3 Most underpaid players on Atlanta Hawks roster this season

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /
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Atlanta Hawks, Onyeka Okongwu
Atlanta Hawks, Onyeka Okongwu. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

2) Onyeka Okongwu

Not many backup bigs possess the talent and versatility of Onyeka Okongwu. In 80 games last season, Big O averaged 9.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in 23.1 minutes per contest. The 22-year-old center shot 63.8% from the field and even hit 30.8% of his threes, albeit on minimal attempts.

Set to make $8.1 million this season, Okongwu is eligible for a rookie scale extension. Based on fellow 2020 draft class member Isaiah Stewart’s offseason extension, Okongwu could earn somewhere in the ballpark of $17-20 million in annual salary. The Detroit Pistons gave Stewart a four-year, $64 million extension in July, and Okongwu has displayed much greater efficiency and two-way ability than Stewart during his time with the Hawks.

On NBA Media Day, Hawks general manager Landry Fields spoke about Okongwu’s future with the Hawks. According to Lauren L. Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fields claims the team is “working to get something done” regarding an Okongwu extension.

With the departure of John Collins opening up additional frontcourt minutes, Okongwu should see increased opportunities in his fourth season. The Hawks started Jalen Johnson at power forward in their first preseason game, but Big O scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench.

While Atlanta seems committed to starting Clint Capela and his rim-running next to Young, Okongwu ate into Capela’s minutes often last season. After all, Capela only averaged 3.5 more minutes per game than his younger teammate.

Young and Capela may have connected on more alley-oops than any other duo last season, but Okongwu brings skills to the table that Capela simply can’t offer. Okongwu’s mobility allows him to switch on to smaller players much more effectively, and his footwork is impeccable for a big man. He also possesses a capable jump shot, which can give the best Hawks players improved spacing.

Although Young and Okongwu couldn’t quite match the Young-Capela duo’s 65 alley-oops, the pairing still ranked third in the league with 26 connections. Young and Collins notably came in at second with 30.

Okongwu has proven he can challenge Capela for the starting job. Across 18 starts last season, Big O averaged more blocks than Capela with exactly two rejections per game. He also averaged 10.3 points and 9.2 rebounds on 57.8% shooting.

Whether Okongwu can surpass Capela as Atlanta’s starting center or not, he will enter the 2023-24 season with one of the best contracts in the league.