Atlanta Hawks: Was Onyeka Okongwu worth the risk?

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

With the 6th overall pick in the draft, the Atlanta Hawks took Onyeka Okongwu to the surprise of many; here’s why he was worth it at that spot.

In one of the more shallow drafts in recent years, the Atlanta Hawks had a ton of issues to address this offseason. With the sixth overall pick, team president and general manager Travis Schlenk took USC forward Onyeka Okongwu, a name that some had heard of previously but that many had not.

Those already familiar with Okongwu most likely first heard his name mentioned alongside the Ball brothers when they all played together for Chino Hills High School in Chino Hills, California. In his one year at USC, Okongwu averaged 16.2 points per game shooting 61 percent from the field and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

As impressive as his offensive stats were, Okongwu was more known for his defensive prowess. Averaging two blocks per game and pulling in 76 total blocks and 24 total steals for the year is most likely what attracted Schlenk and the Hawks to Okongwu.

Now that we’re all familiar with Onyeka Okongwu, here’s why he’ll be worth it for the Hawks.

The draft is the draft.

First of all, he was the best player available on the board for what the Hawks needed. As we all know, this draft class wasn’t the deepest. Okongwu has good size, can score, and can defend. There really weren’t any deficiencies in his game at the collegiate level. You never know if draft picks are going to pan out but you have to take them, so you do the best you can with the pick that you have, which is exactly what the Atlanta Hawks did.

Atlanta Hawks defense has been an issue for some time now.

The Hawks were simply not good defensively before this move. With the other pickups the Hawks made, Kris Dunn and Onyeka Okongwu were the obvious efforts made to tighten up on that end of the court. Knowing that he won’t be pressured to score much, Okongwu should be able to focus on defense and rebounding. The Hawks are going to get many more shots up this year than they have in the past, so they’ll need someone like Okongwu to help Collins and Capela pull down boards. He averaged 8.6 rebounds per game in college. He can earn quality minutes by focusing on defense and rebounding, which a lot of times simply come down to energy and effort.

He’s an early John Collins replacement.

Though he was surely drafted for his defensive upside, Okongwu can score as well. This move may be an early attempt at replacing John Collins should they decide not to give him the max contract he’ll more than likely be seeking. Okongwu is a two-way player, just as fans expected Collins to be. Okongwu can take the next two years to develop his skillset and should Collins leave Atlanta, Okongwu could be ready to go.

While some were confused by the Hawks’ decision to keep their 6th overall pick, I think Onyeka Okongwu will prove to be a very quality player for the Atlanta Hawks. In the context of the other offseason moves made, Okongwu will be given room to develop and should also provide some immediate relief on the defensive end.

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