Draft Day has finally arrived in the NBA. 60 of the best prospects from around the world will hear their names called virtually for the first time in league history due to COVID-19. The draft, which is normally conducted following the NBA Finals in late June, comes to everyone in November this year, approximately just over a month until the 2020-2022 regular season begins on December 22.
For former USC star big man Onyeka Okongwu, he’s had to wait an additional five months to find out what team will be selecting him in tonight’s draft. The projected top-10 pick has all of the skills modern-day NBA teams are looking for in a power forward or center. So let’s dive into Okongwu’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as who I think his NBA comparison is based on his skill set.
During his time at USC, Okongwu physically dominated every player he matched up against in the PAC-12. The 6-foot-9, 245 pound big put up sensational numbers for the Trojans during his one year with the team. He averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game as a freshman. This earned him 2019-20 All PAC-12 First Team and All Freshman Team selection. The 19-year-old finished first in the PAC-12 and 11th nationally in field goal percentage at 61.6% while playing 30.6 minutes per contest.
“It’s very difficult as a freshman to average 16 and eight on a team that wins 22 games. His energy and his rebounding and his shot blocking, the way he ran the floor, was really fun to watch,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said to the media regarding Okongwu.
The strengths Okongwu displays far outweighs his weaknesses. Okongwu is a monster around the rim on both sides of the ball. He’s an outstanding shot blocker, whether it be in one-on-one situations or coming over to help on defense. With a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Okongwu also gets in the passing lanes, averaging over a steal per game. His long arms also aid his ability to affect shots even if he can’t get the block. The best thing about the former Trojan is that he’s an elite defender inside and outside the paint, as he can switch and guard perimeter players too. But his ability to stay out of foul trouble is rare for a defensive anchor of his caliber. He’s extremely aware of where the ball is going to go off the rim, which makes him a great rebounder. He averaged 3.3 offensive rebounds per game as well as helping his team dominate in the category of second chance points. On offense, Onyeka is a physical player who can finish with both hands around the rim. He can use his athleticism to out-jump his opponents, and uses his physical gift to his advantage in the pick and roll game. He has a quick first step, which helps him navigate through the paint. His quickness paired with good post positioning and strength makes him a nightmare to guard on the block. Okongwu is a solid mid-range shooter, but doesn’t settle for jump shots, which is why his field goal percentage is spectacular. He’s good at getting to the line, at over five free-throw attempts per game, and shoots a solid percentage when he gets there at 72%. As he continues to progress, expect him to improve his jump shot even more, as he has potential to be a major threat on offense if that part of his game continues to develop.
At 19 years old, Onyeka Okongwu doesn’t have any major glaring weaknesses for a big man. He does have some areas that he can improve on for the next level. His offensive game was good at the college level, but against professionals, he will have to improve his poise on that side of the ball. His lack of ball handling makes his post-game a little sloppy. The arc on his hook shots and mid-range jumpers are a little low, so his mechanics have some room for improvement. Okongwu can also get better at passing out of the post, and recognizing help defense in the paint. The upside is there, and if he can improve even more on offense, whatever team drafts Okongwu will be very pleased.
There are two players in the NBA that come to mind when I watch Okongwu’s tape and project how his upside and progression will play out in the league. The first player who he resembles is Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat. They have very similar bodies. as they are both on the smaller side for big men at 6-foot-9. Like Adebayo, Okongwu has unique athleticism and quickness that set them apart from other power forwards and centers in the NBA. They’re both great on the defensive end as well. His other comparison is Serge Ibaka from the Toronto Raptors. Both are world-class shot blockers who can jump out of the roof. Ibaka developed a mid-range and now 3-point shot throughout his career, and if Okongwu can do the same, he can resemble Ibaka’s game. Make sure to follow along on our website and twitter for live draft coverage.