The talented Okongwu brings a ton of NBA-ready skill to the table but is by no means a sure thing in a draft full of question marks.
It is NBA draft season for the Phoenix Suns. Although the Suns are widely projected to have the 10th best odds in the draft, the lottery balls could bounce anywhere and it pays to be prepared. With that in mind, let’s dive deep into former Trojan Onyeka Okongwu, who should be available for the Suns.
16.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.7 blocks
61% from the field, 25% from three (1/4) 72% from the free-throw line.
Let’s start with the good that Okongwu brings to the table. At 6’9, Okongwu comes into the NBA already possessing the making of a defensive monster. With great defensive instincts and elite rim-protecting skills, Okongwu makes the most of his length to be a defensive factor from jump ball. He handles himself well in isolation defense, yet is versatile enough to snuff out pick and roll action. There is a lot of potential in Okongwu fitting in seamlessly on the defensive end as a positionless defender, one who can unlock some scary lineups with his ability to defend from one to five. He is also a very good rebounder, both defensively AND offensively!
Okongwu’s skills are tantalizing to imagine on the defensive end, with him making the most of his athleticism to devastating effect.
Speaking of offensively, Okongwu utilizes the same length and athleticism in putting the ball in the basket that he does on stopping the opposition at the other end. His ability to finish with both hands around the rim and the mix of touch and physicality that he brings off the pick and roll will be instantly present in the NBA, and a nice change of pace for Phoenix specifically alongside the pick-and-pop ability of Deandre Ayton. His ability to operate in the pick and roll is huge, and a big reason that he holds such a high field goal percentage. His off-ball movement is very good for a big man, and he flashes just enough of an outside jumper that the hope is there that he can further develop that.
On the negative for Okongwu, while they aren’t super huge at the moment, they are aspects of the game he will need to focus on if he hopes for a lengthy NBA career, and they are mostly on the offensive side of the ball. Okongwu, while being a solid finisher, relied a ton on his physicality to make an impact and his ability to scoop up second-chance opportunities off of a miss. That was a recipe for success for him in college. As a 6’9 post player in this NBA….well let’s just say the way that Okongwu made his money on the offensive end for the Trojans will have to be amended slightly. With bigger and more athletic bigs at the next level, Okongwu will need to develop another layer of craft to be able to finish against more imposing rim protectors like a Rudy Gobert or Anthony Davis.
His outside shooting is also a concern. While he can flash a mid-range shot at times, he is hardly a stretch four, and that could be an issue playing in lineups that will prioritize spacing. His lack of shooting limits his effectiveness and makes him more of a one dimensional player on that end of the floor. He also only went one for four from three-point range and while that shouldn’t necessarily be a priority for him, it is definitely a skill he can work on for sure.
In my estimation, Okongwu would most assuredly need to work on hs finishing craft and his jump shooting to make a great impact on the offensive end in the NBA. If he comes in with the same skill set he has now then I’m not overly optimistic. Then again, Montrezl Harrell has a similar skillset and has found success, and Okongwu is worlds ahead of him defensively, so time will tell.
Overall, Okongwu is an intriguing talent. His defensive talent alone is very tantalizing, and if he can continue to work on his offensive end, there is a very impactful player on both ends of the floor. His fit in Phoenix could be a solid one (most mock drafts have him around the Suns’ range at around the 10th pick). In Phoenix, Okongu would be afforded the time to continue to grow on the offensive end playing alongside Ayton while also shoring the backline defensively for the Suns. His athletism would enhance the Suns frontcourt on both ends, and he would be another young piece that could contribute immediately.
If Onyeka Okongwu is still on the board when the Phoenix Suns are up to the select, he may be a worthwhile look for them. There’s a lot to like about him, and there is a role on the team for him to grow and flourish.