The Trail Blazers’ memorable postseason run might be over, but the the 2019 NBA Draft is right around the corner. Portland’s President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey currently has the No. 25 pick in the draft at his disposal and he will look to supplement the Blazers’ roster with a talented prospect in the latter stages of the first round. Today we look at Auburn Tigers forward Chuma Okeke.
- Height: 6’8”
- Weight: 235
- Wingspan: 7’0”
- Shooting Hand: Right
- Position: Forward
- Age: 20
- Projected draft range: 22-35
- PTS: 12.0 | Per 40: 16.5
- REB: 6.8 | Per 40: 9.4
- AST: 1.9 | Per 40: 2.6
- STL: 1.8 | Per 40: 2.5
- BLK: 1.2 | Per 40: 1.7
- FG%: 49.6
- 3P%: 38.7
- FT%: 72.2
Chuma Okeke plays the type of basketball that is popular in today’s NBA. He moves well off the ball to find openings and leaves defenders behind in the process. Once free along the perimeter, Okeke made 38.7 percent of his threes, of which more than 90 percent were assisted. Despite being one of Auburn’s better shooters, he frequently sacrificed his own shot to make the extra pass to a facilitate a more-open attempt. Okeke also operates fluently in the low post and can effectively attack mismatches. On the other end, he displayed mature instincts and a reliable defensive IQ. His speed and athleticism allow him to defend the pick-and-roll. He can contain the ball handler and get back to his man in time or simply switch onto the ball handler and not get exposed.
As a player who lets the offense come to him, Okeke sometimes acts carelessly with the ball. The numbers support this less-than-ideal trait: he recorded 1.9 assists and 1.7 turnovers per game as a sophomore. He crashes the offensive glass on seemingly every possession, which enables opponents to run in transition with an advantage. Okeke also slips screens quickly in order to pop out to the arc for a chance at his own shot, therefore not setting an effective pick for the ball handler. His most glaring area for improvement is shot creation. He rarely strung together multiple moves to create space for his own shot.
Along with a substantial minutes increase from his freshman to sophomore year, Okeke improved all facets of his game. He nearly doubled his points, grabbed an extra rebound and collected more than one steal and block per contest while shooting significantly better from the field. Okeke finished the season strong by scoring in double digits in 15 of his final 17 games. He played a major role in Auburn’s deep tournament run until he tore his ACL in the Sweet 16. In almost three complete tournament games prior to the injury, he averaged 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals and nearly three triples per game on 50 percent shooting. Okeke’s improvement in the NCAA Tournament earned him Midwest Regional All-Tournament Team honors.
Okeke is an athletic, lengthy forward who plays both sides of the floor well. He constantly moves to open areas without the ball and knocks down catch-and-shoot opportunities. His ability to back down smaller opponents in the low post diversifies his offensive portfolio as well. However, Okeke’s struggle to self-create off the dribble makes his offense predictable. Defensively, the former Tigers standout can defend multiple positions. An ACL injury suffered in the Sweet 16 is worrisome, though. His athleticism unlocked mismatches and it might not return to its pre-injury form.
Even with the absence of Jusuf Nurkic in mind, Portland’s immediate hole to fill this offseason is at the wing. If Al-Farouq Aminu leaves, that hole grows. Unlike many other potential three-and-D prospects available at the end of the first round, Okeke already has an established defensive game. On offense, Okeke converted a dependable 38.7 percent of his three-pointers, a mark high enough for opponents to honor him along the perimeter. Auburn’s offense ran a lot of pick-and-pop sets involving Okeke, an action the Blazers used frequently when LaMarcus Aldridge played alongside Damian Lillard. A pick-and-pop duo of Lillard and Okeke has the potential to deliver a litany of open looks. The Blazers don’t have a sparkling history with leg injuries, but the team’s overall health the past few seasons hints at a comfortable environment for Okeke to finish his rehab and return to form.
If the Blazers keep their lone pick in this year’s draft, Okeke’s lottery-level potential is tough to pass on.
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