Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu working on pair of key skills for next season

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Heading into his fourth NBA season, Atlanta Hawks big man Onyeka Okongwu has already flashed tremendous potential. Now, after working to improve last summer and showing it this past season, he is setting new goals.

He understands it’s about constantly adding to the work you’ve put in and, last offseason, that meant coming back with a reliable jump shot.

This offseason, he not only wants to up the volume but also do some creating.

“Overall I’ve just been trying to get better and add little things over the years,” Okongwu said, per David Yapkowitz of ClutchPoints on August 13. “I think media, fans, the team, from that standpoint and perspective I think they can all tell I’ve been getting better. This year I’m excited to add more to my game like handling and shooting more.”

Okongwu, 22, posted career-highs making 80 appearances and 18 stars while averaging 9.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season, adding 1.0 assists as well.

He went from having six attempts total from the mid-range over his first two seasons to 56 attempts this past season. Okongwu also extended his range, taking 13 threes after having three total over his first two seasons combined.

The former No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, he shot 30.4% from deep in 2022-23.

Various rumors have popped up about the Hawks possibly trading starting center Clint Capela, in part to try upgrading the roster elsewhere. But also because they have Okongwu apparently poised to make a substantial leap this coming season if he can again stay healthy as he did this past campaign.

It was a fortunate turn for the former USC standout after he made just 98 of 154 possible appearances in his first two years in the NBA.

Not only is it key for him to stay healthy so that he can develop. Okongwu also has now shown that, when he is able to make use of a full offseason, the results are substantial and noticeable at a glance as is his growing rapport with Trae Young as a lob outlet.

With John Collins traded to the Utah Jazz and Capela a threat but not quite as athletic as he once was, Okongwu’s ability to go up and get it could be a significant factor. It is on head coach Quin Snyder to roll with the best possible group.

Onyeka Okongwu talks up Hawks HC Quin Snyder

“I like Quin,” Okongwu said, per Yapkowitz. “He’s got a high IQ, he pays attention to detail, he’s fun to play for and I’m excited to play a whole season for him for real.”

Okongwu is not alone is his enthusiasm over an entire season under Snyder.

Guard Dejounte Murray spoke about how he and Snyder speak almost every day while noting it’s not always about basketball, either. And Young echoed those sentiments while also saying that he believes Snyder is the best coach he’s ever had and a potential “game-changer” for a Hawks team just two years removed from an Eastern Conference Finals berth.

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Okongwu noted that he wants to stay solid defensively and that he feels his three-ball is coming along nicely. If he masters getting his own shot – and perhaps flirts with creating for others – his ceiling may be even higher than it already seems.