NBA Draft Feature: Onyeka Okungu, C/PF, USC

USC was a very young team this season with a lot of potential, and they were just starting to play their best basketball as the season came to a close, sitting at third in the Pac-12 when the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation. Many of their young players emulated the trends of the USC season – promising talent, seemingly peaking at the right time. The Trojans saw this especially in star freshman Onyeka Okongu, who is a projected lottery pick in the upcoming draft. It’s hard to pick out a true weakness in the California product’s game, as, except for a couple of tough games, put up solid numbers for the Trojans all season, and he was looking very smooth in USC’s system by mid-March. Averaging a touch over 16 points and 8 rebounds per game, Okongu combined for at least twenty combined points and rebounds in 10 of his final 12 games. He eclipsed 20 points in four of those games, 10 points in 11 of them, while bringing down enough boards for five double-doubles. Okungu will not spend a lot of time on the draft board, as he will be an enticing prize for many NBA GMs. 

Top Games

Okungu put up some gaudy numbers in non-conference play, but those stats were built up against teams like Long Beach State, Harvard, and Pepperdine. Nothing against those teams, but you don’t become a projected lottery pick from beating up on mid-majors in early-season games. Rather, we’ll focus on two very impressive performances that Okungu put forth in Pac-12 play, starting with their conference opener,
In his first Pac-12 action, Okungu and the Trojans visited Washington State. While the Cougars were not the class of the Big 12, any road game with such a young team was going to be difficult. However, Okungu didn’t shy away from the lights, easily leading USC in scoring with 27 points, ripping down 12 rebounds, and swatting away three shots, en route to a 65-56 victory to start their conference slate. He was a wildly efficient 12-14 from the field.
Just 16 days later, in a home game against Stanford, who finished with 20 wins on the year, USC found themselves in a slog of an overtime battle with the Cardinal. Okungu rallied the Trojans to victory in that must-win contest at home, as he chipped in 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and four blocks on the defensive end. 

Projection

As mentioned before, it’s difficult to find a true weakness in Okungu’s game. His ceiling is as high as anyone in this draft class, and his athleticism, strength, and rebounding proficiency all play well into his powerful style on the court. Standing at 6’9, he as decent, if not great, size for an NBA center, but scouts laud his exceptional length as a way to make up for a few of his inches. It certainly seemed to work, as he was one of the best rim protectors and shot blockers in the country. Even if there are concerns about whether he sticks at center long-term, he can also play as a power forward. Scouts’ biggest concern is a need to polish his offensive game, as he is very used to simply overpowering opponents with physical dominance in the paint. However, his defense projects as NBA-ready, and Okungu could slot into an NBA lineup, or at least be a very effective contributor off the bench, right away.

Prediction: Round 1, Pick 1, Golden State Warriors

That’s right. Not Lamelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, or James Wiseman will be going first overall int his draft. It’s Onyeka Okongwu. This is dependent on the Warriors getting the first pick, as they’re one of the few lottery teams with chances at being a playoff team in 2020-2021. This is why Okongwu is such an appealing pick – he can learn from Draymond Green, slotting in as a backup power forward for the once-proud dynasty, or he can challenge for the starting position at center. With Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, the Warriors don’t need offensive stardom from Okungwu, but if he protects the rim, plays solid defense, and chips in with a handful of buckets each game, all things he seems perfectly capable of doing right away in the NBA, he would be a great addition to this Golden State squad.

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