Coming into the year, USC power forward Onyeka Okongwu was largely considered to be a late first-round NBA draft pick. As of today, Okongwu is almost certainly a lock to go top 10 in the 2020 NBA draft and is probably the best big man coming out of this class. The forward’s stellar play for the Trojans helped them to a 22-9 record, which could have landed them a spot in the NCAA tournament.
A part of the reason the forward’s draft stock skyrocketed is because of disappointing seasons from Washington Huskies power forward Jaden McDaniels and Kentucky Wildcats small forward Kahlil Whitney. The 19-year-old Okongwu, standing at 6’9″ with a 7’2″ wingspan, has been putting in some solid work this season.
The freshman from USC averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 1.2 steals in 31 minutes per game. He was also shooting 62 percent from the field with a usage rate of 24 percent, which is likely to come down when he plays in the NBA. Let’s breakdown the strengths and weaknesses of this highly-touted prospect.
Big men in the NBA like Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams struggle to stay in front of quicker guards out on the perimeter due to their slow lateral movement. As a result, they often get caught flat-footed. Onyeka Okongwu has shown an exceptional ability to lock down quicker guards. His swift lateral movement combined with his length allows him to get a block from behind. The NBA guards he will be up against will be faster and more athletic, but he should be able to hold his own against them.
Though Okongwu’s overall rebounding numbers might not be great, he was the leading rebounder for USC last season. His numbers took a beating because his teammate Nick Rakocevic wasn’t far behind, as he was pulling down 8.3 boards a game. Standing at just 6’9″, Okongwu shows exceptional leaping ability and soars for rebounds. The hustle and relentlessness he shows under the basket put him in a position to snag 3.3 offensive boards per game on average.
Onyeka Okongwu’s best attribute is probably his shot-blocking, as he averages 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Usually, players who are exceptional shot blockers get into foul trouble, which forces them off the floor. An example of this is Memphis Grizzlies power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. Luckily, Okongwu has managed to stay out of foul trouble by only averaging 3.1 fouls per 36 minutes, which is really impressive.
Pick and Roll Man
Okongwu’s biggest strength on offense is his pick and roll game. He sets good screens and rolls to the cup very well. The USC player finishes 74 percent of his shots within 0-3 feet from the basket. With the NBA moving towards the pick and roll game, it wouldn’t hurt for Okongwu to have this in his arsenal.
Low Post Play
Posting up is a lost art these days and it has reduced drastically in today’s NBA. Okongwu doesn’t bully opponents down low, he’s more of a finesse player. He uses the spin move or the jump hook and is comfortable shooting with either hand. He’s developed a nice floater game as well.
Ability To Get To The Line
For a player who has 45 percent usage on post-ups and pick and roll, the ability to draw fouls is really important. Okongwu averaged 5.1 free throw attempts per game and made 71 percent of them. Though there is some room for improvement as far as efficiency is concerned, the volume is encouraging.
The biggest concern for Okongwu is his shooting. He shot 25 percent from deep and on just four attempts. It’s imperative the forward develop a three-point shot in today’s NBA because this could hurt his minutes initially. Nevertheless, there is hope he will be respectable from distance in a few years. Okongwu boasting a BPM of 11.2 despite having no outside shot is enough proof to say he can affect the game in a multitude of ways.
Okongwu’s ability to pass to the open man even in the midst of a double team is really terrific. Though his role is a play finisher, the forward can work on his ability to get others involved as well. Okongwu averages just 1.1 assists per game, but two turnovers.
Floor: Okongwu has a really high floor already. He reminds me of Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson with more upside on both sides of the floor.
Ceiling: With a more polished offensive game and better facilitation, Okongwu can be similar to Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green or Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo.
Best Fit for Onyeka Okongwu: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The Minnesota Timberwolves have won just 19 games this season and will most certainly land a top-five pick. My best fit for Onyeka Okongwu would be on the Wolves.
On the offensive end, assuming Minnesota would want to retain their new acquisition, Malik Beasley, they would have great floor spacers in Karl-Anthony Towns (41% from deep), D’Angelo Russell (35% from deep) and Beasley (43% from deep). Slotting in next to Towns in the frontcourt will give Okongwu space to show off his post-game.
He’s a relentless player who will fight for boards and get the team extra possessions which will be crucial as well. Putting Okongwu next to a point guard like D’Angelo Russell, who can facilitate extremely well, is a recipe for easy buckets. Russell is in the 67th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler.
The defensive end is where Minnesota has had major concerns during the past season. They ranked 29th in defensive rating last season with the Warriors being the only team that was worse. Though Towns and Russell are stellar offensively, they have had trouble getting stops. Okongwu’s defensive versatility and shot-blocking will definitely shore things up for them on that side of the floor.