The Atlanta Hawks have selected Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Okongwu, one of the draft’s top big men, has flown under the radar for most of his amateur career. He starred on a Chino Hills team that also featured Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, and despite his status as a top prospect, chose to remain in Los Angeles and play collegiately for USC rather than compete for a national title at a program with a more storied history. That decision appears to have paid off, though, as Okongwu is the first Trojan to be selected in the lottery since DeMar DeRozan in 2009.
Okongwu’s game has little in common with DeRozan’s, though. The more enticing comparison he has drawn is to Miami Heat star Bam Adebayo. Okongwu is one of the best defensive players in this draft. His ability to defend the perimeter is extremely rare for a college big man, and that athleticism should translate well offensively as a pick-and-roll threat. He shows promise as a ball-handler and scorer too, skills that have become increasingly important for modern big men.
But where Okongwu is good, Adebayo is great. It would be unfair to expect any prospect to reach that level defensively or as a passer, and Okongwu will probably fall short in that regard. If he does, his size (only 6-9, small for a center) might become more problematic. If Okongwu can develop a jump shot to compensate for Adebayo’s superior instincts, he might just be able to live up to that comparison offensively.
The fit in Atlanta is somewhat strange. The Hawks already had John Collins, and they traded a first-round pick for Clint Capela at the deadline. They certainly need defense, but they now have three big men that they’ve invested a fair bit in. More moves could come, or the Hawks could be planning on playing some of them together, but for now, Okongwu will have to earn his role on a Hawks team that wants to push for the playoffs next season.
NBA Draft grade: C+
Okongwu is a player I had in the top 10 of my own big board, but this is a strange fit. In terms of front-court players, Obi Toppin is still on the board, and I preferred him. In terms of fit, I liked Tyrese Haliburton here. The Hawks have Clint Capela already as a defense-first center to protect the rim. — Gary Parrish