Everything You Need To Know About Onyeka Okongwu

Onyeka Okongwu's scoring versatility and ability to defend every position on the floor could make him the best big man to come out of this draft.

The evolution of the NBA big man in recent years has been fascinating. Whether they fit a more traditional role like Joel Embiid, specialize as a scorer like Karl-Anthony Towns, act as a primary creator like Nikola Jokic or do a bit of everything like Bam Adebayo, their role is still immensely important. Onyeka Okongwu projects as the next big man to join this particular group of NBA big men.

Okongwu’s impact is evident on both ends of the floor. He is efficient, effective, and has a great work rate. He is fine doing the little things like boxing out and setting strong screens, but he can also take over a game with his scoring and rim protection.

The biggest concern with Okongwu’s offensive game is his inability to stretch the floor. Since he only had four attempts from three this season, he likely won’t have that tool for a while.

The encouraging part, though, is that Okongwu saw some success on his mid-range jumper. Granted, he only had 13 shot attempts from 17 feet to the three-point line, but he still scored .769 points per possession (PPP), per Synergy. He also shot 72% on free throws. Even though Okongwu will likely never develop into a sincere floor spacer, there is some upside for him to develop a reliable mid-range jumper.

Even though Okongwu isn’t much of a shooter, he still averaged over 16 points per game this season. Due to his adaptable post-up game, high-level offensive rebounding, a high motor in transition, and a screener’s effectiveness, Okongwu became one of the best freshmen in the country.

This season Okongwu was one of the most efficient post-up scorers in the country. He scored 1.127 PPP, which ranked in the 94th percentile. Of those that were more efficient, only four had more post-up possessions, and none were in a Power Five conference.

Most young big men have an extremely simplistic post repertoire of moves, but Okongwu’s arsenal is reflective of a more seasoned big man. He can finish with an intimidating rip through, a balletic spin, or a well-timed face-up.

Here we see a more primitive move from Okongwu, where he utilizes his superior strength. Okongwu easily establishes position deep on the block where he receives an uncontested entry pass. After taking one dribble, Okongwu makes a strong rip through across the face of the weaker defender to finish with a strong dunk over the collapsing help defender.

It is not uncommon to see college big men score in this fashion. However, it is rare to see them score with that type of ferocity while also having great touch around the rim. Here, we see Okongwu show off his most valuable scoring attribute. He initially takes a power dribble towards the lane to set up his shot. He has a good rip through to avoid the help defender. As he gathers for his shot, his defender bumps him on the hip. Okongwu has the balance and strength to shrug off the contact and continue his move to finish with the soft right-handed floater.

A lot of young players struggle to finish with both hands. Though it is an incredibly vital tool to have, it often takes time to be a threat to score with either hand, especially on post moves. When watching Okongwu in the post, you can’t tell what his dominant hand is (it’s right by the way).

In this clip, Okongwu shows off a move more commonly seen in the NBA than amongst college freshmen. Okongwu matches up against a stronger opponent, so he is unable to establish a deeper post position. To adapt, he knows he must use his superior agility. Okongwu sets up his defender with a strong dribble to his right before executing a spin back towards his left. He then puts up a ten-foot floater with his off-hand that falls through the net with ease.

Okongwu already has a better scoring touch with both hands than a lot of NBA big men. When paired with his ability to set up defenders, he is a legitimate post scoring threat. While the touch with his off-hand is the highlight of that previous clip, it is also a great example of Okongwu’s footwork. He has incredible grace when posting up, and a big reason is his quick, elegant footwork.

Okongwu also shows off his quick feet when he faces up against defenders in the post. Below, Okongwu faces up his defender after receiving the entry pass. As he does so, he hesitates for a moment before using a lightning-quick first step to blow by his defender for the dunk and the foul.

By having this scoring intuition in the post, Okongwu will make an offensive impact immediately. Prospects his age rarely have this level of instincts, touch, and versatility in the post. When he turns over his left shoulder, he scores .964 PPP. When he turns over his right, he scores 1.385 PPP.  When he faces up, he scores 1.5 PPP. The situation doesn’t matter for Okongwu; he is likely going to score once he gets the ball in the post.

The NBA game continues to have fewer post-ups per game, but that shouldn’t affect Okongwu’s scoring impact. His high motor creates numerous opportunities in transition, the natural flow of the half-court offense, and off of offensive rebounds.

When running in transition, we keep seeing more NBA teams have shooters that flare to the wings for a hopeful open three. This transition to the arc generally leaves the lane open for the ball-handler or a big man working his tail off to run the floor.

This season Okongwu scored 1.143 PPP (73rd percentile) when he ran in transition. His speed, motor, and coordination make him a constant threat to fill the lane, as we see below. As USC gathers the rebound, Okongwu is out of bounds under his hoop. Instead of walking up, he takes off at a sprint and starts looking for the ball once he reaches half court.

At this point, he is ahead of four opponents, and by the time he hits the arc, he has beaten everyone down the floor. As the lob comes, Okongwu has the coordination and athleticism to catch the lob and adjust for the dunk without landing.

Point guards will love playing with Okongwu because he will give them easy assists and act as a great screener. When Okongwu worked as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, he scored 1.174 PPP (78th percentile).

