We listen when Onyeka Okongwu plays a statement game for the Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Atlanta Hawks took on the Toronto Raptors you could have been forgiven for thinking that this game was a statement game for Onyeka Okongwu. This was the first game against any of the players in the rising stars challenge that Okongwu played since the All-Star break.

You see, Okongwu was snubbed from the Rising Stars game, with the powers that be deciding that Precious Achiuwa should play, not the Hawks sophomore. As De’Andre Hunter tweeted, Lil’ O should have been playing, he is clearly a better big than any that were selected.

Unfortunately, Okongwu will never have the chance to play in the Rising Stars challenge now as it is only available for rookies and sophomores, oh and G League Ignite players too apparently. Having also missed out on All-Rookie selection last season, Okongwu could be forgiven for feeling a little snubbed given how he has impacted the Hawks fortunes in his time with the franchise.

The Atlanta Hawks are a better team with Onyeka Okongwu firing

If you only look at box scores then you would wonder why I was saying that Okongwu had a better game than Achiuwa. The Raptors center had 21 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Okongwu on the other hand had 17 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, an assist, and a steal.

So why was Okongwu’s game better, well for starters the three blocks wiped out any chance that the Raptors had of getting back into the game. Momentum can swing on a made basket, or it can swing on a big defensive play. Okongwu made sure that he kept momentum with the Hawks.

Another reason that he had a better game than Achiuwa is that he was able to impact the game in 27 minutes, rather than Achiuwa’s 30 minutes. He was also more efficient, going a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor, his only blemish coming at the line where he went 5-of-6. Achiuwa was 8-of-12 from the field and only made it to the fre throw line three times.

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While Achuiwa has diversified his game with the the 3-ball, Okongwu is doubling down on his pick and roll game. He is doing exaclty what the Hawks need and doing it extremely well.