NBA

Deni Avdija shines against college players in Israel-Auburn showcase game

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Deni Avdija was in a somewhat unusual scenario on Monday afternoon as Israel’s national team’s top player, taking on an Auburn Tigers team that is expected to be in the top 25 this coming college basketball season. The game was also on national television, broadcast by the SEC Network.

It was an atypical test, but Avdija passed it. He looked like the most gifted athlete on the field. He was also the best player on the field. And as that became more apparent as the game went on, Avdija seemed to gain confidence and play more aggressively. This will certainly make the Wizards brass happy as they hope this experience will aid in his long-term development in the NBA.

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Avdija, 21, would be a rising senior in college and, if this game was any indication, he would be a very good NCAA player if that was the path he chose. At 6-foot-9, his size, speed and agility really set him apart from the competition. Auburn has traditionally had a very good defense, led by head coach Bruce Pearl, and after a while they resorted to a foul on him. This was even the case during a 1v3 fastbreak.

Avdija finished with 25 points, much of which came from the free throw line. He passed defenders with regularity and faced hard contact in the lane on lay-ups. Avdija, as usual, was much sharper dribbling to his right. He made a series of moves to overtake his opponents and on just about every one he took off using his right hand.

Avdija missed a few layups that may or may not have featured contact. But he also had some good field-goal finishes, including in the third quarter when he drove straight from the slot and threw a one-handed slam. He was also fouled on this game.

Shortly after, Avdija cut the baseline and finished with a reverse slam with his right hand. In the third, he also dove on a back-and-forth game.

On another dunk, a fastbreak slam, Avdija jumped about the half circle inside the free throw line. He jumped a similar distance to dunk after the second quarter whistle. Each game seemed to show a little more lift from Avdija, who is now about a year away from rehabilitating a broken right ankle.

In fact, Avdija’s dunking was a common sight in this game. Although there is no official tally, he dived at least four times on plays that counted. Consider the fact that he only had seven dunks all last season for the Wizards.

Avdija was able to show much more than her soaking during Monday’s exhibition. He sometimes played all five in defense and then led the attack as a point guard. Avdija made a series of trick passes to set up his teammates but also encountered turnovers against Auburn’s scrappy defense, which has a knack for deflecting.

Avdija also hit a pair of threes from long range. His shooting output appears to be a bit quicker than it has been in the past two NBA seasons. It’s an adjustment he’s been working on since entering the league.

Some of Avdija’s games were encouraging, even though they didn’t score any points. At the start of the third quarter, he attempted a step back three. It rolled, but it was fast and smooth. It was the type of game he rarely, if ever, tried in the NBA. But it could also be a glimpse of his future, if he can work it into his repertoire.

Avdija not only had to face a physical, well-drilled Auburn team, but he was bombarded with traps and double-teams. This may have resulted in his somewhat slow start of three runs in the first quarter before he only doubled up to score eight runs in the second quarter. At halftime, Avdija had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Besides leading Israel in scoring from the box, Avdija showed a side of him that we don’t often see in the NBA simply because of his youth. He was a more vocal leader, taking his teammates aside to offer advice.

It’s a role more experienced NBA players like Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma often play for the Wizards. But over time, Avdija could develop that kind of presence just like they did after establishing themselves in the league.

Avdija may not be the oldest player on the Israel squad, but his NBA experience is invaluable. It was interesting to see him pass that on to his compatriots.

Avdija arguably got exactly what he needed from Monday’s game. He played against a lower level of competition, albeit in a highly visible setting, and stood out. If you didn’t know anything about either team and watched this game, it would always have been clear that he was the best player on the pitch.

It was potentially the kind of confidence that some players get from the Summer League. Like, Josh Giddey returning to Las Vegas and lighting it up for the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example.

Avdija has never played in the Summer League, but Monday’s match basically served the same purpose. Whether that means anything overall, we don’t know. But it seemed to represent a positive step in his continued development as a young player.

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