The Toronto Raptors have never been shy about trying to sign some of the best players currently plying their trade in European or Asian leagues. That philosophy helped them get a first-hand look at Ish Wainright and Sam Dekker last season. Masai Ujiri might return to those leagues this offseason as he tries to sign Chinanu Onuaku.
Fans might remember Onuaku as a member of Louisville’s mid-2010s squad. After some solid numbers with the Cardinals, Onuaku was picked 37th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. After playing in just six games and bouncing around the G League, Onuaku went to Europe.
After a year in Croatia, Onuaku joined Bnei Herzeliya in the Isreal Premier Basketball League. Onuaku helped his team win the Israel Basketball State Cup while taking home MVP honors. Rather than defend his title in Israel, Onuaku might be thinking about a leap to the NBA.
While Wainright found himself squeezed out by more experienced forwards and Dekker couldn’t stick long-term, Onuaku might have a better shot of sticking with the Raptors. Onuaku, who is working out with the Raptors today and Mavericks next week, has the experience and gaudy numbers over in Israel that could help him transition to the NBA.
Will the Toronto Raptors sign Chinanu Onuaku?
Onuaku averaged 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while only playing around 26 minutes per contest. Just like his college days at Louisville, the bruising big man is a masterful rebounder who was able to show off some quality defensive prowess against this level of competition.
The poor performance of Khem Birch has been discussed ad infinitum, but it’s still worth dissecting, considering how the Raptors may choose to prioritize finding a replacement for him. Onuaku won’t come into the season as a replacement, but he could push him for playing time and wiggle onto the team’s mop-up crew.
One of Onuaku’s bizarre claims to fame is the fact he is one of just a handful of players who shoot their free throws underhanded. Even though he might not be as good as Rick Barry, Onuaku did connect on 65% of his attempts in Israel. That’s better than the 55% he put up in college.
Ujiri and the Raptors already worked out Onuaku when he was coming out of college, so this front office has shown that they have been very interested in him for a long time. Maybe Toronto will give him the tools he needs to finally stick in the NBA.