One year ago, Zeke Nnaji was an overlooked freshman making his name heard across the basketball landscape. Today, he heard his name called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
The Denver Nuggets selected the former Arizona Wildcat forward with the 22nd pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, marking the exclamation point to a meteoric rise. Some mock drafts had Nnaji going in the first round, but most projected him as a second-round pick.
He becomes the 74th Arizona Wildcat to be drafted and 25th to go in the first round. Fellow one-and-done Josh Green was selected 18th overall by the Dallas Mavericks, while Nico Mannion is expected to be selected soon.
Nnaji, a Minneapolis native, exploded onto the college basketball scene last November on his way to an illustrative lone season at Arizona.
Nnaji arrived in Tucson with less fanfare than his freshman teammates Josh Green and Nico Mannion but quickly separated himself as Arizona’s most reliable player.
Nnaji averaged 16.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for the Wildcats, earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, Nnaji is built for an NBA frontcourt. He’ll likely play off the bench for the Nuggets, one of the best teams in the West, this upcoming season but could eventually develop into a starter.
Nnaji’s strengths include his mobility, rebounding, and success off the pick and roll. His mid-range and perimeter shooting gradually improved at Arizona, but Nnaji’s main struggle will be defensively, where he lacks the quickness to stop smaller forwards and guards, though he could thrive as a small-ball center.