Onyeka Okongwu

Pacific Notes: Warriors, Chriss, Cook, Kings, Clippers

The Warriors are in position to secure a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA draft, and a big man looks like an obvious need for a team projected to start Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt and Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green in the frontcourt.

However, Connor Letourneau of The San Francisco Chronicle suggests the Warriors aren’t as high on the likes of James Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu as you might think. As Letourneau details, Golden State’s system doesn’t require a dynamic scorer or play-maker at the five — the team just wants someone who can reliably play his role.

Marquese Chriss is someone who may fit that bill, given the strides he made in 2019/20 as a rim-runner, passer, and defender. In fact, multiple sources tell Letourneau that the Warriors would be comfortable entering the ’20/21 campaign with Chriss as their starting center. For his part, the former lottery pick says he’s prepared to play whatever role the team asks.

“I’m just thankful to have an organization that believes in me,” Chriss said. “At the end of the day, if (the Warriors) do draft (Wiseman), I know they’re making the best decision that they can for this team and that they feel will be beneficial for us to win a championship. As a team player, I want to win and I want to be a part of the team. Whatever role I have to have to make that happen, I’ll take on.”

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Lakers guard Quinn Cook has new representation, having signed with Mark Bartelstein and Priority Sports, tweets Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal. Cook was previously repped by Tandem.
  • James Ham of NBC Sports California makes a case for why big man Serge Ibaka would be an ideal target for the Kings during the 2020 free agent period.
  • Jovan Buha of The Athletic identifies some frontcourt free agents the Clippers could target during the offseason if they lose some combination of Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Morris, and JaMychal Green.
  • In an interview this week with TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers shared his side of a story J.J. Redick has told before, describing how the club’s deal with Redick in 2013 was nearly scuttled due to then-owner Donald Sterling‘s apparent aversion to white players. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports has the story, with Rivers’ comments.

Warriors Notes: Giannis, Okongwu, Draft, Eliyahu

Every now and then, over the last year, a report has surfaced detailing the Warriorsinterest in Giannis Antetokounmpo or suggesting that Golden State has been preparing its pursuit of the Bucks star for “years.” However, Anthony Slater of The Athletic is highly skeptical that anything will come of the Warriors’ interest in Giannis, whose current contract with Milwaukee expires in 2021.

As Slater explains, the fact that the Warriors were able to land Kevin Durant in 2016 means they’ll never be ruled out when they pursue other superstars, but in that case, everything lined up perfectly for the franchise — Durant was able to team up with the Warriors’ stars when they were all in their primes and took advantage of a huge cap spike in 2016 to join the team on a max-salary deal.

Several years later, the cap situation for the Warriors and the NBA as a whole isn’t nearly as rosy — Golden State’s cap is loaded with big-money contracts for its stars (and Andrew Wiggins), offering no realistic path to landing Antetokoumpo as a free agent or in a sign-and-trade. The league’s lost revenues also mean that a major dip in the cap is more likely than another spike.

On top of all that, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are in their 30s now, meaning that if he were to become a Warrior, Giannis “would be joining what’d probably become the early stages of a rebuild around him,” Slater writes.

If a star player badly wants to get to a specific team, there’s often a way to make it work, as we saw with last summer with the likes of Anthony Davis and Paul George. But there has been zero indication that Giannis is itching to leave the team with the NBA’s best record for the one in dead last. And even if that’s what he wanted, the roadblocks in the way would be substantial.

Here’s more on the Warriors:

  • In a mailbag for The San Francisco Chronicle, Connor Letourneau discusses Alen Smailagic‘s development, possible options for the Warriors’ $17MM trade exception, and potential draft targets, among other topics. Interestingly, Letourneau indicates that, when it comes to draft-eligible big men, Golden State is higher on Onyeka Okongwu than James Wiseman.
  • While there has been plenty of speculation about the Warriors potentially trading their 2020 lottery pick for win-now veteran help, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic contends that it might make more sense for the club to move the Timberwolves’ 2021 first-rounder if a major trade opportunity arises.
  • Veteran Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu, who spent the 2019/20 season with Maccabi Ashdod, is considering retirement, per an Israel Hayom report (relayed by Sportando). How is that news relevant to the Warriors? Well, Golden State technically holds Eliyahu’s NBA rights, having acquired them in a trade with Minnesota last July. The No. 44 pick in the 2016 draft never came stateside, but has had a decorated playing career in his home country, winning six Israeli League titles and earning seven All-Star nods.

