Atlanta Hawks: Grading the rookie season of Onyeka Okongwu

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /
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Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Atlanta Hawks took Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth pick of the 2020 NBA draft, they knew they were getting the second-best big man in the draft. He made a name for himself in college as a pick-and-roll specialist. This skill transformed into the NBA after the Hawks traded for Lou Williams.

Williams is a tremendous exponent of the pick and roll, so much so that he took Okongwu under his wing, becoming Okongwu’s veteran on the team. However, Okongwu was not always the first choice as the backup big man for Clint Capela.

Okongwu missed 19 of the Hawks’ first 29 games. He actually missed the first ten games through injury and was not given consistent minutes when he came back under Lloyd Pierce. The ex-coach missed the opportunity to develop the rookie as he was unsure whether Okongwu or Bruno Fernando should be the backup center.

Atlanta Hawks rookie Onyeka Okongwu turned it all around under Nate McMillan

When Nate McMillan took over as the head coach he promptly set about developing Okongwu. He saw tremendous potential in Okongwu and that his ceiling is a lot higher than Bruno Fernando. This meant that Fernando fell out of the rotation, playing only junk time minutes.

Okongwu only averaged 4.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks in 12.0 minutes. He shot the ball really well from the field, going at 64.4 percent. These numbers did not qualify him for an All-Rookie team but his postseason play has some people questioning if he could already replace Capela, making him expendable.