This isn't a draft with many elite-caliber big men. James Wiseman from Memphis is shrouded in intrigue after only playing three collegiate games, but is a high-level offensive talent.
On the other end of the spectrum is Onyeka Okongwu, a more defensive-minded big who is a talented finisher, strong athlete and more conventional in how he plays the game. Okongwu shot up draft boards this year and has been a top-five pick in the eyes of many.
There are three questions as it relates to Okongwu and the draft, though:
There's a lot of relation between questions one and three. The traditional big man model is something Okongwu fits nicely into, but Wiseman is a little less conventional due to his athleticism, fluidity and one-on-one scoring in the mid-range. As Wiseman's "color outside the lines" skillset is more rare, his draft stock should trend higher since that ability is more rare, and therefore less replaceable by other players.
Okongwu was great in his own way, but there isn't as high of a ceiling, and the type of skillset he exudes can be replicated by others.
So what does Okongwu offer that makes him a potential lottery pick? He's one of the most polished interior defenders at his age we've seen, with some switchable upside and the ability to patrol the paint. He's made a few shots from the perimeter, but is a reliable finisher around the rim and has short roll playmaking upside.
He does a lot of things very well. The individual skills are fairly rare, but his combination of all of them makes him a really safe, strong pick.
There's a lot of fantastic defensive clips in that video. Okongwu is that versatile big who moves so well that he can defend the perimeter, either against other bigs or on switches. He'll pressure the ball, he'll shoot passing lanes and just all around be a disruptor.
What he hangs his hat on is his rim protection, with great shot blocking instincts, verticality and an above-average rebounding prowess. He's a guy you plug in and don't worry about as he roams the middle and can guard pretty much every type of player.
Okongwu is a reliable finisher at the bucket, uses both hands, scores out of post-ups or dump-downs and is fluid enough to take one bounce to get to the rim.
With all the flashes of positivity in his skill set, there's still room to refine and polish them off. As a finisher, Okongwu is somewhat charge-prone, as he doesn't always feel help-side rotations. That same problem plagues his passing, when he looks to kick out of the short roll or with his back to the basket. He likely won't be a great back-to-basket threat in the NBA, so his usage there will decrease. However, he stands out as the type of player worth doubling because he'll possibly throw it all over the gym as a result.
The biggest fix for Okongwu is his shooting form. His numbers are good enough, but he's not quite consistent to 3-point range and the disconnect between his upper and lower body is a huge reason why. Right now, Okongwu's offensive role is pretty small as a screen-and-roll finisher or dump-down guy along the baseline. Until he tightens up his shooting mechanics and becomes a bit more reliable with the ball, he's to be deployed in a standard, replacement-value big type of role.
Overall Analysis and Draft Projection
I'm not sure if there's one elite skill in this package, but he has a bunch of "really good" parts to his game. In a weak draft, that certainty and well-rounded nature becomes more valuable.
But my draft philosophy is that you have to account for offensive role when spending a top ten pick. You're either drafting an alpha to create one-on-one offense and, by extension, get the rest of the team easier looks, or bring in an elite floor spacer/ finisher who caps off the plays those alphas create. While Okongwu is a very good finisher, most lottery-bound teams would be better off taking a tad of a reach on one of those scorers than plugging a good big man into their lineup.
That's not a knock on Okongwu as a prospect, but an indictment on what it means to be a modern big. You better be able to shoot it at a high clip, or else there's a ceiling on your draft stock. The right team in the top ten, who doesn't require a perimeter alpha, could be the right home for Okongwu. But he's not the type of guy I'd look at as a top ten selection unless the drafting team meets that criteria.
Leave a Reply.
Adam Spinella is a Division III basketball coach using what he's learned about scouting and skill development and applying it to the NBA Draft