Onyeka Okongwu had a delayed start to his rookie campaign due to a toe injury, limiting him to only five games this year because of it. So how has the No. 6 overall pick adjusted to life in the NBA.
We knew Okongwu was going to be a defensive monster on the next level and we’ve seen flashes of it so far.
Even though he’s only averaging 12 minutes per game, Okongwu has already racked up six blocks on the season. That’s a skill we saw from him a lot his one year as a Trojan, when he set USC’s freshman record for blocks (76).
He has an extremely high motor that doesn’t allow him to quit on any play. Whether it’s transition defense or recovering on the weak side, Okongwu will put himself in a position to make something happen. But sometimes that works to his detriment. He’ll try to go for the block and end up fouling the opposing player, instead of just contesting the shot.
But the Atlanta Hawks are not going to complain if their biggest problem with their highest drafted rookie is him doing too much on the defensive end.
Over the last four years, the Hawks have ranked 23rd, 30th, 30th, and 11th (last year) in points allowed. Okongwu having immense upside as a defensive anchor made it tough for the Hawks to pass up on him.
The sample size isn’t large, but we’ve already seen pick-and-roll situations where Okongwu had to switch onto the smaller guard. His quickness, athleticism, and length allows him to move fluidly, almost like a wing on the court. As the game continues to slow down for him, his reaction time is only going to get better.
Eventually, he’ll be able to guard all five positions with relative ease, like a more athletic Draymond Green.
Offensively is where he has the most to improve. His game mostly consists of lobs from the dunker’s spot, cleaning up the glass, running in transition, and rolling to the rim. All great skills to have if you want to stick around as a good, but not great center in the NBA.
If he wants to reach that Bam Adebayo level, he has to get better at handling the ball, creating offense for himself and others, and stretching his game outside of the restricted area.
The nice thing about Okongwu’s situation...the Hawks are loaded with bigs. Why is that good for a rookie center, you might ask? Because he doesn’t have to rush to develop those secondary skills right away.
The Hawks have bigs Danilo Galinari and Clint Capela locked up for the next two seasons. John Collins is also eligible for his massive extension after this season, so the Hawks have to make a huge decision whether to re-sign him or not.
The next two seasons should be all gravy for Okongwu as he develops. He’ll sit behind and learn from Clint Capela, who has a similar archetype to Okongwu right now.
But in two years, Okongwu will be a more polished player and ready to take over the starting center position for the Atlanta Hawks for the foreseeable future. '
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