncey-Rip-Ben-Sheed era, the Pistons soon entered a six-year playoff drought, living at the bottom of the East from 2009 to 2015.
Flash forward to the 2020 Warriors, who, while having three titles already in the bank, are in a similar position to use the No. 2 pick to position themselves for an extended run of prominence. Parallels can be drawn and lessons learned from the early-2000s Pistons, but Golden State shouldn't be scared off from taking a promising teenager with Serbian blood.
With a roster featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins (filling the 2013-16 Harrison Barnes role), the primary piece Golden State is missing from their pre-Kevin Durant days of dominance is the do-it-all, winning contribution from the 2015 Finals MVP: Andre Iguodala.
Cue the kid mentioned at the top of this peice. A proven winner who was recently named MVP of the 2019 FIBA Under-20 European Championships, after leading Israel to back-to-back titles.
While his likeness might be closer to guys like Detlef Schrempf or Lamar Odom, it's easy to see Deni Avdija fitting the Iguodala mold. The 6-foot-9 point-forward - whose father was born in Serbia and helped the Yugoslavia national team become an international basketball contender in the early '80s - has a versatile skillset well-crafted for the modern game. He's got handle to attack the basket and distribute in half court, combined with the speed to get out and lead the fast break. The Warriors would provide floor spacing designed for Avdija's game to thrive and fill Iguodala's No. 3 playmaker role to ease the burden on Curry and Green.
Avdija's inconsistent three-ball is the biggest question surrounding his meshability within Steve Kerr's offensive system, similar to the issue they faced with Iguodala. Yet one look at Avdija's pure, high and quick release shapes a clear path to him topping the 33.3 percent career clip Iggy had from long range. This gives Deni higher upside as a volume scorer.
Avdija makes up for not having Iguodala's hops with height and aggressiveness that allows him to put in strong work on the glass, especially on the defensive end. As NBA.com's Kyle Irving points out in his latest mock draft, Deni's length and high basketball IQ enables him to be effective and disruptive on defense. Although he probably won't be matching up with LeBron James in a playoff series, Avdija's ability to guard bigger guys should allow the Warriors to run out a formidable imitation of the "Death Lineup" circa 2015.
And don't let the commonly thrown around "lack of explosiveness" label fool you - Avdija's athleticism is more than capable for a player his size. Just ask former NBA player Gigi Datome, who was on the receiving end of the EuroLeague Magic Moment of the Season.
That flush on a EuroLeague superstar by a 19-year-old kid in his first full season tells you a bit about Avdija's fearlessness, and Deni combines that fearlessness with a craftiness you don't often find at his age. His innovation is peppered throughout any mixtapes you'll find, including an adeptness with his left that most right-handed players don't have.
On the whole, Avdija owns savvy beyond his years and a knack for making the right play, a trademark of Iguodala during his dynastic run with Golden State. This trait should alleviate the majority of Golden State's potential Darko-related concerns. Avdija's precociousness enables him to contribute right away and propel the Dubs back to contention in a post-Iggy world, while easing the load on their trio of 30-plus-year-old All-Stars. It can also provide them a transitional piece as those three guys decline and the Splash Brothers feel more comfortable spending time spotting up while Avdija creates offense.
As Golden State considers more conservative routes of trading the No. 2 pick for capable veterans, or nabbing a rim-runner like James Wiseman, they shouldn't view selecting Avdija as the same high-upside risk that the Pistons reached for in 2003. You can make the case that Deni's floor is higher than any player in the 2020 class thanks to his size, intelligence and intangibles.
With a player like that on board, these rebooted Warriors would be a tough matchup for any of the league's best teams. Just as notably, they might avoid the regrets of the 2000s Pistons and the dynasty that never was.
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