General manager Bob Myers hasn’t tipped his hand yet on which prospects he favors, but one player who has been linked to the Warriors is USC’s Onyeka Okongwu. With a need for a rim-protecting center, the 18-year-old has all the tools to grow into one of of the best shot blockers in the NBA.
Okongwu was the focal point of the Trojans offense last season. He put up 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game in his freshman year. The Chino, California product was heavily recruited coming out of high school, where he spent time playing with Lonzo Ball.
USC Trojans’ head coach Andy Enfield has had his eye on Okongwu since he was a freshman in high school. Enfield was able to successfully recruit the 6’9, 245 pound big man to join the Trojans.
I caught up with Enfield to discuss Okongwu’s strengths, and weaknesses, as well as how he would fit with the Dubs:
Q: What stood out to most from Okongwu’s high school years?
Enfield: Our whole coaching staff has been recruiting him for four years since he was a freshman. The biggest thing is he just helps you win games. He’s a great teammate. And he, he just affects winning in so many ways on the basketball court, and he’s a leader. It was a lot of fun to watch the progression through his career and culminated with another state championship as a senior, a third third state title in four years.
Q: I watched a lot of Trojans games this season, Okongwu proved to be a double-double threat every night. What does he have to do to reach his potential as an NBA player?
Enfield: I don’t know if there’s one aspect. I think he —like most young players that go go to the NBA— they’ll be a learning curve. And he’ll figure it out very quickly. I think it depends if he wants to stick with his strengths, which is the power game using his athleticism, his size, his length, his his, he has great hands and great feet and for someone for a big man and he runs the floor very well. And he has a great motor. So he’ll play to his strengths early on in his career that that’ll get them on the court immediately, because every team in the NBA can use that. However, as he develops his offensive game, he has to expand his shooting range as well. He’s already a pretty good passer but he’s more comfortable in the paint right now or in the lane scoring. He’s a great scorer with both hands, right and left hand, he has a very good touch. He’s gonna get drafted because he has those strengths. He’s not gonna get drafted to become a three point shooter. He’s not that type of player right now. He’s a dominant, undersized center, like Montrezl Harrell and Bam Adebayo, guys in the league, that are just basketball players that can play both positions. They can play power forward or center on the offensive end and they can guard multiple positions on the defensive end, because they can move their feet laterally. We did a lot of switching in the pick-and-roll this year the ball screen action where we would switch him onto guards and he just did a terrific job. Once he learned, he did a great job of keeping guards in front of him. He’s still obviously a very, very, very young man. He’s coming out after his freshman year. But when you look at his overall game, and you mentioned Bam Adebayo, these guys, when you look at his defensive capabilities, because I know watching him play I’m into his shot blocking and its prowess.
Q: What is one thing you think that when you look at in coaching him that he really needs to improve on in order to get to become an elite NBA defender?
Well, I think if you watch him closely this year, you saw a lot of improvement. We were ranked in the top-10 in the nation defensively this year. We lead the PAC 12 in three big defensive categories and, he was a big part of that because he was a really strong shot blocker. But we we did a lot of switching as I said, so he became very good at guarding smaller players and keeping them in front and challenging their shots. If there’s one area that he probably can continue to improve on is his early post defense. He got better at that towards the end of the year where he was able to beat people to the spot, and not get stuck in or not sealing the post, but when you get to the NBA, the guys are all bigger and stronger in the paint. He’s gonna be playing against some veteran players that know how to seal, and use their bodies, so I’m sure Onyeka is gonna have to figure out quickly how to not allow players to catch the ball deep in the posts. But there’s no question in my mind, he’ll figure that out quick because he’s such a smart player and he’s such a hard worker.
Q: When you look at a team like the Warriors, obviously had a down year with the injuries to Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry, the team hit the reset button. A lot of people are saying, Onyeka and James Wiseman are a potential fit for the Warriors. What do you think about his his potential role with Golden State, and how do you think he fit in with the team?
He will fit with any team because he’s a winner. He just helps you win. He’s done that since he was a freshman in high school. He played with Lonzo ball when he was a senior and Onyeka was a freshman, he just helped everywhere on the court. He played his role on that team. He then learned how to lead a team both on the offensive and defensive ends as he got older. So, how is he going to help the Warriors? he’s going to fit in. He is a good passer, who will benefit from learning from Steph and Klay, but he will do a great job of supplementing their games. He can switch onto their men in a pick-and-roll situation without hesitation, and offensively he will finish around the rom. Because the Warriors —if he would go there— the Warriors have great scorers on their team, and he’s already experienced, and very good at doing the little things that help teams win. He’s a high level rebounder, a high level shot-blocker, he runs the floor, he seals in the post, and he can guard multiple positions. So he’s just gonna do multiple things on every possession, to give give your team a chance to win. And so that’s, that’s how I think will fit into the Warriors or any other team in the league.
What are your thoughts on Okongwu’s potential fit with the Dubs? If the Warriors go with a big man, do you prefer Okongwu or Wiseman?