Avdija, who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Basketball Premier League, is the highest ever drafted Israeli player. Many draft analysts projected him to go even higher than ninth; on air, ESPN analyst Mike Schmitz called Avdija the steal of the draft.
Sheppard was equally pleased Avdija was still available.
“We were very grateful he ended up falling to nine,” Sheppard said. “He’s somebody that has great potential as a wing, secondary playmaker, we think he’s just going to complement our talent, be able to play with every possible lineup we throw out there. He’s a proven player playing the highest level in Europe in the EuroLeague, but his national team experience — he’s been a known commodity since he was 16.”
Now 19 and a capable defender with a guard’s handle, Avdija should be able to bolster the Wizards’ defensive presence on the perimeter.
But Washington Coach Scott Brooks highlighted Avdija’s professional experience playing overseas and for the Israeli national team as a teen as perhaps his greatest asset.
“I love his toughness. I love his IQ. As a coach, you never have to worry about a player playing hard,” Brooks said. “That’s what [Avdija] does, he steps on the court and he competes. He’s going to make our practices better and our games better … the thing that I like, is most of his career you play against guys who are older than you. He’s played against men in the leagues that he’s played in.”
The question for a Wizards team that wants to compete for a playoff spot next season is how soon Avdija will be able to contribute. Brooks said Wednesday night he won’t shy away from giving a young player minutes, but like most prospects, the teenager will need time to adjust to the size and speed of the NBA — and on a shortened timeline, with the season set to begin Dec. 22. Training camps will be underway in mere weeks.
On the surface, Avdija has exactly the defensive skill set Washington wanted. Offensively, many draft analysts pointed out heading into Wednesday that Avdija’s shot will need development.
“He passes the ball pretty well; he attacks the basket with a lot of force; I’ve seen some switching at a high level. … I think his experience, he’s got some good coaching with his dad being a player,” Brooks said. “I think he’s going to help us. He’s going to get some opportunities, but I’m looking forward to getting him on the practice court.”
Sheppard said repeatedly leading up to the draft the team is perfectly content taking a player who could require more development should the front office feel the prospect could develop into a franchise cornerstone.
“It really comes down to the consensus of the group that that player’s worth it,” Sheppard said Tuesday. ”If you’re patient, definitely, because the payoff is so great, especially in the second round. I value second round picks, we’re trying to get more right now. I think the most important thing is the whole group comes to the conclusion this player’s worth waiting two years on, three years on.”
Avdija joked in his first news conference as an NBA player Wednesday he had to thank his American agent, who lives in Washington. The pair joked through the draft process about one day being neighbors. Avdija was already thinking about meeting his future teammates in Washington — while keeping his home country in his heart.
“For me to represent my country and make history, that’s a blessing,” Avdija said. “ … I never dreamed about this until this moment. It’s still a dream.”