Observing Onyeka Okongwu, Zeke Nnaji, and Isaiah Mobley

February 28th, 2020

by Alan Lu

After having seen an eventful match-up that went into overtime on Wednesday, I decided to watch a West Coast game that took place between USC and Arizona yesterday.  Arizona was without Josh Green and Max Hazzard, who were out due to injuries, and USC was without Kyle Sturdivant who missed the game due to a family tragedy, so both teams were shorthanded. It was a defensive battle all game long, but USC managed to grind out a much needed win over Arizona in their bid to try to make it to the NCAA Tournament, as they received strong performances from Onyeka Okongwu, Isaiah Mobley, and Jonah Mathews. Arizona struggled to make shots or limit turnovers for most of the game, but Zeke Nnaji seemed to play the best amongst players on his team on this day. Here are my thoughts on how Okongwu and other various players fared, as well as how their games may stack up for the NBA.

USC's freshman big man, Onyeka Okongwu had another strong performance, as he helped lead his team to a win over Arizona.  (Photo: John McGillen/USC Athletics.)
USC’s freshman big man, Onyeka Okongwu had another strong performance, as he helped lead his team to a win over Arizona. (Photo: John McGillen/USC Athletics.)

USC’s freshman big man, Onyeka Okongwu had a solid showing to lead his team to a win over Arizona. He played well on both ends of the floor as he rebounded and defended well, blocked numerous shots to protect the paint, and he also showed off versatile scoring skills as he made field goals from all over the floor.

Okongwu did a good job of scoring in the post. He possesses very good footwork, agility, and shooting touch, as he used an overhead ball fake to score on a smooth turnaround jump hook, and he possesses impressive footwork that enables him to regularly get past and around his man. He also managed to use a quick spin move to draw free throws, and he showed a knack for drawing fouls upon his defenders. Plus, he also managed to score on a strong put back after getting an offensive rebound. On the downside, he did miss on high post drive despite using a pump fake, as he struggled a little more to score off the dribble from further out.

He also shot the ball well in this game. Okongwu made his first three-point shot, as he pulled up to make a deep three heave to beat the buzzer towards the end of the first half. He did shoot an airball on a long two-point attempt, so his jump shot may still be a work in progress, but it’s a good sign that he was able to make his first three-pointer, as that could be something he could perhaps build off of.

Okongwu would sometimes pass from the post to find the open man to set up scoring chances for his teammates. He did occasionally struggle to protect the basketball, as he had a ball poked away by a defender in the post once. On a separate play, he was called for a push off away from the ball when trying to get open, as that led him to commit an offensive foul and a turnover simultaneously.

He also did a very good job of rebounding the basketball. Okongwu was quite active on the glass, as he would leap up to haul in numerous boards on both ends of the floor. However, there was one play where he didn’t block out, which led him to foul an opponent on a put back attempt.

Also, Okongwu played solid defense in this game. He did a great job of blocking shots off of drives and in the post, as he would often swat shots ferociously, and sometimes would direct balls to teammates to help his team get rebounds off of them. Plus, he also managed to intercept an entry pass to nab a steal. Okongwu did a very good job of defending in the post and in the paint, and he would actively challenge shots to force a wealth of misses. Sometime though, he could be too aggressive on the defensive end. He was occasionally prone to fouling opponents when rotating on drives or defending on the block, and he also bit on a pump fake to allow an opponent to score on a turnaround jumper. On another play, he tried to front his man, but allowed an easy catch that led his opponent to score inside.

In general, Okongwu put forth another strong performance, as he was the best player on the floor in his team’s win over Arizona. His team needed a win to stay in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, and he helped them do exactly that. He made timely shots and scored efficiently, played unselfishly, and was very active as a rebounder and defender to help his team in those areas. Right now, Okongwu is looking to be a likely lottery pick, as he could perhaps potentially be the best big man in this draft, and he has the skills to be a solid overall player in the NBA.

Arizona's freshman big man, Zeke Nnaji also played well in his team's loss to USC.  (Photo: Rick Scuteri/AP Photo.)
Arizona’s freshman big man, Zeke Nnaji also played well in his team’s loss to USC. (Photo: Rick Scuteri/The Associated Press.)

Arizona’s freshman big man, Zeke Nnaji played fairly well in his team’s loss to USC. He excelled at getting scores around the basket, he made mid-range jumpers, and he also rebounded the ball well when he was out on the floor.

Nnaji showed off decent low post scoring skills. He has a good pump fake move, as that allowed him to score on a turnaround jumper, and it also enabled him to split a double team to score on a layup off the glass. He excelled at drawing free throws down low, but sometimes would rush up tough shots that would lead to misses.

He also showed off an adequate ability to knock down jumpers. Nnaji would often make open mid-range jumpers on pick and pop plays, as he excelled at making shots in that range. However, he seemed to be more uncomfortable in taking threes, as he missed on all of them from beyond the arc, and he missed a couple of those short.

