Cavs draft: 2 realistic expectations for Onyeka Okongwu if he’s the pick

USC big man Onyeka Okongwu (#21) celebrates a near-win. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
USC big man Onyeka Okongwu (#21) celebrates a near-win. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson handles the ball. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

#1: Develop into a Cavs long-term replacement for Tristan Thompson

Many NBA draft experts have compared Okongwu to Miami Heat big man Bam Adebayo. But another strong NBA comparison for Okongwu would have to be Cavaliers veteran Tristan Thompson.

And with the potential of Thompson leaving the Cavaliers in free agency, it would be great for Okongwu to develop into a long-term replacement for the Cavs veteran center. Thompson reportedly was technically “offered,” although not formally, a deal by Cleveland at some point that he rejected, for further context.

Anyhow, as basketball players, Okongwu and Thompson share some similarities. Both of them play the center position but are somewhat undersized, though Okongwu played both the 4/5 at USC. At the next level, he projects as a 5, though.

In any case, Okongwu and Thompson are both listed at 6-foot-9. But for what they lack in height, they make up for in terms of athleticism and hustle. And when comparing Okongwu’s college stats to those of Thompson’s, they share similarities in terms of rebounding, points, of which Okongwu averaged 16.2 in 2019-20, and blocks per game, of which Okongwu had 2.7 (Thompson had 2.4).

Measurables, play styles, and college statistics are all commonalities between Thompson and Okongwu.

I also believe that much like Thompson, Okongwu could make an immediate impact for the Cavaliers as a starter or coming off the bench. During his NBA career, Thompson has played in 619 games and he has started in 429 of them.

No matter his position in the rotation, Thompson was able to bring rebounding and energy to the floor. I believe that Okongwu would be able to do the same thing. He would be a great source of energy off the Cavs bench.

But, if a scenario such as the one that ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested on the Wine & Gold Talk Podcast with’s Chris Fedor and Hayden Grove arises and the Cavaliers traded Andre Drummond and Cedi Osman to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Chris Paul, Okongwu would likely be a starter earlier on.

Although, as Windhorst also noted, he has not heard any such talks about the Cavaliers acquiring Paul, and that there are other possible suitors, such as the Milwaukee Bucks, LA Clippers and New York Knicks as logical destinations.

Albeit ESPN’s Zach Lowe did state in a recent report how there’s been “no traction” regarding the Bucks and Thunder in potential Paul-centric trade talks, for what it’s worth. At any rate, you can view more on the Paul-Cavs hypothetical possibilities here.

If Onyeka Okongwu is drafted by the Cavaliers, the first realistic expectation for him would be to take over the role that Tristan Thompson had manned since 2011. That role is to bring energy, rebounding and defense while either starting or coming off the bench.