“Just overall, the bench mob – [Bogdan Bogdanovic], Saddiq [Bey], AJ [Griffin], [Jalen Johnson] – we just try to take it up a notch,” Okongwu said via the Wepa.Fm YouTube channel on March 28. “Just bring a different level of intensity to the game.”
Okonguwu certainly did that in the Hawks’ 120-118 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He tied his career-high with 21 points adding nine rebounds and three blocks to help secure the much-needed victory. The most impressive part of it all might have been that he racked up those numbers despite playing fewer minutes than all but one other player who saw the floor for the Hawks in this game.
Most encouragingly, this continues an upward trend for the third-year big man that began with showing a newfound level of consistency.
It was his fourth straight outing with double-digit points and his eighth in the last nine games. He has averaged 14.4 points, 8.1 boards, and 1.8 blocks while shooting 78.3% from the floor and 90% at the free-throw line.
That last mark showed up against Cleveland as Okongwu knocked down 11-of-12 looks.
“Yes,” said Okongwu when asked if he knew he could be this efficient. “I just got to be more consistent and confident at the line and take my time. But I work on it all the time.”
Dejounte Murray sends message on Onyeka Okongwu after Atlanta Hawks win
Okongwu’s efforts did not go unnoticed or underappreciated as teammate Dejounte Murray was asked bout the veritable breakout performance.
“I mean they got a great plan for him,” Murray said via Wepa.Fm. “Obviously, he was a high pick so there’s expectations there. But the great part about him is he’s a great person, a great teammate, he’s always smiling, and he works really hard. Every time I walk in the gym he’s always just working on something – his touch, his free throws, his corner threes, all type of stuff. For him, I’m just happy to see him successful. Because for me when I get to see guys that are great as a human but work hard, it’s only right you want to see them type of people successful.
“The sky’s the limit. He’s just got to stay humble, stay confident, and just keep working.”
Onyeka’s path to stardom was thought to be blocked by veteran big man Clint Capela who is not the athlete that Okongwu is but is still quite the presence in his own right. They haven’t logged many minutes together since neither has consistent range outside of the paint.
But Okongwu has worked to change that too and it’s caught outside attention.
Capela, 28, is set to begin a two-year extension worth more than $45 million next season and, despite dealing with injuries, he is still formidable.
It is just becoming more obvious that Okongwu is close to being ready for a starting role if he is not already.