Atlanta Hawks: How Onyeka Okongwu can reach Bam Adebayo ceiling

Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks
Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

Atlanta Hawks rookie Onyeka Okongwu can absolutely reach a Bam Adebayo ceiling

The Atlanta Hawks took a chance with Onyeka Okongwu at No. 6 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft despite an immediate foot issue (broken left toe).

Initial reports indicated the injury would keep him out for a very limited amount of time, nothing like foot issues from big men we’ve seen on draft day in the past (Joel Embiid) which is encouraging.

Initial comparisons to pro-level athletes are also encouraging for Okongwu. While in eras past he would have been viewed as a hardly serviceable pro-level center, his frame and skill set fits nicely with what most teams are trying to do these days. Versatility is the name of the game.

Speed and switchability are now valued rather than size and brute force. As the Lakers showed, size still matters, but players like Bam Adebayo have proven recently that elite defense can be packaged in a smaller frame. Adebayo also showed that the smaller frame and speed allows for the ability to cover more positions.

He’s getting paid for it, too. Adebayo signed a deal that is worth $163 million this offseason (and with certain achievements could elevate to closer to $200 million). The market for Okongwu’s services is clear if he can reach such a ceiling.

The Adebayo comparison makes sense. Their frames are almost identical. Adebayo is 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, and initial measurements on Okongwu are 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds.

Okongwu won’t be Adebayo of 2020 right out of the gate. Fans should not expect him to be, especially considering it took Adebayo three seasons to get to where he is now. But in order for him to start piecing together a similarly successful career, here are some things he could pick up.

How Atlanta Hawks rookie Onyeka Okongwu can reach Bam Adebayo ceiling: Keep defense strong

Step number one for Onyeka Okongwu with the Atlanta Hawks is obvious — Keep the defense strong and keep it versatile, too.

When looking at Bam Adebayo’s game, his offense certainly took a leap this year — something I’ll discuss later — but you have to talk about his defense first.

His ability to lock down players of any size, speed, or position is impressive and makes him an extremely marketable player. While he’s not a rim protector like Rudy Gobert or Myles Turner, he arguably brings more bang for your buck on the defensive end than more traditional, paint-locked centers do.

Look no further than a game-clinching block in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to clinch a victory for the Heat:

And if that’s not good enough, how about him clamping one of the best ball-handlers in the game, Steph Curry (in his rookies season)?

Okongwu is similar. He showed defensive versatility in his lone season at USC and the ability to stick with quicker guards, using his smaller frame as an advantage rather than a detriment.

That’s his foundational skill, and for a Hawks team that very much needs defense, it’s important for him to lean on that.