The Atlanta Hawks could have a future star in Onyeka Okongwu. They could also have someone who amounts to little more than a solid role player. The general consensus it is more of the former than the latter. But we simply do not know yet as he heads into his third NBA season with all of 98 NBA games under his belt.
“People are going to have expectations for me,” Okongwu told Lauren Williams of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I have expectations for myself. The front office has expectations of myself, and that’s what really matters.”
Hawks president Travis Schlenk challenged Okongwu to improve his defensive rebounding this summer during his exit interview.
Okongwu vowed to come back with a reliable jump shot.
Onyeka Okongwu Opens Up About Outside Expectations
Only 10 of Okongwu’s 98 games have been starts. He has had Clint Capela in front of him, so it’s not for lack of development, though Okongwu’s injuries have not helped much in that regard either. He appeared in just 50 games as a rookie including missing a chunk to start the campaign while dealing with inflammation in his foot.
Okongwu would follow that up with just 48 games last season including missing the first 28 games while recovering from offseason labrum surgery.
Even though injuries are not completely in his control, Okonwu isn’t taking any chances.
“I’m trying to be a complete player,” he told Williams. “And most importantly, though, try to be in the best shape ever. Because my game is really predicated on, you know, my conditioning, being in great shape. So, you know, I’m definitely striving to be on the right track.”
Capela’s contract is set to expire after the 2025 season.
The Hawks don’t have to make any decisions on the future of a player they – and Trae Young – like any time soon.
But surely they would like to have a little more confidence in what exactly they have in the 6-foot-8 mobile big man. If he can add that jump shot, great. But, to Schlenk’s point, there could be All-Defensive potential in there if Okongwu improves as desired.
It sounds as though the former USC Trojan plans to do with a little advice picked up from veteran teammates like Bogan Bogdanovic and even those that didn’t have the intended impact on the team like Rajon Rondo.
“You know, I got to this point for a reason. I got drafted by this team for a reason. So, I definitely make sure I do what I do, but adding on something every year, every year, just add a little something.”
Whatever that is, the Hawks and fans just have to hope he can stay on the floor long enough for it to matter. Whether he is the center of the future or not, Okongwu is a key piece for this Hawks team.