NBA Draft 2020: Onyeka Okongwu, not James Wiseman is Warriors' best big option

Alex Didion
·4 min read

Why Okongwu is better big man for Warriors than Wiseman originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Of all the prospects the Warriors could select with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, just about every mock draft and insider points to Anthony Edwards or James Wiseman as being the top options.

Understandably, the Warriors have done their due diligence on a multitude of potential lottery picks, but considering the team’s lack of depth in the frontcourt, a big man like Wiseman seems to make the most sense. The Memphis product stands 7-foot-1 and has all the looks of a prototypical NBA center. But is he even the best big man option for the Warriors at No. 2?

Enter USC’s Onyeka Okongwu.

ESPN’s trio of NBA draft insiders -- Jonathan Givony, Kevin Pelton and Mike Schmitz -- were asked to rank the top big men in this year’s class, and two of the three listed Okongwu above Wiseman on their boards.

Givony called Okongwu “a far more impactful, engaged and versatile defender” and believes the Southern California native has similar offensive potential to Wiseman.

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Schmitz believes the former Trojan is “one of the best 19-year-old pick-and-roll defenders," he has ever evaluated and identifies his defensive versatility as the quality that gives him “an incredibly high floor and a clear role early.”

The Warriors are in a much different situation than just about every other team holding a top-five pick, as Golden State expects to be a championship contender right away in 2020-21, while the teams at the top of the lottery are rebuilding and/or looking for a cornerstone and face of the franchise in this draft.

Whoever the Warriors select, the prospect won’t be asked to come in and be the first or second option in coach Steve Kerr’s scheme. The offense will run through Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and those two will have very fresh legs after the Warriors weren’t invited to the NBA bubble in Orlando.

Defense is the primary contribution the Warriors will be looking for from the center position next season, and Okongwu demonstrates much more polish on that end of the court than Wiseman. Despite being just 6-foot-9, Okongwu projects as an elite rim protector and has a 7-foot-2 wingspan, while already having the offensive skillset the Warriors are looking for in the frontcourt.

Okongwu also is used to not being the No. 1 option on offense, as he played his high school basketball alongside the trio of Ball brothers at Chino Hills. Wiseman has shown more of a need to have the ball in his hands in order to produce offensively. Wiseman also could get played off the court against small-ball lineups, which are increasingly being used throughout the NBA.

A consistent comparison for Okongwu has been Bam Adebayo, the Miami Heat big man who broke out and was one of the stars of the NBA bubble, helping to lead a scrappy team to the Finals. Okongwu isn’t quite the same level of a passer, but has similar defensive qualities and could fill a very similar role within the Warriors’ scheme.

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Wiseman, on the other hand, draws many comparisons to Hassan Whiteside or DeAndre Jordan, and represents more of the traditional NBA center that is being phased out. 

Okongwu doesn’t get picked earlier than fifth in most mock drafts, but with so many unknowns around the draft process due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no one really is sure who the best prospects are. 

Wiseman potentially could have a higher ceiling, but like Edwards, he'll likely need ample time to adapt to the NBA after such a limited college career. Okongwu put together a full season of elite production at the Division I level, and could slide in and anchor the Warriors’ defense alongside Draymond Green. He also has the potential to fill a Montrezl Harrel-like role on offense, running the floor and attacking the boards while not being relied on at that end.

Either way, the Warriors have a chance to bring in the center of their future with this No. 2 pick. If I were the person tasked with making the selection, Okongwu would be my pick. But we don’t live in an alternate universe (although 2020 certainly has felt that way) and luckily for Warriors fans, that decision rests with general manager Bob Myers come Nov. 18.