Deni Avdija (left) of Maccabi Tel Aviv handles the ball against the Serbian team Crvena Zvezda in a EuroLeague game in Belgrade, March 6, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Marko Metlas-Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)
Deni Avdija (left) of Maccabi Tel Aviv handles the ball against the Serbian team Crvena Zvezda in a EuroLeague game in Belgrade, March 6, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Marko Metlas-Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)

Sources: Warriors have their eye on this Israeli phenom

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Deni Avdija is no doubt aware that ESPN ranks him as the fifth-best basketball prospect in the world, even though he’s only 19.

With that in mind Avdija — a lanky star who has been playing in Israel’s top professional league and internationally for Maccabi Tel Aviv — declared on April 16 that he will enter the NBA Draft scheduled for June 25.

And with an early-round lottery pick for the first time in eight years, after a disappointing and injury-addled season, the Golden State Warriors may have the chance to draft Avdija.

On Tuesday, NBC Sports reported the team was interested in the young player, and sent scouts to Israel during the 2019-2020 season to take a serious look.

If the Warriors did draft Avdija he would become the second Israeli to play for the team in three years. Forward Omri Casspi played 53 games for the team en route to a championship during the 2017-2018 season.

Avdija is only the sixth Israeli ever to enter the draft for the world’s top pro league and is expected to be the second, after Casspi, to be drafted in the first round.

Avdija, who was born in Kibbutz Beit Zera in Northern Israel, is carrying on a family tradition with his athletic prowess. His father, Zufer, a Muslim Serbian-Israeli citizen, played for his native Yugoslavia’s national basketball team as well as several Israeli pro teams in the 1990s. His mother, Sharon Artzi, is a Jewish Israeli and former track and field athlete.

Avdija holds dual Israeli and Serbian citizenship.

ESPN describes him as a future “big playmaker” — at 6-foot-9 he is tall enough to play power forward, but also “has the ballhandling, creativity and playmaking skill” of a point guard. Avdija, its scouting report adds, brings “toughness, competitiveness and swagger” to the court.

Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman has projected Avdija to be the No. 2 pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Avdija made his draft announcement on ESPN’s morning show “Get Up.”

“The NBA is the best league in the world. There is a lot to learn over there and a lot of experience there,” he told ESPN. “It’s going to be great to take my game to the next level.”

His Maccabi Tel Aviv club plays in Israel’s Premier League and in the EuroLeague. Casspi had also played for Maccabi when he was selected 23rd by the Sacramento Kings. He played 10 years in the league for several teams.

After initially deferring the military draft, Avdija joined the Israeli army — mandatory for all young citizens of the state — on April 1 when the basketball season was delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.

But he was named an Exceptional Athlete, and will be allowed to complete his military service abroad in training, or by playing in the NBA. He’d likely prefer the latter.

JTA

Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.