One of the most common comparisons of the 2020 NBA Draft has been USC freshman centre Onyeka Okongwu to Miami Heat All-Star Bam Adebayo.
Before even talking about their play style, the measurables match up.
Coming into the NBA after one season at Kentucky, 19-year-old Adebayo was 6-foot-10 and 243 lbs. with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. Coming into the NBA after one season at USC, 19-year-old Okongwu is listed at 6-foot-9 and 245 lbs. with a 7-foot-2 wingspan.
It's become such a popular parallel that Okongwu even addressed it in his draft scouting film session with ESPN's draft expert Mike Schmitz.
"I played Bam back in high school," Okongwu said. "We have a similar body, similar athleticism. It's an honour to be compared to him. He's an NBA All-Star, and I think me and him bring some of the same things to the table."
And that they do.
They're both explosive big men with smooth footwork, good hands and a soft touch in the paint, as well as high IQ defenders who have great instincts for protecting the rim. Add to it their energy on the glass and ability to run the floor, plus similarities in their raw passing skills coming out of college, and it's a match made in player comparison heaven.
Take a look at three areas in particular where these two athletic centres mirror one another.
Explosiveness as a roller
One thing that Adebayo does as well as any player in the NBA is dunk off of two feet. It doesn't take much loading up for him to leap and you see that particularly as a roller in pick-and-roll situations. Once he sets a screen and positions himself to receive a pass from the ball handler, it takes Adebayo virtually no time to explode toward the rim for a dunk.
See for yourself:
While he barely even had to set a screen, look how easy he made that poster dunk look.
Okongwu has that same leaping ability off of two feet as a roller.
The defenders never even had a chance. If he hesitates for half of a second or needs to gather himself after the nice bounce pass, there are enough defenders around him to make life difficult in the paint. Because of his great hands and elite hops, it turns into an electric dunk.
Okongwu should thrive as a roller in the NBA because he has so many options once he gets the ball after setting a screen. He's quicker than most defenders at his position and is comfortable putting the ball on the floor to make a move and get to the basket. His soft touch makes it so he doesn't have to rely on getting all the way to the rim, but as you just saw, sometimes that's all that is necessary.
Okongwu is also a solid passer, one who can punish teams for collapsing on him.
Potential in playmaking skills
While Adebayo has evolved into a point-centre in the NBA, averaging a career-high 5.1 assists per game during his first All-Star season, he wasn't that type of playmaker in college. The Kentucky product certainly had his moments as a passer, but averaging less than one assist per game (0.8), it's hard to believe anyone expected him to become the savvy playmaker he is today.
Okongwu is similar in that sense - he's not yet pushing the ball in transition or having an entire offence run through him in the high post like you'll see with Adebayo at the NBA level, but he's made some passes that make you think he could one day get there.
Take a look at this pass out of a double team from this past season at USC:
Being the dominant player he was in college, the second Okongwu gets the ball on the block he acquires the attention of all five defenders. The weak side defender helps way too much, almost enough to call it a triple-team. Okongwu feels that pressure, knows there must be someone open and skips it across the floor, delivering a dime to his teammate for an open corner 3.
You see something similar from Adebayo here:
He gets the ball in the post and commands the eyes of all five defenders. Feeling the extra pressure, Adebayo takes two dribbles to try and give himself a better look at the rim but instead sees a wide open Jae Crowder on the perimeter, skipping the ball out for an easy 3.
These aren't every day reads for interior players - a lot of times when you see big men that close to the basket, they'll just go right up. Just like Adebayo, Okongwu is capable of making those intelligent, heads-up plays.
In college, Okongwu was so much bigger and stronger than most of his competition that you'd see him force up and make shots through that type of defence, but at the next level, it's not going to be as easy for him to just drop the ball in the hoop over the top of defenders, so we'll see him make even more plays like the one above.
Last but not least, the other side of the ball: defence.
Okongwu's length and athleticism combined with his quick feet, positioning and defensive instincts make him quite the defender. With those attributes, the 6-foot-9 centre is incredibly versatile in being able to hang with quicker guards around the perimeter - something crucial for today's pick-and-roll, mismatch-hunting NBA.
Watch as Okongwu is able to seamlessly switch onto a guard on the wing, sliding his feet to stay with his opponent after a shifty dribble move to come up with a block at a crucial point in the game:
His patience and timing is on full display there once the guard picks up his dribble, showcasing why he was one of the best shot blockers in the nation, averaging 2.7 blocks per game.
The same could be said for Adebayo, who can truly defend 1-through-5 at the NBA level because of his agility and length as a big man. In fact, he was so great defending on the perimeter in the playoffs that teams stopped trying to work that switch in pick-and-roll scenarios.
This play from the regular season shows just how comfortable he is defending on the perimeter, picking up rookie guard Darius Garland in transition:
Garland makes his move to get by but Adebayo is quick enough to stay on his hip and then uses his long wingspan to recover and come up with the block. Okongwu's lateral movement is a bit slower, but again, the potential is there.
This isn't to say that Okongwu will come into the NBA and be Bam Adebayo-lite right from the get-go. It's more to say that his physical attributes and skill set match nicely with the All-Star centre and that if he develops to his full potential, Adebayo is a solid ceiling for Okongwu to work toward.
If you're wondering why Okongwu's name is buzzing with an expectation that his draft stock is rising, this comparison to one of the league's best young bigs should give you an idea as to why.
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