NBA Draft 2020: Onyeka Okongwu's potential could intrigue Warriors

NBA Draft 2020: Onyeka Okongwu's potential could intrigue Warriors

Editor's note: As the Warriors prepare for the 2020 NBA draft, during which they will have a lottery pick for the first time since 2012, NBC Sports Bay Area will present a twice-weekly series spotlighting two players expected to be evaluated. This is the fifth of a 12-part series over a six-week span.

One sure thing about the NBA is that its closest observers fall in love every season. Usually, it’s a third-year player of relatively low profile who makes such an impact he sends scouts scurrying back to their dungeons to re-review old video to see what they missed.

Kind of like Draymond Green in 2014-15, his third season in the league.

In the 2018-19 season, that player was Toronto Raptors forward Paskal Siakam, in his third year. This year, it’s Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo, also in his third year.

Three years from now, it might be Onyeka Okongwu, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound freshman forward/center from USC who announced March 25 that he was declaring for the 2020 draft.

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As the Warriors evaluate the top prospects available, Okongwu is on their radar. Studying video, he leaps off the screen. A teammate of all three Ball brothers -- Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo -- at powerful Chino Hills High, Okongwu has nice offensive skills and very good defensive skills. His greatest attribute, however, is energy. This guy seems to have two or three reservoirs of stamina.

Okongwu understands that coaches love high-effort players, particularly when that hard work is effective. Consider his response in a Q&A session with the Southern California News Group when asked what area of his game could make an immediate impact in the NBA:

“Straight energy and hustle,” he said. “I’m one of those players that will give unrelenting energy and effort every game. That’s what I’m always going to be able to give out.”

Okongwu, 19, certainly fills a need for the Warriors and fits the profile of what they like from their big men. He’s a lob threat, with terrific hands, nimble footwork and the ability to spin off either shoulder from either block.

He made believers out of more than a few opposing coaches, including former NBA player Terry Porter, now at the University of Portland.

“He’s what we call TC -- a tough cover,” Porter told reporters after Okongwu went for 20 points and 10 rebounds in USC’s 76-65 victory over the Pilots. “His size, his motor, his athleticism. He’s so quick to the ball. He just never quits.”

Okongwu inhales rebounds, treats the rim as his personal property and -- this is something coach Steve Kerr adores -- also can guard multiple positions.

Observing Okongwu, one sees an elite athlete offering at various times similarities to Adebayo (high motor), Montrezl Harrell (sheer relentlessness), Tristan Thompson (beastly rebounding), Ben Wallace (rim protection) and John Collins (inside scoring).

The most notable weakness in Okongwu’s game is his offense outside the paint. He has no three-ball and doesn’t space the floor. One look at the Warriors’ roster, however, leads to the belief they’ve already got that element covered with shooters like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins.

Okongwu is bound to run into the shopworn canard that he is “too small” to play center. The Warriors can look past that and see a wingspan that is 7-foot-1, a vertical leap approaches 40 inches and a physique from the muscle factory.

Besides, their best lineup in recent years featured a 6-foot-6 center who many scouts considered too small to be effective at power forward. Right, Draymond?

Okongwu is a consensus lottery pick, the only question being how high.

The Warriors, with the worst record in the NBA, could have the No. 1 overall pick and can’t drop lower than the fifth pick. They must discern whether Okongwu is worthy of being a top-five pick, even as most scouts are skeptical of that.

Should the Warriors land the No. 1 pick and are interested in Okongwu, another question they’d have to ponder is how far down can they trade and still secure him?

[RELATED: NBA mock draft 4.0: Predicting Warriors, Kings' lottery picks]

Here’s what they want no part of -- failing to select Okongwu in the draft, whenever it occurs, and three years later wishing they had.

Onyeka Okongwu profile

Position: Power forward/center
Class: Freshman
Birthdate: Dec. 11, 2000 (19)
Hometown: Los Angeles
2019-20 stats: 16.2 points (61.6 percent FG, 25.0 percent 3p, 72.0 percent FT), 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks.
Height: 6-foot-9
Weight: 235
What they’re saying: “He’s a quality individual, he works hard and has a world of potential. That’s the scary thing. He’s only 19. He’s special now, but his work ethic tells me he’s determined to keep getting better. And probably will.” – Eastern Conference scout.

Steve Kerr criticizes Trump 'drawing battle lines' for 2020 election

Steve Kerr criticizes Trump 'drawing battle lines' for 2020 election

Warriors coach Steve Kerr has not been shy about criticizing President Donald Trump.

Since Trump assumed office in 2017, the two have been at odds. Kerr has criticized countless Trump policies, and the President called Kerr "a little boy" after the NBA's suddenly contentious relationship with China following  Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeting in support of protestors in Hong Kong. 

Trump recently caught the ire of Kerr is once again in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody. During a Tuesday protest near the White House, U.S. Park Police, the Secret Service, the National Guard and other federal law enforcement agencies cleared demonstrators from the area using tear gas as Trump walked to take a picture in front of the damaged St. John's Episcopal Church. Kerr called it a ploy for Trump's reelection campaign.

