Is USC's Okongwu the next Bam Adebayo?


Every year, every player in the NBA draft is compared to others that came before them. It is a common way to form context in evaluating what prospects can ultimately become.

Rarely, however, does a player comparison pick up legs quite like the one for USC big man Onyeka Okongwu, who has been linked by many people to Heat star Bam Adebayo, who happens to be in the news at the moment for his block to seal the win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday.

Adebayo was the 14th overall pick in 2017 and has since blossomed quickly into an All-Star and All-Defense selection. He is very good and seems to represent the future of the big man role in the NBA. At 6-foot-9, he is shorter and faster than traditional centers and is uniquely versatile on defense.

Adebayo is becoming an increasingly lofty parallel for Okongwu to live up to. To a lesser degree, it is becoming reminiscent of Trae Young being hailed as the next Stephen Curry or Brandon Ingram as the next Kevin Durant. As those situations show, even if the player falls short, they can still end up pretty good.

Even if Okongwu is a lesser version of Adebayo, that would be a solid NBA player. It is something for the Wizards to consider, as they are picking ninth overall in the 2020 draft and several mock drafts are projecting Okongwu to be their guy.


So, could the Wizards find the next Adebayo in Okongwu? The comparison has even been acknowledged by Okongwu himself as he told ESPN's Mike Schmitz: "me and Bam, we have a similar body and similar athleticism, and it's an honor to be compared to him [because] he's an NBA All-Star."

Indeed, the physical traits match up. Adebayo is listed at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, while Okongwu is listed at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds. They both have plus wingspans, broad shoulders and can jump out of the gym.

Like Adebayo, Okongwu can protect the rim and defend the pick-and-roll. If those skills translate to the next level, he could follow Adebayo's path to stardom.

Okongwu, in fact, has better numbers than Adebayo did in college. Take a look:

Okongwu (2019-20): 30.6 mpg, 16.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 1.2 spg, 61.6 FG%, 72.0 FT%  Adebayo (2016-17): 30.1 mpg, 13.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 0.7 spg, 59.9 FG%, 65.3 FT%

College stats should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. But for the sake of the Okongwu-Adebayo comparison, they track.

The Wizards need defense and rebounding and they could badly use a rim protector. Perhaps Adebayo's continued rise will factor into their thinking as they evaluate Okongwu.