The Lou Williams/Onyeka Okongwu connection is growing for the Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Atlanta Hawks took Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth pick in the NBA draft they knew they had a good one. He was seen as a defender who excelled in the pick and roll, both areas where the Hawks needed help last season.

Ex-head coach Lloyd Pierce missed opportunities to develop Okongwu but this all changed when he was fired and Nate McMillan took over. The current head coach started developing Okongwu by giving him a job to do on the court. When he mastered whatever role it was that he was given, McMillan gave him a little more and so on. It was a masterclass in rookie development.

Then the Hawks made a trade which moved the goalposts. They sent Rajon Rondo to the LA Clippers and received Lou Williams in return. How did this change the goal posts? Well Williams is one of the best exponents of the pick and roll in the NBA. His ability to use the roll man was one of the hallmarks of his time with the LA Clippers. He was unstoppable with Montrezl Harrell as his partner.

The Atlanta Hawks benefitted from the chemistry between Lou Willams and Onyeka Okongwu.

Before Williams’ arrival, Okongwu was almost a liability on offense. Rondo was unable to use him effectively in the pick and roll meaning that Okongwu was reliant on offensive rebounds and the occasional lob pass from his smaller men.

The connection between Williams and Okongwu was palpable when the veteran came to the Hawks. Williams became Okongwu’s mentor and the then rookie took in everything he could to help his offense. It was this connection which allowed the Hawks to use Okongwu more because it meant that he was solid on offense with Williams guiding him.

This season Okongwu has taken a massive leap. His defense, which was impressive at the end of last season has gone up multiple levels. The way he played as a starter when Clint Capela was out was stunning and it was a big reason the Atlanta Hawks are enjoying their five-game win streak.

What is even better for the Hawks is that his connection with Williams seems to be getting even better. This is crucial for both players as Williams needs to have a player on the court who can help him out too. They are so devastating in the pick and roll this season that players are dropping off Williams to try and stop Okongwu which is leaving Williams open.

In the game against the Kings, Williams was one of the players who sparked the big second quarter. The Kings did not know whether to stay at home on Williams or guard Okongwu which let the Hawks do what they wanted offensively. Not only was Okongwu working well with Williams, he had several good plays with Bogdan Bogdanovic as well.

However, there was one play which stood out as the best of the game. Delon Wright stole the ball, diving on the ground to poke it to Bogdanovic. The guard then sprinted down the court, passing the ball to Williams who was ahead of the play. Williams then saw that Okongwu was streaking down the court and had the ability to make the pass which led to this.

Okongwu is now playing with a confidence beyond his years and a big part of that is the work Williams is putting into him. As a combination they are difficult to stop. Against the Kings Williams he a plus 20 impact on the box score and Okongwu had a plus 22 impact. No starter had anything higher than plus nine.

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To put it simply, if the Hawks are going to get back into the playoffs this season, a big reason for this will be Okongwu’s defense and energy that he bought to the team. He has energized the playing group and they are a different team. It is exciting to see how far this team will go this season and it stems back to last season when these two formed their initial bond.