USC basketball’s Onyeka Okongwu has been a force for the Trojans, making his finalist spot for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award well-deserved.
USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu was announced as a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award on Friday.
Okongwu is one of 10 finalists vying to be named the best center in college basketball. He’ll face off with Duke’s Vernon Cary, Georgetown’s Omer Yurtseven, Gonzaga’s Filip Petrusev, Iowa’s Luka Garza, Kansas’ Udoka Azubike, Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu, Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, Washington’s Isaiah Stewart, and William & Mary’s Nathan Knight.
He may not be the favorite to win the award when all is said and done, but the 6-foot-9 freshman from Chino Hills has done more than enough to justify his inclusion in that elite group. The stats certainly show that.
Okongwu leads the Pac-12 in player efficiency rating at 32.7. John Hollinger, the statistician who devised PER as a measure of a player’s overall contributions, judges any number between 30 and 35 as a “Runaway MVP candidate,” in NBA terms at least. From a national perspective, Okongwu rates sixth in efficiency. Only Garza, Knight and Carey among the candidates for the Abdu-Jabbar Award. Carey and Okongwu are the only freshmen of that group.
It’s no wonder Okongwu rates so highly in a broad stat like PER. He’s been exceptional in other more specific stat categories.
He is third nationally and leads the Pac-12 in Box Plus/Minus with a score of +13.8. That means he’s 13.8 points better than the league’s average player. Basketball Reference uses Michael Jordan in 1989 and Lebron James in 2009 and 2010 as examples of exceptional BPM seasons. They were +12.5 and +13.0. Azubuike is the only other finalist ahead of Okongwu.
Another leading category for Okongwu is offensive rebounds. His 74 top the Pac-12. His offensive rating of 126.2 is unrivaled as well.
The forward is also second in the conference in rebounds (199), blocks (65), field goal percentage (.608) and two-point field goals (141).
Numbers aren’t everything, of course. But no one who has watched Okongwu play for USC this season could come away unimpressed. While the Trojans have been frustrating at times, winning ugly often while losing badly when they have, Okongwu has been consistently great.
He opened his college career with a double-double against Florida A&M and has achieved that feat nine times in total in 22 starts.
Fan voting for the Abdul-Jabbar Award opened on Friday. Click here to vote.
The winner of the award will be announced on April 10.