The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery is set for May 8th and the draft for June 25th, but whether those dates get pushed back remains unclear. The NBA season seems to be lost amid the coronavirus, and 2020 should mark a fresh start and lost year for all players, coaches, and fans alike. Surely, everyone was hoping the 2019-20 NBA season was going to end in a battle for Los Angeles with LeBron vs Kawhi while Giannis Antetokounmpo waits in the wings — but who knows we still may get it.
This time of year for college athletes means graduating and moving onto the next steps of their lives or returning to their universities. With COVID-19 surrounding the draft, some players are opting to go back to school, while players like Onyeka Okongwu sit firm, believing in their draft stock and projections. How the 2020 draft process is going to impact American and international players is unknown, but what we do know is Okongwu is the best center entering the draft and a sure-fire lottery pick.
Okongwu’s One-and-Done USC Season
Undersized for an NBA-center, Okongwu stands 6-foot-9 and 235-pounds but has the agility that today’s big men are progressing towards. In Pac-12 play alone, Okongwu finished top 10 in field goal percentage (1st), offensive rebounds (2nd), blocks (2nd), rebounds per game (T-4th), total rebounds (7th), points per game (9th), and defensive rebounds (10th).
He made 72.6% of his field goals at the rim on 65.5% of his shots coming in the paint or rim according to Hoop-Math. What separates him from other centers in this draft is his ability to step and extend his range with 41.5% conversation rate of his attempted two-point jumpers. His mid-range jumper was 33.1% of his offense as a freshman at USC with 46.2% of those shots coming off an assist.
Okongwu defensively is a presence around the rim and rejected 2.7 blocks per game and 3.54 blocks per 40 minutes. He recorded 8.6 rebounds per game in 30.6 minutes, which translates to an impressive 11.3 boards per 40 minutes. His 3.3 offensive rebounds per game were the most in the conference, and his 92 total boards were the second-most overall.
Offensive and defensive, Okongwu’s talents are reminiscent of Bam Adebayo’s of the Miami Heat. He can stay put in the paint and cause problems, but both own a mid-range game that separates them from other undersized big men.
Okongwu finished 11th in the country going 61.6% from the field hitting 175-of-284 field goal attempts as an 18 and 19-year-old. He shot 75% or higher from the field in 14 of 28 games at USC and scored double-digits in 25-of-28 games. He posted the second-most double-doubles behind Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji and Washington’s Isaiah Stewart’s 14. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Okongwu in the NCAA tournament to compare his skill set to other elite competition, but from what we’ve seen in one season, he’s a guaranteed top-10 selection.
How Does His Game Translate?
Okongwu had the highest usage rate on the team as a freshman (23.5) and posted an astronomical offensive net rating of 122.8 per 100 possessions according to Sports-Reference. His true shooting percentage was 65.4% and he posted a 31.1 player efficiency rating and 5.4 win shares for the Trojans. Okongwu has an array of strengths and weaknesses that will be effective in the league, but keep in mind these main points when watching him play.
Strengths That Will Translate
- Elite mid-range game for a big – 41.5% mid-range jumper – 46.2% off assists
- Efficient free-throw shooter, he hit 72% of the time getting the charity stripe 5.1 times per game (3.7 made)
- Rim protector – 76 blocks in 28 games (2.4) – excels at blocks from behind
Weaknesses That Need Work
- Lack of true fundamentals for a big – not much of developed post-game shot selection
- More of energy player on the offensive end around the rim – relies on the second rebounds off miss
- 88.5 DEF rating – lackluster in rotating over – forces fouls when late – doesn’t get back on the fast break
Being from Chino Hills, he was a former teammate of Lamelo Ball, so there is tons of hype surrounding Okongwu and deservingly so. He showed offensively his talent can develop in the NBA’s, and with a 7-foot-2 wingspan for being 6-foot-9 at 19-years-old, he’s still going to grow into his body to become a better defensive player. His defensive rating was an unimpressive 88.5 per 100 possessions, but he was a shot-blocker and intimidator for all 30.6 minutes on the floor.
You can watch Okongwu break down his film with ESPN’s Mike Schmitz to see how far his game has come, but the best comparison to his game is Bam Adebayo by far.
Okongwu has a small hint of Montrezl Harrell in there when it comes to his persistence around the rim. Okongwu has the agility and skill set to pull off the post-spin, euro-step, hook shot, and pull-up similar to Adebayo’s game; while on the second-chance and rebounding efforts he has a similar style to Harrell’s efforts.
I project Okongwu to be an above-average starter in the NBA, someone who can come in immediately and impact a starting rotation like Wendell Carter Jr. in Chicago or Myles Turner in Indiana. Both players came into the league at 19 and averaged at least 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 block per game as a rookie.
Where Will He Get Drafted?
With the lottery not out yet, it’s unclear where Okongwu will fall, but his ceiling will certainly be around the 4 or 5 picks depending on what teams are there. Teams that are most in need of Okongwu’s services include Charlotte, Detroit, Golden State, New York, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Washington.
Cleveland, Golden State, and Minnesota have 14% odds to get the No. 1 overall pick, while Atlanta (12.5%), Detroit (10.5%), New York (9.0%), Chicago (7.5%), Charlotte (6.0%), Washington (4.5%), Pheonix (3.0%), San Antonio (2.0%), Sacramento (1.3%), New Orleans (1.2%), and Portland (0.5%) all trail in hopes of being the next Pelicans-Zion story.
Okongwu is reportedly drawing strong interest from the Warriors. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote,
“Believe it or not, the Warriors are actually higher on Southern Cal’s Okongwu than James Wiseman. If they end up taking a big man in the top five, it’ll almost definitely be the 6-foot-9 Okongwu. His game is well-suited for the Warriors’ style.
Unlike Wiseman, Okongwu can shuttle between multiple positions with ease. If the Warriors get the No. 4 or 5 pick, they’ll definitely consider Okongwu.”
The Spurs are another team that could draw strong interest. They lack power forward/center help outside of the aging LaMarcus Aldridge, and there are already two of the NBA’s eight USC players on the roster (DeRozan, Metu). Greg Popovich could use some assistance after missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
Charlotte, Detroit, and Sacramento are all in need of young centers with some athletics and offensive game. Paired with Christian Wood in Detroit would be a promising duo after the Andre Drummond departure. Charlotte’s frontcourt consists of Bismack Biyombo, P.J. Washington, and Tyler Zeller, so the arrival of Okongwu would be welcomed at this point in the rebuild. Sacramento has struggled to stay healthy, but their center position is a log-jam of Alex Len, Richaun Holmes, and Harry Giles, so sliding Okongwu into the power forward position at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan is a power move. There will be suitors that could look to put him at four, but his natural position will be the five when his body fills out.
No matter where he falls, he’ll be walking into camp as a starter, and don’t be surprised if he hears his name called top-five. That comparison between Okongwu and Memphis’ James Wiseman will continue, but you know what you’re getting from Okongwu compared to Wiseman.