Hawks tease intriguing lineup in preseason win over Pelicans

Atlanta Hawks, Onyeka Okongwu. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks, Onyeka Okongwu. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Hawks have yet to have their entire starting lineup together this preseason, which is an unsettling development.

They have, however, provided plenty of intrigue.

Perhaps nothing more than the starting lineup, which featured both Onyeka Okongwu and Bruno Fernando. Saddiq Bey, Clint Capela, and De’Andre Hunter – who is dealing with a knee injury – were all sidelined. Okongwu starting at power forward is the standout from that, especially in light of John Collins being traded to the Utah Jazz this offseason.

The fourth-year big man finished the game Hawks’ 110-105 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans with a game-high 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the floor, adding six rebounds, and two assists for good measure.

Fans will remember former team president Travis Schlenk identifying defensive rebounding as a step toward All-Defensive honors for Okongwu.

He had five of them versus New Orleans, a mark met in 35 of his 80 appearances last season.

“I felt good overall,” Okongwu said when asked about the likely limited-time position change via atlhawksfans on YouTube on October 15. “It’s not my natural position. But I felt good out there. And the more versatile I can be the more valuable I can be to my team. So, obviously, it’s something I could get used to in the future.”

Head coach Quin Snyder was even less forthcoming when asked about the alignment postgame by Lauren L. Williams of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, conceding only what we already knew about how he is using this preseason.

“I mean you saw it tonight, which means, obviously, it’s something that we’ve talked about,” Snyder said, via atlhawksfans.

He went on to essentially reiterate that they are using the preseason to mix and match players.

“We’ve thought about a lot of different lineups with our group,” Snyder continued. “Particularly, the depth that we have. There’s versatility in the lineup. There’s some things that certain combinations of guys, and certain guys that you want to get on the floor for a pretty standard amount of minutes.”

He went on to say that their rotation can be “unique” in some ways. But stopped short of saying that this would even be a regular occurrence during the regular season, noting that he didn’t want to “pin myself down” on who plays where.

Okongwu admitted that he is facing faster matchups at the four. But he has encouragingly knocked down 3-of-6 attempts from beyond the arc.

That is a necessary development if he is going to get any consideration at power forward when Capela is in the game. The same could be said for Jalen Johnson who has knocked down 3-of-5 triples this preseason and boasted a 12-point, seven-assist, three-rebound, two-steal final line versus New Orleans.

But he was able to produce that line off the bench and started the Hawks’ other two games.

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This was something new from Okongwu, who did start 18 games last season. He averaged 10.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in those contests. It is intriguing to ponder what kind of line he could produce starting at the 4, even if it is still a long shot of becoming a full-time reality.