The Atlanta Hawks picked up the fourth-year option of big man Onyeka Okongwu and the third-year option of forward Jalen Johnson. Both players are expected to play big roles this season, especially Okongwu who Hawks president Travis Schlenk challenged to reach his All-Defensive potential.
Okongwu is averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.0 steals through two games this preseason.
Johnson was unable to join the Hawks in Abu Dhabi for their two games against the Milwaukee Bucks. He is expected to rejoin the team for their final two preseason games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New Orleans Pelicans.
The former had something to say after the paperwork went through.
Hawks big man shows gratitude after option gets picked up
“I expected it to happen,” Okongwu told reporters, “but some players don’t see a fourth or third year. Kudos to Travis, [general manager Landry Shamet], and Coach [Nate McMillan]. It’s a blessing to be in Atlanta for a fourth year.” (h/t Kevin Chouinard/Hawks.com)
Okongwu’s first two years have been marred by injury. He appeared in just 50 games as a rookie and 48 this past season.
As promised, he took advantage of this offseason to work on his jumpshot. But Schlenk’s challenge to Okongwu focused specifically on the latter’s defensive rebounding to help him reach his ceiling.
To that end, this season could see Okongwu used in a new way.
Okongwu played saw 10% of his minutes at power forward as a rookie, so the concept is not entirely foreign to him. But he played just 2% of his minutes there last season. Still, in that limited sample size (10 possessions) the Hawks posted a plus-61.1 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass.
If Okongwu’s jumper is reliable enough, he and Clint Capela could form one of the tougher defensive frontcourt combinations in the league.
As for Johnson, he has missed a lot of valuable time this summer after a non-surgical procedure on his knee. With all of the changes to the Hawks this offseason, Johnson has a chance to make a major impact off of the bench but he has to get on the floor.
McMillan says that will “absolutely” happen.
The Hawks’ net rating with Johnson on the floor was minus-5.1 last season but he got just 159 non-garbage time possessions all year.
Both moves to pick the options for Johnson and Okongwu were foregone conclusions. But, as Okongwu pointed out, nothing is guaranteed in the NBA.