After a long wait, the 2020 NBA Draft finally took place last night, and the Washington Wizards used their ninth overall selection on Israeli superstar Deni Avdija. The 6’9″, 220-pound wing was projected by many experts to go in the top five, but he fell all the way to ninth for the Wizards to snatch up.
In my early evaluations of draft prospects back in April following the lottery, I actually put Avdija in the “avoid” section, citing the fact that he seemed like a fairly raw prospect, and his numbers were also not great, especially when it came to shooting.
Taking all of that into account, landing him ninth overall certainly looks like a bargain. With John Wall and Bradley Beal poised to lead the offense along with last year’s ninth overall pick Rui Hachimura, Avdija won’t be pressured into a primary offensive role to start off, but he still has the talent to contribute right away.
Avdija should serve as a boost defensively, especially off the ball, which is a welcome sign for the Wizards. The team had the worst defense in the league last season, and could use all the help they can get.
As I said in April, he could end up being one of the best players in this draft, or he could be just ‘meh.’ Now it’s up to how the franchise develops him, and how he can adjust to the NBA.
Avdija has experience as a guard and small forward, which the Wizards could really use. With Wall and Beal leading the back court, Hachimura and hopefully Davis Bertāns playing at the four and Thomas Bryant holding down the center spot, Avdija will get to rotate with Troy Brown Jr. at small forward.
If those guys can all mesh and play to their potential, there is every reason to expect the Wizards to get back into the playoffs next season, likely in the six- to eight-seed range. Obviously the upcoming free agency period could change the league landscape, but there aren’t really any franchise-altering players in this year’s class, assuming Anthony Davis runs it back with the Lakers, which is pretty much a done deal.
It’ll take a bonafide top five league-wide player to put the Wizards into legit championship contention, and while it doesn’t seem as if Avdija will reach that level, this franchise will be able to take a step forward.
In the second round, the Wizards used the 37th overall pick on Vit Krejci, a low-ranked point guard from the Czech Republic. He averaged 3.2 points in nine minutes per game last season with Casademont Zaragoza in the Spanish league. The 20-year-old is recovering from an ACL injury and likely won’t enter the league for a few years.
The pick was a bit puzzling considering Duke’s Tre Jones, Michigan State’s Cassius Winston and Arizona’s Nico Mannion were all still on the board and would all have a good chance to break in as a backup guard immediately. But then, the Wizards pretty much instantly traded Krejci away to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for the 53rd overall pick and a future second-rounder.
With our luck, Krejci will turn into the next Luka Dončić, but I still like the player the Wizards took with the 53rd pick: the aforementioned Winston. Winston was a three-year starter at point guard in his four seasons at Michigan State, where he won Big Ten Player of the Year after leading the Spartans to the Final Four in 2019. He also was named Second Team All-American in each of his final two seasons.
The Wizards needed reserve guard help, and they get that in Winston, who at 22 years old is considered a low ceiling prospect, but should still be able to contribute as a reserve right away. After taking a big swing on Avdija, nabbing Winston late in the second round seems like a great compliment.
Second-round picks don’t usually hit big, and Winston likely won’t be any exception to that, but if he can come in and serve as a reliable guard off the bench to pour in some extra points and assists, that’s all you can ask for. He shot 44.8 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from three in his final season, which should give Washington some nice shooting depth. He’s a Michigan State legend who will hopefully be able to carve out a solid role in the NBA.
Immediate reaction: The Wizards walk away with two solid prospects with upside that fill positions of need. We obviously have to see how things materialize, but it looks like a good draft.
I just wish they could have drafted Arkansas’ Isaiah Joe as well. Selfishly, I would love to have a real NBA jersey that just says “Joe” on the back. I suppose I could still get one, but I’m not sure I want Philly gear in my closet. Guess I’ll have to wait until he’s on another team.
Cover Photo Credit: Antonio Calanni/Associated Press