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WHY ONYEKA OKONGWU IS THE BEST BIG IN THE DRAFT

@TheWillBaldwin

From the first game I watched Onyeka Okongwu, he became one of my favourite players in the draft. 

Okongwu is a 6’9 centre with all the makings of a potential stalwart at the position for years to come. What separates Okongwu for me from a guy like James Wiseman is despite Wiseman’s better raw talent, Okongwu has the consistent effort and tenacity you need at the centre position.

He’s the guy who bullies people on the offensive glass, dominates small switches and is a liability to poster you on a roll if you’re not ready for him. He has a series of ready-made NBA skills that will make him a success story from day one, no matter who drafts him.

Unfortunately, as much of scouting goes, guys like Okongwu with day one skillsets can often get overlooked for the idea of someone else down the road. As athletically gifted as Wiseman is, there’s not really anything he does better on the court right now than Okongwu. 

Okongwu is a far superior defender, plays with significantly better effort and quite frankly has a significantly more refined offensive game. The only reason someone would take Wiseman over him is a pure-talent athleticism bet and although I get that in theory, in practice for a guy with such obvious mentality concerns I just couldn’t justify it. 

What’s most crazy about this to me is the fact that it isn’t like Okongwu is at his ceiling. 

He’s doesn’t turn 20 until next month, shows serious promise in the future of his jump shot with his technique and even has room to grow in how he understands the game on both sides of the floor. All of this while clearly not having his grown-man strength and body yet, another area that will surely enhance his game.

I understand the Wiseman long-term argument in theory as the best big in this draft but in practice, Okongwu is already a significantly better play than him who also has a lot of areas to improve in himself. Scouts and media members talk about Okongwu’s ceiling and him being close like he’s a four year senior and not a 19-year-old kid still learning the game.

There are so many similarities to Bam Adebayo here that I just won’t make the same mistake I did in 2017. 

I saw Bam as a fun roll-man defender with little upside. What we have since found out is he’s a grinder in the gym every day, determined to get better and as such has added more elements to his game than any player post-Giannis. 

Onyeka has many of those same qualities. 

From day one, he’ll be able to start and contribute defensively with his rim-protection and athleticism that allows him to switch one to five on pick and rolls surprisingly well. Then on the offensive end, like a young Bam, he will immediately be a serious pick and roll threat with his knack for the rim on rolls and great touch down low. 

If he added literally nothing else to his game, he’s already a solid NBA player. 

Unfortunately, he is experiencing Al Horford syndrome. What people see in the perfect world of Wiseman is a Joel Embiid, the best player on your team type guy. As much as I love Okongwu, I just don’t know if I see that in his future.

What I do see is an Al Horford, Bam type career where he’s the second or third best player on your team, there every night and always helping you win. It may not be the sexy play, but aren’t we just trying to win games in the NBA?

The irony of him is that’s the “good case scenario”. What I mean is lord knows none of us were even close to guessing Bam’s true potential so why would we have any idea on Okongwu with how similar of players they are?

All I know is Oknongwu is a day one contributor with an extremely high upside and for whatever reason, we continue to let high school rankings influence draft perception. He has the ability to finish with either hand, is a great athlete, can hold his own with anyone on a switch and is certainly on the right path to extend his jumper to the three-point line as Horford did.

At some point, we need to stop trying to outthink the room. At some point, we need to accept Onyeka Onkongwu is the best big in the 2020 NBA Draft. 

Scouting Report:

Stats:

SeasonSchoolConfGGSMPFGFGAFG%2P2PA2P%3P3PA3P%FTFTAFT%ORBDRBTRBASTSTLBLKTOVPFPTS SOS
2019-20USCPac-12282830.66.310.1.6166.210.0.6210.00.1.2503.75.1.7203.35.48.61.11.22.72.02.716.27.22

Projection:

  • Multiple time all-star who despite the fact is never your best player contributes to winning every night with his abilities on both ends of the floor

Player Comp:

  • Bam Adebayo: Okongwu essentially played like 2020 NBA Bam without the passing in college 
  • Al Horford: Biggest difference between Okongwu and Bam is he already has a spicy post-game with some crafty footwork in an Atlanta Horford model. His jumper also gives Horford vibes.

Strengths:

  • Switchablity from day one 
  • Elite pick and roll man who sets impressive screens and has an outstanding ability to finish with both hands or simply just dunk
  • Underrated athlete in the open floor who like Bam can make high-light reel lob plays that exhilarate the crowd
  • Good footwork at both ends of the floor which allows him to hold his own on switches and make nice post moves at the other end
  • Great touch around the rim which coupled with his footwork gives him an underrated post game

Weaknesses: 

  • Playmaking, doesn’t see the floor fully yet
  • Easy to get in the air on upfakes
  • Hardly shoots outside of the paint 
  • Fouls too much 
  • He’s not that tall 

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