Deni Avdija isn’t fazed by Knicks draft snub, Obi Toppin comparisons

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Deni Avdija became the NBA’s first lottery pick from Israel on Nov. 18, but not before surprisingly falling to the eighth pick — where the Knicks were waiting.

The playmaking 6-foot-9 small forward had been projected to go either fourth to the Bulls or fifth to the Cavaliers, so his slip was surprising. The Knicks, who interviewed the Israeli, but didn’t work him out, passed and chose Obi Toppin, the power forward from Brooklyn via Dayton.

The Wizards snapped Avdija up with the ninth pick. Now, Toppin and Avdija will battle for the first time Friday at Washington’s Capital One Arena.

A significant amount of Israelis live in New York City. In fact, the city’s Jewish population is more than the combined Jewish populations of Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco combined.

As the Knicks were on the clock, Avdija was not thinking along those lines. He wanted to go to a franchise that wanted him.

“I just wanted to be drafted,’’ Avdija said on a Zoom call Thursday. “I wasn’t thinking about the city, how many people in the city and how many Jews are in New York City. I was just hoping to go to a team that believes in me and wants me there. That’s what happened. I’m with the Wizards and am as happy as can be.’’

Avdija, who missed two weeks because of COVID-10 contact training, is having a decent rookie season — and outperforming Toppin — despite a recent slump in 3-point shooting. Avdija still is hitting his 3’s at 38.3 percent, and is averaging 7.0 points. 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 18 games. He’s playing 22.9 minutes per game, nearly double Toppin’s average (11.7).

Toppin will have his career compared often to Avdija’s. According to sources, if the Pistons had picked Toppin at the seventh spot, the Knicks would not have snared Avdija, because they were concerned about his upside. They saw him more as a solid role player. The Knicks would have gone with either shooting guard Devin Vassell or point guard Kira Lewis.

Avdija, who turned 20 on Jan. 3, was also deemed more of a project than the 22-year-old Toppin. Indeed, Avdija appears to have more of a learning curve in familiarizing himself with NBA talent. Avdija starred the last two seasons for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“I’m still learning the league,’’ Avdija said. “It’s not easy to come here, come every night and just learn all the new players. Every night you get new players to learn about and what they do, learn their game style. It’s not as easy as a rookie with a game almost every day. Now I have to focus on the New York Knicks. I need to learn whose playing on the Knicks, who their players are. It’s really intense. You have to be really focused.”

He began the season as a starter, but has since been demoted to the bench. Wizards coach Scott Brooks said he expects Avdija to finish the season as a starter as Washington (6-16) goes through another rebuilding campaign.

Toppin and Avdija are struggling to create their own shots, but Derrick Rose’s presence should help the Knicks’ lottery pick. Avdija is the better 3-point shooter and playmaker, but Toppin is more athletic. Avdija, however, is also a standout in running the floor. He made a sleek one-handed feed on the break to Russell Westbrook on Wednesday.

“It’s one of the natural things I do,” Avdija said. “I did it my whole life. I always liked to push the ball. My mind is different in the open court. I see things differently.’’

Brooks said he liked Avdija’s “swagger,’’ but emphasized the rookie is still acclimating himself to the NBA.

“He’s a young player who cares,’’ Brooks said. “He’s also a player who needs to grow and learn. He gets down on himself when he doesn’t shot the ball well. It’s my job to pick him up. He hasn’t shot the ball the last few games. He’s a good shooter. And he’ll snap out of it. I love what he brings.

“He’s playing a lot of minutes. Not a lot of guys who are young play a lot of minutes. … He started a lot of games. And if he keeps doing what he needs to do and feel more comfortable he’ll get back to that starting spot. He’s got a learning curve. His best will come in the future.”

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