USC big man Onyeka Okongwu declares for the NBA draft

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Onyeka Okongwu started turning heads early during USC’s season.

It was easy to project his athletic finishing and rim protection into the role of a four or small-ball five in the NBA. He shot up NBA team draft boards.

Now he has made the expected official and has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft.

Okongwu is projected as a top 10, maybe top-five pick in the upcoming draft, which makes his leap to the next level the right move for him.

Okongwu averaged 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds a game at USC, with a very efficient 61.6 shooting percentage and a 31.1 PER. Watch video of him and you see an incredible leaper, a guy who can face up with a fantastic first step, and a guy with good shot-blocking instincts.

The challenges are that at 6’9″ he is not going to be able to play center all the time at the NBA level, and he does not have great shooting range (he only took four threes all season at USC). Think a Montrezl Harrel/Bam Adebayo style of game, which is impressive but can have its limits (and not that he will be as good as them, that is a high bar).

In a down draft, he could be a guy a team falls in love with — plus he has a high floor — and that gets him taken inside the first five.

That love may primarily be based on film; this year’s draft process has been thrown into chaos by the coronavirus and NBA hiatus. There likely is no combine, no face-to-face interviews — hello Skype — and no workouts with teams. Plus, nobody knows when the draft itself will take place (the league has to figure out what’s up with the rest of the season and playoffs before getting into the draft and free agency timelines).

But for a likely lock top 10 guy like Okongwu, it makes sense to come out now.