The “futures/raw” section of my prospect watch deals with players that are currently going to college; no high schoolers like RJ Barrett. Some of these players are under the radar talents that in time could develop to be first round or possibly lottery picks. Some others are just players who have a skill or two that translates to the NBA, and with enough year-to-year progress could end up on draft boards. These are players who you might not know now but could know in a year or two. No seniors allowed.
Chuma Okeke, PF/C, Auburn, FR
6’8/230 pounds/7’ wingspan/19.5 years old
~ Chuma Okeke has been under utilized on the bench for most of the season. Sitting behind upperclassmen Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer Okeke was averaging 20 minutes per game. In that time span I saw someone who could be a Channing Frye or Kyle Kuzma at the next level; the potential was there. But either because lack of playing time, lack of aggression, lack of confidence or unwilling coaching the full arsenal of skill for Okeke laid dormant. With the recent season ending injury to McLemore has now given Okeke a bump in playing time to roughly 30 minutes a game so far. I’m interested to see if Bruce Pearl continues to play Okeke that many minutes but with the offensive skill that Okeke possesses it’s hard to believe he won’t.
The first thing that stands out for Okeke is his NBA size. Being 6’8 with a 7’ wingspan and a good athlete really highlights his potential as a versatile player. His athleticism isn’t overpowering and his foot speed could stand to improve but his length and accumen make up for having just good athleticism. The biggest reason why he made this list was his pick-and-pop play. Okeke has shot 42.6% from three, 1.25 PPP (points per possession) on spot up and catch-and-shoot attempts which is excellent. He is constantly setting screens and fanning out to the three point line. Whether or not he gets the ball the mere fact he is a threat off pick-and-pops opens up driving lanes for ball handlers and puts pressure on defensive pick-and-roll coverages. He also can create when pushed off the line. Okeke has a 1.00 PPP on all jump shots off the dribble which ranks 84th percentile. His handle could use some work especially his weak hand but Okeke can pump fake, put the ball on the floor and either attack the basket or shoot the midrange. He really doesn’t go to his off-the-bounce game that much and relies heavily on pick-and-pop but in the limited amount of off-the-bounce attempts he’s had so far so good.
Even though he is a good pick-and-pop player Okeke needs to improve his diving skills. Of the 39 pick-and-roll “roll man” opportunities Okeke has had this year, 34 have been pick-and-pop, 4 he’s slipped the screen and just one was a roll to the basket. That is something I need to see more of. Being able to pick-and-pop, drive off the dribble and roll to the rim are three important abilities for “bigs” in the NBA. Without proper context it’s hard to grade that skill. He’s also not a post up factor yet and I don’t know if that’s a big worry. 8.2% of his plays are post ups and he’s .647 PPP which is below average. He definitely could stand to add some up-and-under moves, hook shot with either hand and refine his low block footwork but that isn’t a necessity in the NBA anymore. Every time I see Okeke at the low block he usually either cuts or fills the three point area. He can go pinch post every so often and show off his underrated passing skills; he makes great decisions and the ball never sticks with Okeke.
Defense has been up and down for Okeke. The Tigers either go 2-3 zone or man-to-man. I actually think Okeke has done a better job of man-to-man instead of 2-3 zone. When Okeke goes man-to-man he understands pick-and-roll coverages and rotations better. But when he goes zone he has trouble guarding and communicating an area and making the correct reads. When the front line of the zone breaks down he doesn’t wall off the drive in time. His rim protection skills are questionable since he lacks elite foot speed. He has quick hands so he can cause deflections and turnovers but defense is an area of improvement for Okeke. Okeke might be a three to four year college player at Auburn. There are multiple players playing his position on the Auburn roster and if it wasn’t for an injury his playing time would be limited this season. Kyle Kuzma stayed three years and Channing Frye stayed four years so I wouldn’t expect anything different from Okeke. He has shown next level skills that over time can develop into an NBA player.
*All stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology*