Minnesota Timberwolves: James Wiseman versus Onyeka Okongwu

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans acknowledges the crowd after defeating the Arizona Wildcats 57-48 at Galen Center on February 27, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 27: Onyeka Okongwu #21 of the USC Trojans acknowledges the crowd after defeating the Arizona Wildcats 57-48 at Galen Center on February 27, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

With no Minnesota Timberwolves to watch, the most interesting thing in the NBA right now is the upcoming draft, and all the mock drafts, scouting reports, and hot takes on various draft prospects. James Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu are two of the best bigs, and unanimously show up in most draft boards in the lottery.

What is interesting as of late is that most draft experts believe that Okongwu is the better draft prospect, especially for the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Okongwu has really been a dominant big as an 18-year-old freshman. He has a lot of great game film unlike Wiseman, who played only three games (only one of which against a power-five opponent). Wiseman, in contrast, has elite size for an NBA center and just as athletic and mobile as Okongwu. It is not advisable to make draft decisions off of one game, but the Oregon Ducks are a respectable college team that both these prospects played against.

Another thing to notice in the film that relates to blocks is to gauge how aggressive Oregon’s perimeter players were at attacking the paint on drives against Wiseman versus Okongwu. Take this with multiple grains of salt, but against Wiseman, there was one play where a guard tried to drive on Wiseman to the basket, and initially looked like he could get there, but Wiseman recovered and forced a tough shot high off the glass that rimmed out.

A couple of plays on film, the ball handler drove into the paint, didn’t see a passing option, then dribbled out and took a tough turnaround jump shot from 18 feet instead of finishing inside and challenge Wiseman. Then against Okongwu, the perimeter players had no fear of driving inside and challenging Okongwu in the paint, which resulted in many blocks for Okongwu.

Again, this could be due to Memphis having overall a better interior defense (with fellow likely lottery pick Precious Achiuwa), but Payton Pritchard (Oregon’s lead initiator) was also a first-team All-American this past season.

Even if adjusted to the minutes played, Oregon’s smaller guards attacked Okongwu eight times more than Wiseman (Okongwu held his own, too). One thing that scouts may overlook is seeing the frequency that smalls challenge bigs in college. Half the battle is visualizing the ball going through the hoop, and if guards can’t even see themselves scoring on Wiseman, that says a lot.

Again, this is just a one-game sample size. Take this very, very lightly.

Respective box scores against Oregon:

Onyeka Okongwu:

46 minutes, 23 points, 7-13 field goals, 9-of-10 free throws, 14 rebounds, seven offensive rebounds, one personal foul, one assist, one turnover, six blocks

James Wiseman:

22 minutes, 14 points, 5-8 field goals, 4-6 free throw attempts, 12 rebounds, four offensive rebounds, three personal fouls, two turnovers, one block

Both players have some impressive counting stats.  With Wiseman, the rebounds are particularly impressive. He rebounded everything in the paint, and even got some rebounds far away from his area, even out to the 3 point line.  He got stripped a few times which is concerning, especially given his current frame. He needs to work on his awareness.

Okongwu’s most impressive stat is his blocks. He reads the pick and roll, hedging and recovering very well.  And his timing on contesting shots inside is also very good.  Out of the 40 points in the paint that Oregon scored, Okongwu only allowed 10 of them. While he may not be as dominant protecting the rim in the NBA, he still projects to be a huge positive on that end of the floor.

Another concern with Okongwu is his perimeter defense.  There is a lot of Bam Adebayo comparisons for Okongwu which makes sense for a multitude of reasons. However, Bam played in a switch-heavy scheme at Kentucky and was much more advanced on the perimeter.  There are even highlights of Bam being glued onto guards on the perimeter and denying them the ball.  That kind of quickness gives Bam the versatility to play the 4 or 5 and switch onto smaller players.

At this point, Okongwu can quickly hedge onto the perimeter but then seems to be more off-balanced against quicker players cutting from the baseline. His best position is going to be the 5 however he is extremely mobile and should be able to play the four as well. Wiseman, on the other hand, with his size and length has proven that he can fit as a drop coverage big. Wiseman isn’t as mobile as Okongwu but he has the tools to possibly become a better rim protector. Although the scouting on Wiseman’s pick and roll defense is valid, he doesn’t always take the proper angle as seen in the film, at 1:55 mark, where Prichard rejected the screen and lobbed it for a dunk.

Okongwu on offense is great in the post.  A throw-back big that can finish with either hand. He is a great roll man as well. Quick leaping ability with a thick frame is where the Bam Adebayo fits the best as a comparison. His shooting is a big question mark since he rarely does it, much like Adebayo. Although, Adebayo can dribble as a pick and roll ball handler and averages 5.1 assists per game, and Okongwu may not have that facilitation upside.

Wiseman’s ability to shoot has been on and off, but largely was not a good shooter in both his AAU days and at Memphis, however, it is encouraging to see him take threes. Both Wiseman and Okongwu have the potential to develop a shot, as both are shooting 70+ percent from the free-throw line, which is typically a better indicator of future 3-point shot ability.

Overall Wiseman’s stock has taken a hit due to lack of film of him, and just how the NBA feels about the center position in general. The NBA is trending towards a faster-paced offense. Fast breaks and pick and rolls. The throwback big man that dominates with post-ups is trending away if it has not been deemed nonexistent already.

Rick Carlyle famously stated how the post up is an inefficient play. The truth is the post up is just a slower developing play — the opposite of pace and space. Also, the defense often dictates who ends up with the final shot by doubling the big, and leaving whoever can’t shoot wide open. Instead, the NBA is favoring athletic bigs that can sprint the floor to attack in transition, and when that fails, quickly attack with pick-and-roll ball handlers. Instead of posting up, bigs have to screen and roll, allowing the ball handler an interior passing option if the ball handler doesn’t have an open driving lane or an open shooter in the corner. Some bigs can set great screens and roll, but can’t shoot.  Some can shoot but not roll.  James Wiseman, however, looks like he might be the first big that can sprint in the fast break, screen-and-roll or pop, defend, and even drive to attack a closeout. Wiseman can change how the NBA views centers for years to come.

The coordination for a 7-foot-1 human is unbelievable. Wiseman’s potential to be the best center in the NBA on both ends of the floor.

Obviously Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t the best center in the NBA for his below-average defense. But also Towns needs to get more involved as a roll man. Too often small ball lineups beat the Wolves because Towns never uses his size advantage as a roll man, and strictly plays in the post which is easy to take away with a quick double-team, as mentioned above. The fact that Towns never developed as a roll man is a huge failure on the Wolves. Mostly because of the poor fit with Wiggins, who got a max contract. If Towns screen and rolled, Wiggins would’ve been a great fit with his drive and kick ability, and the Wolves would’ve still had a first-round pick next year.

The special thing about Towns though, is he could still turn into an MVP with his improving isolation game. He flashed his step-back three which looks unstoppable.  And he is still improving his handle. Matched up with another iso scorer in D’Angelo Russell, Rosas is brewing something interesting.

The way it’s looking, Towns’ usage on offense is only going up, so putting him against the toughest defensive assignment doesn’t make much sense. With James Wiseman taking on the rim protection assignment, Towns would have a lot more energy on the offensive end to dominate and fulfill his potential as MVP — which would help the Minnesota Timberwolves truly become an NBA contender.

Next. Jarrett Culver's improved shooting is not a fluke. dark