He also showed a decent ability to score on hustle plays. Nnaji managed to score on a tip-in, and also drew free throws on a strong put back attempt. He also rolled to the rim to get the ball, but missed on a dunk attempt late in this match.

Also, Nnaji displayed average at best playmaking skills in this game. Though he did not collect an assist against USC, he would throw accurate passes out of the post to find open shooters, and he also set up a good screen that enabled his teammate to get open on a jump shot to set up a score for him. However, Nnaji struggled to protect the basketball at times, as he had a tendency to get the ball poked away from him in the post, and he also threw an inbounds pass that was picked off earlier.

Plus, Nnaji also rebounded the ball well. He was quite active at crashing the glass, and he was able to haul in plenty of boards, as he also provided his team with second chance points by being able to score off of offensive rebounds.

He also played adequate defense. Nnaji showed good hands to help his team get steals, as he was able to tip a pass to a teammate, and he also poked a ball away from an opponent dribbling off of a screen to force another turnover. Plus, he also managed to contest a high-post drive to force a miss. However, he sometimes didn’t show great footwork when defending out on the perimeter, and he would occasionally over-help in the paint, which would lead him to be late to rotate back, as he would allow scores to shooters.

In summary, Zeke Nnaji had a solid showing in his team’s loss to USC. He seemed to play the best among players on his team, and was consistently productive when he was on the floor. He made timely shots and often would draw and make his free throws, and he also was active as a rebounder and defender. Right now, he is a strong, mobile big man that can score in the post, make mid-range jumpers, and grab rebounds, and he could be a good value pick for an NBA team in the late first to the second round range of the upcoming draft.

USC's freshman big man, Isaiah Mobley had a superb showing off the bench to help lead his team to a win over Arizona.  (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
USC’s freshman big man, Isaiah Mobley had a solid showing off the bench to help lead his team to a win over Arizona. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

USC’s freshman big man, Isaiah Mobley played very well as he quietly put forth a stellar performance in his team’s win over Arizona, and he looks to be considerably improved as an overall player compared to the last time I saw him play. Another interpretation is that, maybe he’s always been this skilled all along, but it may be just now that he is starting to break out to realize how good he can be for his team. Either way, I was pleasantly surprised with Mobley’s ability to shoot, make shots, and defend, and his strong play here is why he may be a long-term prospect worth following in the future.

Mobley did a great job of knocking down jumpers to provide floor-spacing for his team on offense. He ran off the ball to make a corner three, and he also made another spot-up three off the catch, as he showed a good shooting stroke, and was able to make three-point shots with smooth ease.

He also excelled as a scorer in the post, as he managed to lean in to score on a strong jumper around the basket. Mobley also looked to take his man off the dribble, but missed a couple of times, despite being able to get good looks to score on those plays.

However, he also was fairly turnover prone on offense. For the positives, Mobley tended to throw good interior passes, and he also can throw solid passes off the dribble. He would look to find the open man, and he also was able to find a cutter after getting the ball on a curl cut to set up a scoring chance for him. Mobley also showed off adequate ball handling skills in this game, as he can take the ball to the rim to get his shots up. However, he dropped a couple of passes, as his teammates would send him hard passes that he was unable to handle. He also threw a pass to a roll man that ended up getting intercepted by a defender.

Though he didn’t grab many rebounds in this game, he was able to collect boards on both end of the floor, and Mobley was able to leap up to get a tough offensive board in traffic once.

He also played decent defense. Mobley would actively contest shots to force misses, and he also intercepted a pass to get a steal due to possessing good length, athleticism, and instincts to do so. Sometimes he would be too aggressive on the defensive end, which would lead him to commit touch fouls.

Overall, Mobley had a solid showing in his team’s win over Arizona, and he especially excelled as a shooter and scorer on the floor. He’s had an up and down season, but his strong performance could be a building block for him in the future, and while he may need another year in school to show that he can consistently perform well on a night to night basis, he could end up being a late first to a second round prospect for the 2021 draft.

Arizona’s freshman point guard, Nico Mannion did not play very well, as he shot the ball poorly and struggled on defense in his team’s tough loss to USC. His team was without Josh Green and Max Hazzard, but mostly the absence of Green meant losing another shot maker and player that can get out on the break to ease Mannion’s scoring load. He also faced tough defense from USC’s freshman guard, Ethan Anderson, and Mannion struggled to make outside shots as he had an off-night in this game.

Mannion showed an adequate ability to score on quick drives to the basket. He is a subtly agile player that can quickly get into the lane, and is a crafty ball handler that can slip past defenders. He was able to score on a smooth floater early on, and he also split a double team to score on a graceful layup later in this game. He also managed to draw fouls upon his opponents, as he can get to the free throw line, but he also struggled to score in traffic.

