So much for thoughts that the Atlanta Hawks bench – consisting of a hodgepodge of veterans and youngsters – falling off after being re-tooled this offseason. The group was potent enough for head coach Nate McMillan to leave them on the floor as they closed out the Milwaukee Bucks for a convincing 117-98 victory.
They got a breakout game from rookie AJ Griffin who scored 24 points and had three steals, as well as second-year forward Jalen Johnson who had five points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block.
There was also some sweet shooting from veteran Justin Holiday who hit 4-of-7 threes.
Giannis Antetokounmpo shared high praise for Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks
Through two games, Antetokounmpo has managed 13 points in roughly seven minutes of being matched up against Okongwu. The Hawks’ youngster is holding the All-World Antetokounmpo to just 38.5% shooting in those matchups.
Antetokounmpo has also coughed the ball up three times.
After the most recent meeting, Antetokounmpo spoke with Eric Nehm of The Athletic (subscription required) and was effusive in his praise for Okongwu.
He was most impressed with the Hawks’ willingness to defend.
“I always love playing against people that love,” Antetokounmpo said, “that take pride in guarding and he’s one of them… that take pride in defending and take the challenge.”
Okongwu has been solid when defending Antetokounmpo dating back to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals. The Bucks won the series in six games and Antetokounmpo scored at a 60% clip when guarded by Okongwu.
But Okongwu made him work and then followed that by holding the Greek Freak to 29% shooting in their two regular-season matchups last season.
He has had more success against John Collins (71% FG) and been worse against Clint Capela (35%) this season. But certainly, neither player would ever be accused of simply going through the motions.
The six-time All-NBA selection and six-time All-Star pointed out that he has faced the Hawks often and they always give him a good fight.
For a competitor of his ilk, that is appreciated.
As for Okongwu, he hasn’t just taken it to Antetokounmpo on the defensive end, he’s also not afraid to battle him on offense and on the glass.
Okongwu has scored 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting (62%) when guarded by Antetokounmpo.
Heading into this past offseason, Hawks president Travis Schlenk challenged Okongwu to become a better defensive rebounder to reach his “All-Defense-type” potential. He has actually seen a dip in that area this season. But his defensive rating is a career-best 109 and ranks in the 74th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass.
The soon-to-be 22-year-old Okongwu was drafted with the sixth-overall pick in 2020 and it looks like he is on the verge of delivering on his tremendous promise.