After a strong showing at the U19 World Championship last summer, helping USA win gold, Chinanu Onuaku came back to Louisville looking to establish himself as a leader with the departure of Montrezl Harrell to the NBA. Unfortunately his season ended at the conclusion of the ACC conference slate, as his school elected to self-impose a postseason ban due to accusations that a former assistant coach paid prostitutes to entertain potential recruits, putting a damper on his sophomore campaign.
Nevertheless, Onuaku improved his productivity considerably, emerging as one of the most efficient all-around big men in the NCAA. He went from averaging a meager 6.6 points per-40 minutes as a freshman to a far more respectable 16.7, while increasing his 2P% to an excellent 62% and his free throw percentage from 47% to 59%. He also improved as a rebounder, upping his per-40 averages from 10.2 to 14.3, mainly thanks to an increased effort on the defensive glass, as well as blocking 3.4 shots and getting 1.3 steals per-40.
Onuaku is an inch or so undersized for an NBA center at 6'9 without shoes, but compensates for that with a near 7'3 wingspan, a 9'1 standing reach, and a chiseled 245 pound frame. He is fairly mobile, doing a good job of getting up and down the floor when motivated, and has nimble feet which allow him to move in an agile fashion, despite not being the quickest or most explosive big man around on first glance.
Offensively, Onuaku does all of his damage in the direct vicinity of the basket. He can use his strong frame to seal off opponents and carve out deep post position at the college level, but will need to develop his footwork and counter moves to translate some of his effectiveness as a back to the basket scorer to the pro ranks.
Nevertheless, Onuaku does a great job of setting wide screens and rolling with purpose to the basket, and has outstanding hands that allow him to catch virtually everything thrown his way. He proved to be a very reliable option for his guards to throw the ball to as a pick and roll finisher and cutter, as he throws down dunks emphatically and shows some craftiness with his touch around the rim when unable to play above the rim. Onuaku converted 64% of his attempts around the basket this past season, despite the fact that he's not a high flyer and may need to continue to develop his skill level to continue to have success finishing over length.
With Onuaku's role expanding, he was given more opportunities to show off his passing ability, which looked much improved as a sophomore. He sees the floor much better than you might expect for someone in his mold, as he's able to find cutters diving to the baskets and shooters spotting up on the wing, showing some creativity with his passing that suggests he can continue to develop this part of his game in time.
Still, Onuaku struggles with his decision making, posting a sky-high 27% turnover percentage at the college level. He doesn't always know his limitations, and his shot-selection isn't always stellar, as it seemed towards the end of the year that he was trying to show off parts of his game that simply aren't currently in his repertoire.
Onuaku can be somewhat predictable, as he doesn't have much in the way of a face-up game, struggling to put the ball on the floor or knock down a jump-shot outside the paint. His shooting mechanics are very rigid, and his career 55% free throw percentage doesn't suggest he has a great deal of room for improvement in this area. Not someone who is going to create much offensive on his own, NBA teams will likely want to see Onuaku develop some more versatility, skill and feel as his career progresses.
Where Onuaku is likely to make a living early on in his career as a rebounder, an area where he shows excellent timing and can do a lot of damage with his strong frame, extremely long arms and reliable hands. His 4.9 offensive rebounds per-40 is one of the better rates in this draft, as he boxes out other big men very aggressively, and pursues loose balls coming off the glass with great purpose.
Defensively, Onuaku also shows some promise. He has a knack for contesting shots around the basket as well as on the perimeter, covering ground nicely and being relatively quick off his feet. He shows good timing as a shot-blocker, as evidenced by the 3.4 rejections he averaged per-40 this season, using verticality well and not even needing to jump sometimes to send back shots thanks to his long reach. He uses his strong frame to his advantage inside the paint in man to man situations, and isn't one to get pushed around on the interior despite being only 19 years old.
On the perimeter, Onuaku is somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, he covers ground fairly well and has quick feet he can use to stay in front of smaller players and make plays at the rim with his long arms even if he's initially beat. On the other hand, Onuaku's lack of experience can be very evident at times, as he doesn't always look dialed in enough on this end of the floor. He'll sometimes look extremely upright in his stance and show very poor discipline and intensity with his approach, one of the reasons he had a difficult time staying out of foul trouble at times this year.
Onuaku came into college with a reputation for being somewhat immature, and can still be very emotional and reactive on the floor at times, while looking like he's just going through the motions in others, operating at half speed. He lacked consistency in his two years at Louisville, particularly in many of their biggest games, but did improve in this area as a sophomore, getting in better shape and playing with a more stable motor.
A strong showing at the NBA Combine convinced Onuaku to keep his name in this year's draft after initially testing the waters, despite being diagnosed with a minor heart issue in his medical examination that is reportedly unlikely to affect his draft stock.
Not turning 20 until November, Onuaku is significantly younger than almost any player in his class, as he easily could have been a member of the freshman class based on when he was born, being even younger than half a dozen of the one and done prospects who are expected to be drafted. He's not going to blow you away with his size, skill-level, athleticism or basketball IQ, but has some very intriguing characteristics that could help him develop into a very strong role player if he continues to progress.