Draft Notes: Early Entrants, Haliburton, Hayes, Avdija

The list of early entrants for the 2020 draft continues to grow, with a trio of guards among the latest underclassmen to announce their intent to test the waters this spring.

Wichita State sophomore guard Dexter Dennis, Colgate junior guard Jordan Burns, and UNC Greensboro junior guard Isaiah Miller all made their draft announcements on Twitter.

Dennis averaged 9.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 28 games (25.8 MPG) for the Shockers in 2019/20; Burns, a former Patriot Tournament MVP, posted 15.8 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 1.7 SPG in 34 games (32.4 MPG) for the Raiders; and Miller recorded a team-high 17.8 PPG to go along with 2.8 SPG as he earned Player of the Year – and Defensive Player of the Year – honors in the Southern Conference.

Here are a few more draft-related updates:

  • Even after the departure of Leon Rose, the head of the agency’s basketball department, Creative Artists Agency is having no problem continuing to fill out its roster with promising young players. CAA announced on Thursday (via Twitter) that projected lottery pick Tyrese Haliburton will be represented by the firm.
  • Ethan Strauss of The Athletic shares his “unconventional” top five for the 2020 draft, valuing efficiency and production over hype and athleticism and focusing on versatile players who have at least one elite skill. Based on those criteria, French wing Killian Hayes top Strauss’ board, followed by Obi Toppin, Haliburton, Onyeka Okongwu, and Isaac Okoro.
  • With the help of draft expert Fran Fraschilla, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com takes an in-depth look at Israeli swingman Deni Avdija, who is another candidate to be one of the first five players off the board in the 2020 draft. Fraschilla cautions that Avdija’s shot needs some work, but views him as this year’s top international prospect – above Hayes – and believes he belongs in the upper tier of the draft class.

USC’s Onyeka Okongwu Declares For NBA Draft

USC freshman big man Onyeka Okongwu has declared for the 2020 NBA draft and intends to forgo his remaining three years of college eligibility, he tells Evan Daniels of 247Sports.

A 6’9″ forward/center, Okongwu averaged 16.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and an impressive 2.7 BPG in 28 games (30.6 MPG) in his first and only season as a Trojan. He projects as a potential lottery pick, currently ranking sixth on ESPN’s big board, including second among centers, behind only James Wiseman.

“I honestly have a lot of confidence in myself and I think I established my name this freshman year and I’ve shown that I can play with anyone,” Okongwu said. “It gives me more confidence in this decision because I feel like I can develop my game on the next level and really be successful.”

According to ESPN’s Mike Schmitz, Okongwu is a strong offensive rebounder and a “versatile defender with outstanding shot-blocking instincts.” Schmitz also praised the big man’s mobility and footwork, though he cautioned that he’s somewhat undersized as a center and his offensive ceiling may be limited. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic recently referred to Okongwu as one of the best defensive prospects in the 2020 draft class.

And-Ones: Mock Draft, Maker, G League Union, Bethea Jr.

Georgia guard Anthony Edwards heads to Cleveland in the latest mock draft compiled by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Former Memphis center James Wiseman (Golden State), Auburn swingman Isaac Okoro (Atlanta), guard LaMelo Ball (New York) and Israeli swingman Deni Avdija (Charlotte) round out the top five. USC big man Onyeka Okongwu has firmly moved into the top 10 after a couple of big performances against top competition and Givony has him going to Detroit at No. 7.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • Makur Maker has been declared eligible for this year’s draft, Evan Daniels of 247Sports reports. The 6’11” Maker is a five-star recruit currently at Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix but he doesn’t plan to play any more games there, Daniels continues. The question about his eligibility stemmed from not receiving his diploma following his senior year of high school. Maker plans to play in the Iverson Classic All-Star game and the Nike Hoop Summit, Daniels adds.
  • NBA players have voted to support the formation of a union for G League players, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. The vote was held at the NBPA meeting on Monday. Formal approval at the G League level will have to take place before the union can be formed (Twitter links).
  • Raptors 905 guard Michael Bethea Jr. is the subject of a feature story by The Athletic’s Blake Murphy on the life of a G League player.