Let's talk about Daniel Oturu's extremely bright future

The Gophers haven't produced an NBA Draft pick since 2004.
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On March 26th, Kris Humphries officially announced his retirement from basketball. It mostly elicited two reactions: One, that he was married to Kim Kardashian, and two, that he had a solid, 13-year NBA career.

But there was a third, smaller reaction in Minnesota: a sigh. Humphries is the last Gopher men's basketball player to be drafted. A lottery pick in 2004, the Hopkins grad spent one year at the U before heading to the NBA. No one playing their college career in maroon and gold has followed since.

Amir Coffey heard enough from NBA teams to leave early. Trevor Mbakwe was deemed “a name to keep an eye on.” Rodney Williams was once considered a potential lottery pick. And there’s no way to quantify this, but I clearly remember eating a Subway sandwich in the St. Paul Midway shopping center parking lot on draft day 2006, listening to the radio while my dad was in OfficeMax, as someone on KFAN assured me the Timberwolves would use one of their three second-round picks on Vincent Grier. He went undrafted.

So 15 years and 900 names called later, the Gophers remain looking for someone to represent them at the next level as a draft pick. 

In sophomore Daniel Oturu, they likely have their man.

The Woodbury native has been an absolute monster through the first third of the season. Oturu is averaging 17.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks on 63% shooting. Those numbers are good for second, first, second, and fifth, respectively, in the Big Ten. Nationally, he’s in the top ten in rebounds and blocks per game, as well as double-doubles.

Outside of stats, however, is where he has really made his mark. 

Oturu flashed his potential while playing second-fiddle to Jordan Murphy last season, but has upped his game to another level this year. His post moves are more dominant, bullying his way through defenders on the block, and he’s showing more initiative taking guys off the dribble. His shooting is smoother from 15-18 feet and has extended to the three-point line. His passing, especially out of double teams, has vastly improved. So has his defensive awareness, perhaps best measured by how much easier teams get to the basket when he’s on the bench.

And in a league known for bruising big men, Oturu, listed at 6-10, 240 pounds, has held his own against two of the conference’s best, going for 22 points and 12 rebounds against Iowa’s Luka Garza (6-11, 260) and 14 points and 13 rebounds versus Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson (6-9, 270).

It’s not all perfect. Oturu turns the ball over far too much – he was called for traveling five times against the Hawkeyes – and has a tendency to get into foul trouble, both of which are, if not glaring, at least clear red flags for a big man looking to make the jump to the next level.

But let’s get back to the numbers for a second.

Oturu is averaging double figures in points and rebounds, along with more than three blocks. How rare is that? In the last ten years, just 10 players have done it (DePaul’s Paul Reed, who nearly hung a triple-double with blocks on the Gophers in November, is also doing it this year):

  • Paul Reed, DePaul (’19-’20): 15.5 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 3.4 BPG, 55% FG
  • Mo Bamba, Texas (’17-’18): 12.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.7 BPG, 54% FG
  • Jameel Warney, Stony Brook (’15-’16): 19.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3 BPG, 63% FG
  • Khem Birch, UNLV (’13-’14): 11.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.8 BPG, 51% FG
  • Anthony Davis, Kentucky (’11-’12): 14.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.7 BPG, 62% FG
  • Jamelle Hagins, Delaware (’11-’12): 12.4 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3 BPG, 55% FG
  • Greg Mangano, Yale (’10-’11): 16.3 PPG, 10 RPG, 3 BPG, 48% FG
  • John Henson, North Carolina (’10-’11): 11.7 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 50% FG
  • Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State (’10-’11): 16.4 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.4 BPG, 56% FG
  • Keith Benson, Oakland (’10-’11): 17.9 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 BPG, 55% FG
  • Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State (’09-’10): 13.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.7 BPG, 58% FG

Pretty impressive stuff, but let’s go a bit deeper. Part of what makes Oturu such a tantalizing player is his touch, and part of what makes him so impressive is the competition he faces, so how about two qualifiers: guys who shoot 60% and play in a power conference. What’s that list?

  • Anthony Davis, 2011-12: 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, 62% shooting
  • Daniel Oturu, 2019-20: 17.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, 63% shooting

That’s it!

Admitting this is blatantly cherry-picking stats, and that Oturu has two-thirds of the season left, the list of players averaging a double-double and three blocks on 60% shooting in the last decade is Anthony Davis and (currently) Daniel Oturu.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves – Oturu is no Anthony Davis. He’s not nearly the force, in any aspect of his game, Davis was in all aspects of his while leading Kentucky to a national championship, and it really isn’t even fair to put them in the same discussion.

But Oturu has become a force of his own nature: a 6-10 player who can run the floor, control the paint on both ends, and shoot.

Has the NBA taken notice?

Per the Salt Lake Tribune’s Kurt Kragthorpe, KSTP’s Darren Wolfson (and again), and 247Sports’ Sean Bock (through Wolfson), scouts from teams including the Bucks, Clippers, Hawks, Heat, Hornets, Knicks, Mavericks, Nuggets, Pistons, and Raptors have attended the Gophers’ games versus Utah, Clemson, Iowa, and Ohio State to watch Oturu.

In other words, Oturu seems likely to break the streak and walk across the stage on draft night. Given the nature of the draft, we should enjoy him in maroon and gold while we can.

Note: Colton Iverson (2013) and Royce White (2012) are ex-Gophers who were drafted after leaving the U of M to play at different colleges. 

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