2020 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Can Onyeka Okongwu be the next Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green?

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Heading into this season, USC big man Onyeka Okongwu was largely considered somewhere between a borderline first round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and a kid destined to be a two or three year player at the collegiate level.

As of today, he’s almost a lock to go in the top ten with a very real chance of hearing his name called as one of the first five picks. Part of that meteoric rise in draft stock has to do with the caliber of the 2020 NBA Draft — disappointing seasons from the likes of Kahlil Whitney, Matthew Hurt, Scottie Lewis and Jaden McDaniels makes it much easier to stomach drafting a 6-foot-9 center that made one three in 28 games in the top five.

But the other side of it is that Okongwu has the tools to play a very specific, and very valuable, role at the next level: A ball-screen switching, shot-blocking, lob-catching center. Put another way, he has all the warning signs of being the next Bam Adebayo.

The thing that immediately stands out when watching Okongwu’s tape is his explosiveness. He has what I like to call Go Get It ability. No matter where the lob is thrown, no matter how much arc is put on that floater, Okongwu can Go Get It. He stands 6-foot-9 with a wingspan that is reportedly in the 7-foot-2 range and a vertical that is … let’s just say high.

NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES

This gets to the core of what will make him a valuable piece on an NBA roster. On the defensive side of the ball, Okongwu averaged 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes as a freshman, showing an impressive ability to protect the rim from the weakside of the floor. It’s not just the blocks, however. He understands how to be a presence around the basket. In this clip, you’ll see Okongwu shed a seal, scare the driver off going up to the rim and stay on his feet until the shot is taken. He can go vertical and contest at the rim, and he also blocked a surprising number of jumpers for a player that didn’t spend much time on the perimeter.

That, however, is only half of what makes him so intriguing as a defender, because Okongwu has been proven to be quite adept at moving his feet out on the perimeter. It will be different defending NBA point guards, but locking up good college guards on switches is impressive for a 245 pound freshman that turned 19 in December. USC used a number of different ball-screen coverages throughout the year, but it’s not hard to find examples of Okongwu executing drop coverage, which is prevalent in the modern NBA.

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Offensively, more than 44% of Okongwu’s usage came on post-ups and offensive rebounds, which also happened to be where he was the most effective and efficient. Those are two things that are slowly being phased out of the modern NBA, but that’s not necessarily a huge concern for Okongwu. For starters, he’s more of a finesse post player than he is straight-up bruiser. He can finish with jump-hooks over both shoulders, and he has a habit of spinning back to his left hand, where he’s developed a nice little floater. Put another way, he has touch around the basket, which, when combined with his 72 percent free throw shooting and a handful of made 17-footers, makes the possibility of Okongwu one day becoming something of a floor-spacer feasible. He shot just 1-for-4 from three as a freshman.

As a vertical spacer, he’s going to be awesome. He has bounce, he has great hands and he didn’t even get a chance to play with a good pick-and-roll point guard in college to prove it.

When putting all of that together, Okongwu’s floor is high. As long as he stays healthy, I think the likelihood that he ends up being something in the neighborhood of Clint Capela is significant. But the difference between a guy like Capela and Bam Adebayo, or even Draymond Green before him, is the passing.

What makes Green so effective with the Warriors is his ability to pick apart a defense in 4-on-3 scenarios when teams send two defenders with Steph Curry or Klay Thompson. Adebayo made the leap from being a talented young big man to an All-Star when he turned into a guy that averages 5.1 assists. Both Green and Adebayo thrive as playmakers in short-roll actions, and that, to me, is the key to Okongwu reaching his ceiling.

He didn’t get too many chances in these actions last season, and when he did, it wasn’t always pretty. He finished the year with 30 assists and 56 turnovers, and ball-handling is clearly not yet one of his strong suits as it is with Green and Adebayo. But I do think the potential is there. Okongwu showed the ability to pass out of the post and hit drivers or weakside shooters, and there are more than a few examples of him making quick reads to create open shots for his teammates. Now, passing with your back to the basket and playmaking as a roller in ball-screens are two different things, but both require the cognitive ability to read and react to what a defense is giving you.

If Okongwu can do the former then it stands to reason that, with some coaching, he can do the latter.

Now, let’s put this into context. Adebayo averaged 16-10-5-1-1 in 2019-20. That line has only happened 11 other times in the 46 seasons since blocks were kept as an official stat, putting Adebayo in the same sentence as Kevin Garnett (3), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2), Giannis Antetokounmpo (2), Larry Bird, Bill Walton, Chris Webber and DeMarcus Cousins.

That’s it.

So when I say that becoming the next Bam Adebayo is within Onyeka Okongwu’s range of outcomes, understand that that’s a massive compliment.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.