With Rudy Gay set to hit the free agent market again, the San Antonio Spurs are entering the off-season with a relatively shallow frontcourt. The Spurs front office could target Auburn’s Chuma Okeke to bolster the rotation and fill that potential void.
The San Antonio Spurs have several areas for improvement this offseason. Thankfully, the front office is equipped with some additional draft capital, courtesy of the Kawhi Leonard blockbuster trade a summer ago, heading into the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20. With two first round picks, San Antonio could consider Auburn’s Chuma Okeke.
Just a sophomore last season, Okeke solidified himself as a key member of Auburn’s big three, partnering with guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper to create a deadly trifecta that stormed through a deep Southeastern Conference, culminating with a conference tournament championship.
Unfortunately, Okeke’s breakout season came to a heartbreaking end when the 6’8″ power forward drove to the basket during Auburn’s Sweet 16 matchup against North Carolina and his knee buckled under him. An MRI confirmed the team and Okeke’s worst nightmare: a torn ACL.
Okeke missed the remainder of the NCAA Tournament after getting surgery to repair his torn ACL and later announced that he’d be entering the NBA Draft. Despite the injury, Okeke’s stellar season did not go unnoticed. The sophomore’s stock rose dramatically over the course of the season and many draft analysts believe he could sneak into the first round.
Chuma Okeke Film Room Breakdown. Analyzing what makes the 20-year-old 6-8 forward such an intriguing prospect. pic.twitter.com/ZbXfLQ6y0m
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 31, 2019
Now, let’s examine what Spurs fans could expect from Okeke if he ended up in the Silver and Black.
Okeke made a considerable leap from his freshman to sophomore year, bumping his scoring averaging up from 7 points per game to 12, which ranked third on the team behind Brown and Harper. He also tallied a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game while leading the Auburn squad with 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest.
The sophomore also posted impressive shooting percentages, connecting on 49.6 percent of his attempts from the floor while hitting 38.7 percent from three-point range. Okeke’s potential to become a stretch forward at the next level will be very enticing for several teams and could be the aspect of his game that moves the needle on being a first or second rounder.
Teams will love Okeke’s confidence in his ability to hit from downtown. Bruce Pearl gave Okeke the green light to fire off the three-ball and he never hesitated, hitting three-pointers in transition, off the dribble or in pull-up situations.
Along with his smooth shooting stroke, Okeke has all of the other characteristics one looks for in a quality big including a variety of post moves he can utilize to get to the rim. He is strong enough to bang in the post but is also a heady player who can sense pressure or a double team and kick it out to an open teammate. In addition, Okeke can exercise his athletic frame to face defenders up and blow by them on dribble drives or close-outs.
One underrated aspect of Okeke’s game is his passing vision. The former Tiger dished nearly two assists per game, which marked the third-most on the team. As mentioned, Okeke is skilled operating in the post and can usually make the right pass if he feels the defense closing in on him.
Defensively, Okeke is a load to contend with, making his presence felt with his long frame that can disrupt passing lanes and force turnovers. Okeke also uses his defense to galvanize the offense, sprinting up the court to flush home an alley-oop or spotting up behind the three-point line to hit a dagger.
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The San Antonio Spurs could benefit greatly from Okeke’s services. Last season, the Spurs ranked in the bottom third of the league in blocks (21st), rebounding (21st) and steals (30). Okeke led the Tigers in all three of those categories during his sophomore season. In San Antonio, Okeke would have the opportunity to play behind and learn from LaMarcus Aldridge, gradually gaining experience on a nightly basis as he provides a jolt of defensive energy off the bench.
Further, Okeke’s proficiency as a three-point shooter would add another dimension to the Spurs’ offense that attempted the least amount of threes in the NBA last season and would be heading into the off-season with a group of bigs who aren’t threatening from long distance, excluding Davis Bertans.
The chief concern with selecting Okeke with a first-round pick is the understanding that he’ll most likely be redshirting his rookie season as he continues to rehab from his ACL injury. Like Lonnie Walker IV, who tore his meniscus during the preseason last year, Okeke could also get reps working with the Austin Spurs as he recovers from his knee injury and then utilize the summer as a chance to get healthy and make an impact in his second year.
Since San Antonio has two first round picks at their disposal, the Spurs will most likely have the opportunity to select a prospect who’s ready to contribute immediately with their 19th pick and then have the possibility of drafting Okeke with their second pick at 29.