However, he did not shoot the ball well in this game. He did make a deep pull-up three once, and he also drew three free throws on another attempt from long-range, but Mannion tended to miss on too many three-point shots that he hoisted up from beyond the arc, as he struggled to find his rhythm from out there. He also used a step back move to take a long two, but wound up missing that time, too.

Also, he displayed perhaps above average playmaking skills. Mannion did a good job of finding Nnaji off the dribble to set up scores for him, and he excelled at getting him the ball on pick and pop plays. He also tended to throw accurate, long passes, as he can deftly find the open man to set up scoring chances for them. On the downside, he didn’t actually get many assists in this game, despite moving and handling the ball well, and he also had a couple of passes intercepted, as he can be a bit off-target when trying to get his teammates the ball on occasion.

Though he didn’t get many rebounds in this game, he would sometimes chase down balls to get defensive boards, and he would tend to bring the ball up the floor off of them. On the downside, he struggled with his on-ball defense against USC. For the positives, Mannion was active defensively, as he would fight through screens to stay with his man and would try to apply considerable ball pressure. He also helped manage to contest a shot in the post to force a miss. However, he tended to get outmuscled when defending on drives and in the post, which would lead him to commit fouls and allow scores. Other times, he would have trouble staying with his man, and he would occasionally be called for reach-in fouls. He also sagged off his opponent on another play that led him to allow his man to score on a deep three from beyond the arc.

Overall, Nico Mannion didn’t have his best game, but he was able to make some good plays even in a loss to USC where his team was shorthanded. He was able to get some solid scores off the dribble and made some nice passes, but he struggled with his jump shot, and he also occasionally struggled to get good shots off as he faced relentless ball pressure from Ethan Anderson. Still, his fairly solid body of work may suggest that he has the skills and the basketball IQ to be a mid first round pick, as he could still develop into being a reliable role player in the NBA.

USC’s 6-3 senior guard, Jonah Mathews also had a solid showing, as he excelled at getting strong scores off the dribble, as he was able to score on a floater and on a fadeaway jumper, and he also made a deep three from beyond the arc. He did struggle to make threes, but he made shots efficiently, and was aggressive in taking the ball to the rim to garner scores. He also showed a decent ability to pass off the dribble, but occasionally would commit careless turnovers.

He also chipped in to get his fair share of boards to help his team on the glass, and he also played adequate defense. Mathews was able to poke a ball away to nearly get a steal, but also would occasionally pick up touch fouls, although there was one play where it seemed as if his opponent lost the ball entirely on his own.

Overall, Matthews had a fairly good game, as he primarily excelled at scoring on strong drives to the hoop, he showed off a fairly good shooting touch to make his shots, and he made big shots down the stretch. He is a fairly athletic, score-first combo guard that can defend and get buckets, and while he may need to be a more consistent player in games and show that he can effectively run the point at the next level, he is a skilled player that could end up being a good addition to an NBA team’s summer league roster later this year.

USC’s senior swingman, Daniel Utomi made some good plays in his team’s win over Arizona.   He excelled at scoring on strong drives to the hoop, as he made a fadeaway jumper, and he also scored on a powerful drive another time. Utomi also was able to make a corner three, but he struggled to consistently make outside shots in this game. 

He also played adequate defense. He was able to jump a pass to get a steal, but also fouled an opponent on a pull-up three another time. Overall, Utomi is an athletic player that can score the basketball in a variety of ways, and he could project into a 3 and D role in the association.

USC’s freshman point guard, Ethan Anderson played well in his team’s win over Arizona. He excelled at scoring on strong drives to the hoop, and he also used a spin move to score early on. He also played terrific defense, as he would often jump passes to get steals, and he also was able to poke balls away to force other turnovers. Plus, he would apply heavy ball pressure and cut off penetration to force his man to pass the basketball, and he also aptly contested a long to force a miss.

On the other hand, he missed all three of his three-point shots from beyond the arc, and he also was fairly turnover prone on offense. Anderson would find open shooters to get assists, but he also would throw inaccurate passes that would go astray, and he also had a ball poked away when handling it off of a screen that led to another turnover.

Overall, Ethan Anderson is a strong, physical playmaker that can get into the lane to score the basketball, and he is also a very good defender. He will need to improve his jump shot and cut down on turnovers, but he could be a solid long-term prospect to keep an eye on, as he could end up moving up draft boards in 2021.

USC’s senior center, Nick Rakocevic did not play very well in his team’s win, as he was held scoreless, and he struggled to make shots from the field. He had trouble scoring in the post, and he also threw an interior pass that was dropped out of bounds another time.

Defensively, he looked to be about average at best. He had some trouble guarding opponents in on-on-one situations, was he was prone to picking up fouls, but he did manage to block a shot in the post due to possessing good timing. When he was in position, he would contest shots in the post to force some misses.

Overall, Rakocevic didn’t have a great game, but he is a skilled big man that can score in the low post, and he could end up likely having a solid professional basketball career overseas if he doesn’t end up making his way to the NBA.