The case for and against the Knicks picking Onyeka Okongwu in the 2020 NBA Draft

While the Knicks had hopes of landing the No. 1 overall pick in November’s 2020 NBA Draft, they currently find themselves in possession of the eighth overall pick. 

The team could always try to trade up, or maybe even acquire assets to trade back. And while standing pat at No. 8 may be the least exciting move, the Knicks could still land a talented rookie in that spot. 

So let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of potential draft options for the Knicks, whether it’s through moving up or staying in the eighth spot, continuing with USC power forward/center Onyeka Okongwu.

The case for drafting Okongwu

At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds with a recorded wingspan of 7-foot-2, Okongwu’s athleticism is through the roof. In his one season at USC, the power forward/center averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. 

What he lacks in pure height as an undersized center, he more than makes up for with his length and leaping ability, making him an elite shot-blocker at the college level. He can also easily body up smaller forwards or blow by bigger ones on his way to the hope, and he knows ho to finish around the rim. 

Though he mainly played the center role in college, he likely translates as a power forward in the NBA, and with Julius Randle seemingly not a long-term option for the Knicks at that spot, Okongwu could be a nice fit alongside Mitchell Robinson in the frontcourt, giving the Knicks a tremendous duo of young, athletic rim protectors. 

An argument can be made that the Knicks have potential long-term pieces at other positions on the roster, such as Robinson at center, RJ Barrett at the wing, and Frank Ntilikina and/or Dennis Smith Jr. at point guard. But outside of Robinson, the Knicks have a few frontcourt options that could be around for a while, with players like Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson seeing significant minutes in 2019-20. The Knicks need to get younger and find long-term answers down low, and Okongwu fits the bill.

And while Tom Thibodeau can say his offensive system is just as important as his team’s defense, the truth seems to be that that new Knicks’ head coach seems to always lean towards the defensive end. That could make Okongwu the perfect fit at No. 8.

The case against drafting Okongwu

While Okongwu was able to use his pure athleticism and length to score with the Trojans, it’s likely that things won’t come so easy for him in the pros. Undersized for an NBA center but not a good enough shooter to be a true stretch four, where does Okongwu fit in on the offensive end in the NBA? And on the defensive end, is he quick enough to guard forwards out on the perimeter and strong enough to deal with the league’s bigger centers on the low block?

Sure, maybe he can develop his outside shot to at least a mediocre spot (he shot just 25.0 percent from three in college), but his overall offensive game still needs a lot of work in all areas, especially when you consider the way today’s NBA is more about spacing and outside shooting than it it about true down-low play.

He’s solid on the offensive glass and can clean up around the rim, but he doesn’t seem like he has a ton of moves in his arsenal to create his own shot.  As he faces more players his size in the NBA, he won’t be able to rely on his length nearly as much as he did with USC. 

In past drafts, the Knicks have gambled on athletic, defensive-minded players with hopes of developing their offensive games. Ntilikina is a prime example of a prospect whose offense just hasn’t gotten to where it needs to be. So could taking a player like Okongwu fit into the same category? The key question is whether or not the Chino HIlls, Calif. native can add some offensive polish to his game.

The raw tools and physicality are there for Okongwu. But he needs to keep growing as a player, and that could take time. Will the Knicks be patient enough to see his high ceiling? We could find out come the draft.

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