"Trump is drawing the battle lines for the election," Kerr said during NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race In America: A Candid Conversation" on Friday. "He's now just paving the way for, 'I'm the law and order president, and you've got to vote for me unless you want the chaos to ensue.' Which is ironic because chaos has ensued under his own administration. But clearly, this is the beginning of what's going to be a chaotic campaign. Trump, as he's been doing for not only his presidency, but for much of his adult life, he's just trying to divide people and stir up the pot. And as I said, he's drawing the lines and trying to bring his supporters to the side."

Floyd -- a 46-year-old African American man -- died after fired police officer Derek Chauvin -- a white man -- pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes while he pleaded that he couldn't breathe. Floyd was detained after a store owner alleged he used a suspicious $20 bill, and police initially alleged he resisted arrest. Nearby surveillance footage disputed those claims.

Bystanders filmed Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd's neck as three others looked on, and the video sparked protests around the globe. Some demonstrations in the United States have drawn the presence of the National Guard, escalating tensions between protestors and law enforcement.

Trump has criticized the demonstrations, calling protesters "thugs" in a tweet on May 28. The president tweeted "When the looting starts, the shooting starts" a day later, and Trump faced additional criticism from Kerr.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted "[we] will always stand for the right of Americans to peacefully protest and let their voices be heard."

Kerr immediately criticized Pence for hypocrisy on Twitter, as Pence staged a highly publicized walkout of a 2017 game between the 49ers and Indianapolis Colts due to San Francisco players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and institutional racism. At the time, Pence tweeted he wouldn't "dignify any event" disrespecting the flag and the national anthem.

"When you're incapable of being authentic, you're just throwing stuff at the wall and you don't even really care," Kerr said. "But this is the problem, that truth and facts have sort of gone out the window. So anybody who is paying attention knows full well that not only did the administration not accept peaceful protests, but they turned it around and turned it into an anti-American act.

"So, we all saw that and then to then fast forward four years and say, 'No, no, we actually definitely feel strongly that Americans should be allowed to peacefully protest.' It's just like an utter lack of concern or conviction for anything in terms of your truth. There is no truth. So, no character, no conviction and that's a big part of the issue right now, is that the people leading our country are just speaking from both sides of their mouth and just saying whatever they want to say."

For much of his Warriors tenure, Kerr has been outspoken on social issues and disagreed with Trump's policies. In 2017, he criticized Trump's executive order restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim nations. Trump mocked Kerr last year after Morey send out a tweet in solidarity with Hong Kong.

“I watched this guy, Steve Kerr, and he was like a little boy, he was so scared to be even answering the question,” Trump said in October. “He couldn’t answer the question. He was shaking. ‘Oh, oh, oh, I don’t know. I don’t know.’ He didn’t know how to answer the question, and he’ll talk about the United States very badly."

[RELATED: Ex-Warrior West explains his biggest fear as black father]

Kerr tried to curtail his comments towards the president during last season, privately declining to comment on Trump's impeachment hearings in January. Nonetheless, he continued criticizing Trump on Twitter after the NBA suspended its season due to the coronavirus in March.

Kerr said Friday he hopes for a change in leadership in the Oval Office.

"This is how it works in politics, it's just unfortunate that this is how people in power can think because we would like to," Kerr said. "Or at least hope to believe that we would have people who are in it for the right reasons, trying to actually lead us in a positive direction, but that hasn't been the case."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Warriors get great news about $17.2M Andre Iguodala trade exception

Warriors get great news about $17.2M Andre Iguodala trade exception

The $17.2 million trade exception the Warriors received as part of the Andre Iguodala trade with the Memphis Grizzlies last summer arguably is Golden State's most prized asset at the moment. With it, they could absorb any player's 2020-21 salary up to that amount.

At the time of the trade, the exception was set to expire on July 7 -- precisely 36 hours after the start of free agency. Since it wasn't eligible to be used prior to the conclusion of the league moratorium at noon (ET) on July 6, the Warriors would have been in a significant time crunch within which to use it. Once the season was indefinitely paused do the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, however, it wasn't clear if the expiration deadline would be pushed back, or if Golden State simply would be out of luck.

Well, not to worry, Warriors fans. The NBA has done the right thing.

According to ESPN's Bobby Marks, the Warriors' $17.2 million trade exception now will expire on Oct. 25. Free agency is slated to begin on Oct. 18, meaning Golden State actually will have a larger window within which to use the trade exception than the team would have in a traditional year.

[RELATED: Why Warriors should pursue Gasol with mid-level exception]

Considering the Warriors' 2019-20 season now is completed, the extension of the expiration deadline could be a huge benefit. They now have several more months to plan out their free-agency strategy -- and potentially pre-arrange a transaction with one or more teams.

There is no guarantee Golden State will use the full value of the trade exception -- the Warriors already are expected to be a tax-paying team -- but at the very least, this confirms the Dubs will have an opportunity to utilize an asset they most definitely were counting on.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]