Trojans experiencing up-and-down seasons in the NBA

Former USC forward Onyeka Okongwu has appeared in just 11 of 31 possible games for the Atlanta Hawks this season after being selected sixth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. (Daily Trojan file photo)

An NBA season unlike any other has now officially completed two months of play. Like the season, which has been at times exhilarating and at times pretty disappointing, ex-Trojans are having up-and-down seasons around the Association. From first-year players to prominent veterans, here’s a look at some of the best ex-Trojans in the league. All stats are accurate as of Monday, Feb. 22.

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

The 6-foot-11 forward is playing the best basketball of his 11-year career, averaging 24.1 points per game and 11.7 rebounds per game on 48.1% shooting from the field. Vucevic has been a consistent 20-point scorer thus far, notching in at least 20 points in 21 of the Magic’s 31 games. 

His exceptional play has been one of the only positive takeaways from the Magic’s 13-18 record. Vucevic has been a beast on the block slicing and dicing defenses for easy buckets. In the last month, this has led to some impressive performances. 

Against the Chicago Bulls, Vucevic dropped a ridiculous 43 points and 19 rebounds on nearly 60% shooting. Four games later, he did it again — scoring 42 points on 77% shooting against the Sacramento Kings. 

Two games later, the big man did something he’s only done two other times: have a triple-double. He put down 30 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists against the Golden State Warriors. 

It’s safe to say that Vucevic is primed for his second All-Star appearance later this season. 

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs

DeMar DeRozan is having yet another great season, averaging 19.8 points per game. He is also averaging a career-high 6.9 assists per game along with 5 rebounds a game.

In the wild Western Conference, DeRozan is doing his best to keep the Spurs relevant. They are currently sixth in the conference and playing better than many expected, holding a record of 16-11. 

However, there have been some up-and-down moments for DeRozan. He’s found himself scoring in single figures more times than he’s found himself scoring over 30-points. The Compton guard’s notched four games with 30-plus points and a season-high of 38 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but still, the occasional scoring dips are a bit worrisome.

Even with some off games, DeRozan is still going strong after 11 seasons, a testament to his work ethic and dedication.

Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks

The second-highest all-time draft pick from USC has had a rough start to his NBA career. Okongwu missed the first several weeks of the season due to a fractured toe and made his debut in mid-January. 

Since then, he has struggled to find some consistency averaging only 10 minutes a game. He has also never reached double-figures in points and has had two scoreless games. 

The minute disparity and lack of production come as no surprise with the Atlanta Hawks having multiple veteran forwards on the roster. It can also be attributed to the lack of a training camp for Okongwu due to his toe injury. 

However, it is still early on in the season and Okongwu will have some more opportunities to show off his potential.

Kevin Porter Jr., Houston Rockets

After having a solid rookie season, Porter Jr. has experienced a considerable fall from grace during his second year. 

The 6-foot-4 guard was arrested for gun charges in November 2020 but had the charges dropped in December. A month later, Porter Jr. found himself in even more controversy after finding out his locker was given away to a newly acquired player, resulting in an altercation. 

Porter Jr. has played no games for the Cavs this season, and Cleveland decided to cut ties with Porter Jr. in January, trading the promising guard to the Houston Rockets after the locker room outburst. 

With the Rockets, Porter Jr. was sent down to the Rockets developmental team in the NBA G-League. He’s shined so far, averaging 22.8 points per game, 6.9 assists per game and 1.5 steals per game. 

Despite his missteps this season, Porter Jr. still oozes with potential. Assuming he returns to his rookie season form, he’ll have his shot to prove himself again on the 11-17 Rockets. 

Jordan McLaughlin, Minnesota Timberwolves

Unlike established stars like Vucevic and DeRozan, McLaughlin is still trying to make a name for himself in the league. The former Trojan guard is having a decent year for the Minnesota Timberwolves averaging 5.7 points and 4.8 assists per game.

After playing only 30 games last year, McLaughlin has played in more than half of the 30 total this season. He’s been a key player in the Timberwolves rotation, bringing some nice energy off the bench and scoring in double-figures in five games.

Assuming McLaughlin’s trajectory continues, he figures to establish himself as a solid role-player and rotational point guard in the NBA.