The 2020 NBA Draft is set for November 18th and two centers have set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. Memphis C James Wiseman and USC C Onyeka Okongwu are considered to be the top two big men in their class and both could be top 5 picks. One has superstar potential but is also a major bust risk. The other lacks tantalizing measurables but has a high floor that’s sure to make him a versatile impact player. The first center off the board will be one of these two. Let’s go over compare them and see which one has a better case for being selected first.
NBA Draft battle: James Wiseman vs. Onyeka Okongwu
Wiseman has been grouped with Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball has an elite prospect despite having little tape against top-notch competition. The big man averaged 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game on 76.9 percent shooting in college but only played in three games. He was the top prospect in the 2019 draft class but success at that level often doesn’t translate to the pros. He relies on pull-up jumpers and dribble moves rather than post moves. His elite athleticism and skill set paired with his 7’1” frame and 9’6” could help him join a growing list of offensive unicorns in the NBA, but he is inconsistent on the other side of the ball.
Wiseman’s length could make him an ideal rim protector but he lacks discipline and is prone to biting on ball fakes. Fixing his defensive weaknesses on the interior will be harder than repairing his defense on the perimeter though. Wiseman little tape as a pick-and-roll defender was not promising. His slow feet and lack of awareness make render him useless against guards if he tires to switch, and he’ll have to get better against one of the most common strategies in today’s game. Good teams will pull Wiseman out of the paint and expose his weakness. He could have to be ridiculously good on offense to make up for this glaring hole in his game.
Okongwu played alongside Ball in high school but wasn’t nearly as coveted as Wiseman out of high school. He was rated 20th on ESPN’s top 100 list of prospects in the class of 2019 and rose to prominence after finishing a single season at USC. Okongwu is undersized for a center at 6’9” but has tools that could allow him to find his rhythm in the NBA earlier than Wiseman.
Okongwu doesn’t have Wiseman’s offensive versatility but has desirable skills that make him easy to plug in. He’s an energy big who is excels at rolling to the rim and finishing. Okongu can create opportunities for himself by crashing the glass and securing rebounds for putbacks. He was one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball and is an ideal roll man for pick and roll sets thanks to his bounciness, leaping ability, and finishing. He might be even more valuable on the other side of the ball though.
Okongwu has much more range than Wiseman on defense. While he’s also prone to biting on fakes, he can swats shots and be an elite pick-and-roll defender. Wiseman had solid post defense and has the fluidity so switch onto guards. Whoever drafts him could raise their defensive upside significantly. Okongwu might not ever take over the league, but you know what you’re getting with him. He could be an immediate contributor to a team looking to contend for a championship and doesn’t need to be the focal point of the offense to thrive.
Both these players are projected to be drafted inside the top five and one options makes a lot more sense for teams looking to rebuild. It’s unlikely that he’ll go to the Minnesota Timberwolves with Karl-Anthony Towns as the star of the team but the Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Hornets are in the market for a superstar big. You have to go with the player who has the highest ceiling early in the draft, so Wiseman should come off the board first.