After losing his sophomore year to a medical redshirt, Arinze Onuaku
returned last season as one of the Big Easts most improved players. In almost four times as many minutes per game, Onuaku responded to the tune of 12.7 points on 62.8% shooting, 8.1 rebounds, 1 steal and 1.3 blocks per game. It was a season of great improvement, but also one that showed how far he has left to go before he can be considered a serious NBA prospect. After a productive summer, expectations are even higher, and he will now have to prove himself against some of the countrys top big men.
At 69 and possessing a muscular 258-pound frame, Onuaku is undersized for an NBA power forward, let alone a center. This is problematic, because his skills best translate to the center position at this point in time. He is not very athletic to compensate for his lack of height, either. Though, he runs the court well and shows a good activity level on the blocks, he has limited explosiveness and once he moves away from the basket, his athletic limitations are on full display. Onuaku is a very strong player, however, which may be his principle physical selling point right now, and he is very difficult to get around in the post.
Offensively, little has changed since we last wrote about Onuaku in January. As seen in his 62.8% shooting from the field, 63% effective field goal percentage and 60% true shooting percentage, he is an extremely efficient offensive player and ranks in the top ten of returning big men in each category.
These numbers are partially attributed to fact that he gets an overwhelming majority of his points around the basket. According to Synergy Sports Technologys database, almost 57% of his offense comes from either post-ups or offensive rebounds. This is an indication of how truly limited his game is right now. Last year, however, he showed some occasional flashes of versatility. His most notable addition was a consistent hook shot through which he shows decent touch, as well as developing footwork.
While his inability to successfully put the ball on the floor is an area in which he absolutely must improve, his shooting form needs the most significant work. His 44.5% from the foul line, good for sixth worst in the country, is indicative of these shooting woes. Similarly, his basketball IQ could stand to improve as he has a tendency to take the ball up to the basket, no matter who is in his way, which leads to turnovers and offensive fouls. He averages 3.1 fouls per game and 1.9 turnovers per game, despite averaging less than one assist per game. If his offensive game does not continue to expand, he absolutely must become a smarter player to better understand his limitations.
One area where Onuaku does excel at the moment, however, is as a rebounder. He averaged 8.1 rebounds per game, 3.3 of which were on the offensive end. His size and strength on the blocks allows him to be a force on the boards, and though he is not going to get many rebounds out of position, he is effective at this level.
Defensively, it is the same story. He does well on the blocks, using his size and strength to intimidate post players, but does little in terms of guarding perimeter oriented power forwards, usually picking up a foul or getting beaten to the basket. As we have stated before, proving he can guard men on the perimeter would definitely help his case to NBA scouts. He is not much of a shot-blocker, either, and does not challenge shots nearly enough considering his size at this level.
Onuaku is somewhat of a long-shot to get drafted in the future, because like most collegiate post players who lack ideal size and athleticism, there are simply too many basketball-related questions left unanswered.
That said, he showed many improvements last season that show that there is potential for him to continue to improve. Diversifying his game is essential at this stage, perhaps in the form of developing a consistent spot-up jumpshot and/or showing better defensive fundamentals. Currently he is too much of a tweener, as he possesses the skill set of a center and the body of a power forward. He will likely play all four years at Syracuse and will have to prove himself against the Big Easts many elite big men before the NBA will come calling.