Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
Oscar Tshiebwe, at a hulking 260 pounds, has been one of the biggest reasons Kentucky has had such a great year. He holds the rest of college hoops in his grip like a basketball, and looks to slam it home in March Madness, but how well will his high-flying antics translate to the NBA?
Right now he’s estimated to go 44th in the draft, according to ESPN’s draft board, but can he possibly jump the pack and land higher? Or if he does land at his projected spot, can he outmuscle and outwork his way into a rotation? Only time, it seems, will tell. Let’s look at his best options in the NBA:
San Antonio Spurs
At first glance, one might think that there is no way Tshiebwe ends up in San Antonio’s starting lineup. Think again. The Spurs could definitely use a rebounding machine like him. He currently averages the most rebounds in the NCAA and pulls them down in the tough SEC. Now, it would be difficult for him to get minutes immediately, but if the Spurs remain a rebuilding team next year they may be inclined to play younger guys and experiment with different lineups. Tshiebwe remains an option here.
This isn’t a good fit for Tshiebwe. The Hawks have quality big men named Clint Capela, John Collins, and Onyeka Okongwu already. There really isn’t a need for another elite rebounder. Then again, playing a Cleveland Cavaliers style lineup wouldn’t be a total oddity. Of course, Tshiebwe would have to come off the bench for this to work; maybe a Gallinari-Tshiebwe-Okongwu trio? Basically, not a good fit, but it would be interesting to see.
New York Knicks
New York always seems especially enamored with Kentucky players, having 3 on the roster plus Derrick Rose, who was coached by John Calipari at Memphis. This would be interesting if the Knicks decide to rebuild the roster (or retool) as Tshiebwe would see consistent minutes as a prospect in their redevelopment. I wouldn’t count him out as a starter either in this hypothetical scenario, especially if the Julius Randle rumors are true.
It’s hard for me to properly evaluate Oscar glass cleaner in the NBA. His role would most likely remain unchanged as a rim running glass cleaner. The question is really how good of one he will be. His upside remains an issue. As phenomenal as he’s been we must note that he’s already 22 years old and lacks a three-point shot. I won’t say that he will never develop one in the NBA, as teams will probably work on that to some degree with him, but it may never become consistent enough to make players guard him from out there. Maybe he’ll be a small-ball big, as that has worked with other prominent players.
Let’s look at the positives: 15.3 rebounds, 16.9 points, almost 60% from the field. These are incredible numbers for a guy at his size in the tough, tough SEC. Kentucky would not be where it is now without him, TyTy Washington would not be as sought after by NBA teams if it weren’t for him. He is the Kentucky Wildcats right now. His spirit and hustle will forever live in the program. But we’re talking about the NBA, the toughest basketball league on the planet. Players like him have tried and failed to exert dominance over the league. We shall see where he lands on the spectrum of glory and failure.
Ceiling: Clint Capela
It was really hard for me to find someone even remotely similar to Tshiebwe. At only 6’9″, his rebounding is an outlier for players at his size. Capela is taller, if only slightly, yet his hustle on the glass reminds me of him. This is a great ceiling for Tshiebwe, possibly becoming a starting caliber small-ball center. I could definitely see this for him for years to come.
Floor: Charles Bassey
This is not a knock on Charles Bassey, he could still be a very good NBA player. How he plays now is simply the floor for Oscar Tshiebwe. This would mean Tshiebwe would be a very deep bench player (possibly G-League) for the majority of his career (might be short). I sincerely doubt this happens, yet it is possible. Looking at his draft position, Bassey was drafted 53rd overall in last year’s draft. That’s not too far from Tshiebwe’s projected draft slot. They are also only an inch apart and were prolific rebounders in college. If Tshiebwe’s big time rebounding doesn’t translate to the NBA, it’s possible he ends up with a very short career. Not my prediction, but…well it could happen.
Conclusion: Oscar Tshiebwe is the ultimate hustler. A long NBA career might be ahead of him. He’s leading Kentucky into March Madness with a chip on his shoulder. He might conquer all or he might strain under the pressure. Only time will tell.