Here he sets a great screen that eliminates the ball handler’s defender from the play. His teammate could have pulled up for a jumper but instead decided to attack. Instead of staying stagnant after the screen, Okongwu rolls hard to the rim, fills the space his defender just vacated, and throws down a vicious dunk.

Okongwu does a great job of adapting and reading the situation here too. Instead of committing to setting a screen, he takes advantage of the defensive miscommunication. The ball handler’s defender tries to go over the would-be screen while Okongwu’s defender goes to trap the ball handler. This decision leaves an open lane for Okongwu, who quickly slips his screen and rolls for another devastating dunk.

Okongwu’s high level of situational awareness and basketball IQ are clear and create a fascinating skillset when paired with his motor. This dynamic is most on display with his offensive rebounding. With an Offensive Rebound Percentage of 12.4, Okongwu was one of the best at creating second-chance opportunities.

While he is a tremendous offensive rebounder, he is also one of the best at converting those offensive rebounds into points as he scored 1.37 PPP on put backs (90th percentile).

Below, we see Okongwu use his strength to dispatch his defender as the shot goes up easily. This swim move frees him to be the first off the floor and use his touch and wingspan for an easy tip-in.

The intrigue with Okongwu’s offensive game isn’t just limited to the post, though. While he has shown some inconsistencies with his playmaking, he has also shown flashes of brilliance.

With his formidable post-game, it is inevitable that Okongwu will get double teamed and must find the open shooter as he does here. As he receives the entry pass, Okongwu does a great job of keeping his head up to see the entire floor. He quickly notices the weakside defender rotating and fires a well-placed cross-court pass to the open shooter.

What stimulates the imagination with Okongwu’s future playmaking potential is what he can do off the dribble. After setting a strong screen, Okongwu’s defender commits to the ball handler. Okongwu then does a great job of disengaging from the screen and adjusting his body to receive the pass. Okongwu could attempt a lob over the rotating defender’s raised arms, but instead uses a jump stop (another excellent example of his footwork) that goes back across the defender’s momentum. This move creates a lane for Okongwu to dump it off to his teammate for a layup.

Although it would be nice for Okongwu to develop a more reliable jump shot, the more pressing matter is his inconsistent ball handling and decision making.

When Okongwu is in the zone and making passes as we saw above, he completely opens new aspects of the offense. Even when he is more careful with the ball, he can utilize stunning Euro step moves that bewilder defenders.

Unfortunately, he can get too relaxed with the ball, as we can see below. Initially, I don’t mind Okongwu’s drive attempt because we’ve seen similar moves work. The issue is that his defender should not be able to poke the ball away that easily. Once he recovers the loose ball, Okongwu makes a nice read to see his teammate rotating to the open corner. Unfortunately, he doesn’t set his feet and throws a lazy lob that easily gets intercepted.

Situations like this are avoidable; it is just a matter of focusing and fully executing the play. As Okongwu continues to develop, I expect his ball security to improve vastly.

Offensive versatility creates a lot of opportunities, but it has become a requirement for defense. With Okongwu’s size, athleticism, and footwork, he projects as one of the most versatile defenders in this draft class.

He has shown the ability to switch on the perimeter and be a great rim protector. There are times where he chases blocks, but he allowed just .625 PPP around the rim (93rd percentile) and had a block percentage of 9.8 (20th in the country).

Okongwu has proven that he is more than comfortable switching on the perimeter, something we see all too often in the NBA. Here he doesn’t hesitate to switch on to the opposing wing. As the opponent drives, Okongwu does a perfect job of reacting to the cross over by sliding his feet and quickly turning his hips. This coordination allows him to keep his balance while staying in a good defensive stance. Okongwu beats his opponent to the spot, stays vertical, and rips the ball away.

Okongwu’s ability to hold his own in isolation situations against opponents is impressive, but he also does a great job of navigating the pick-and-roll on defense. A common NBA defense against the pick-and-roll is drop coverage. As you watch the below clip, take note of Okongwu’s footwork. He stays on his toes and never crosses his feet as he contains the quicker guard. This footwork allows him to keep the perfect distance between the ball handler, so he doesn’t get blown past but is close enough, so once the ball handler pulls up, Okongwu can still react to block the shot.

Okongwu blocked an impressive amount of jump shots this season. The typical results against drop coverage are a pull-up jumper or attacking the rim for a lob attempt. Okongwu has proven his proficiency at defending both.

Okongwu positions himself perfectly as the ball handler comes off the screen. If he gets too high, it opens the lane for the roll man. If he stays too low, the ball handler has an easier route to the rim. Okongwu contains the ball handler while staying in a position to recover to his own man. He delays the ball handler and then reacts perfectly to intercept the lob attempt and force the turnover.

Onyeka Okongwu projects as a big man who can do a bit of everything at a high level, like Bam Adebayo. His offensive game will be based on his motor, positioning, and instincts. His post-move arsenal, eagerness to do the little things, and dedication to running the floor will create easy scoring opportunities. Defensively, Okongwu could be a nightmare for opponents. He eliminates the opponent’s ability to hunt mismatches because he can switch on the perimeter and protect the rim. He will need to improve his defensive low post strength, so he doesn’t get bullied by guys like Embiid, but that should come with age.

Going forward, Onyeka Okongwu could easily be the best big man in this draft. He is one of the few prospects from this draft who I expect to make multiple All-Star games while making a tangible impact on both ends of the floor.

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