Atlanta Hawks player profile: Onyeka Okongwu

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The young player has had a somewhat good start to his career but people had higher expectations coming out of college. While Okongwu has not lived up to his draft slot, he will certainly fill his role for the Hawks this season.

Onyeka Okongwu goes into his third year with the squad after a bit of a mixed-bag start to his career. In the first year of his career, he averaged a disappointing 4 points per game and 3 rebounds per game. Hawks fans were surely disappointed by this, just because he was selected with the 6th overall pick.

While he didn’t deserve 30-35 minutes a game, there was a bit of a log jam at the position for the Hawks. John Collins, Clint Capela, and Danilo Gallinari (because of his contract) all were gonna get heavy minutes at that position. Oknogwu ended up averaging around 12 minutes per game in his first year.

Onyeka Okongwu goes into this year as the Hawks’ primary backup big man

Due to injuries and a log jam at the position, it was really hard for him to showcase his talents, and Hawks fans declared him a bust.

The next year, Okongwu would improve with more minutes.  With an increase of 8 more minutes per game, the young player would increase his points per game to 8 and rebounds per game to 5.9. While this isn’t exactly crazy stat lines, he did show improvement.

The question of health has to be brought up when talking about Oknogwu. He only played 50 games in his rookie year (shorted season to 72 games but still 22 games missed) and 48 games last year. He does have an issue with staying healthy. Going into this season, this is probably one of the things Hawks fans have to be concerned with this year.

The one intriguing thing about this year for Oknogwu is that he has been developing his shot. While he has been working on it all off-season, I wouldn’t count on the shot being respectable just yet.

Being reliable from three-point shoot range or even jump-shot range is very different in open Gym runs than in actual NBA games. I will say that it might be there as he did hit an open three in the Hawks’ open practice but don’t count it just yet

This year, I expect Oknogwu to be the primary backup big. With Justin Holiday being a little small to handle NBA big men, Oknogwu is the best hawks backup big.

On the court, I would look for him to be Clint Capela lite. While it isn’t fair to say (And I feel bad saying that because every player should be celebrated for their talents and not compared to others) that, I would say look for him to set pick and roll for Murray and Young just like Capela but slightly worse just because of Capela has better screening setting skills.

On defense, expect almost the same thing as Capela.  Oknogwu’s very good at defending bigs in the NBA. On his best nights, he might be better than Capela on defense. For now, Capela is the better defender but the skill level on defense between the two players is pretty small.

He just did get his team option picked up for the fourth year of his rookie deal. He’s not untouchable but if I had to choose I think Oknogwu is here for the next two years. While I can see him being traded, I think the Hawks would try to move Jalen Johnson first before trading Oknogwu.

Especially if they are trading for Jae Crowder or another non-backup big.

Oknogwu hasn’t developed his own game outside of being Clint Capela look-like. Still, it is a huge accomplishment to succeed in a Clint Capela-type role. Even though some fans might be disappointed because Oknogwu didn’t live up to the hype of the 6th overall pick, he is a solid rotational player in this league.

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If he can develop a jump shot and stay healthy, he has a chance to be one of the better bench players in the NBA.