The Atlanta Hawks revamped their rotation quite a bit this offseason. Following an eventful NBA Draft, the Hawks not only traded Danilo Gallinari and multiple first round picks for San Antonio Spurs All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray. But they also decided to trade shooting guard Kevin Huerter to the Sacramento Kings for Justin Holiday, Maurice Harkless, and a future first round pick. Aside from these trades, the Hawks also signed two free agents, Aaron Holiday and Frank Kaminsky.
Although the Hawks still have their core group of stars, they made a handful of big changes, acquiring a variety of new talent while retaining others that could help lead this team to another deep playoff run. From starters to important depth pieces, the Hawks have put together an elite team that possesses plenty of versatility and could become a problem in the Eastern Conference next season.
However, given we know what to expect from Trae Young, DeAndre Hunter, Clint Capela, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and even Murray, there is still plenty of minutes to be had, granting each bench player the opportunity to rise to the occasion this season and prove their worth. But the intriguing question left to be answered is which two players off the bench stand the best odds to be the biggest sleepers for the Hawks?
From rookies to second through fourth-year youngsters to seasoned veterans, the Hawks have many players that could rise to the occasion. But from their entire bench, you can expect the following two athletes to be the biggest surprises by the end of the season for the Hawks, and here’s why:
Hawks Two Biggest Sleepers
Tyrese Martin - SG/SF
For some of you, this might seem quite perplexing to see and maybe a little daring. But if you think about it, there are actually two big reasons why Tyrese Martin could be the biggest sleeper this season for the Hawks.
For starters, Martin brings solid versatility on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Martin has become a great catch-and-shoot 3PT specialist, something he really grew into during his senior year at UConn (he shot 43% that season). In addition, Martin’s athleticism, strength, and speed make him quite the force with his penetration inside. Moreover, Martin just so happened to be one of the best rebounding guards in the country, averaging 7.5 rebounds in each of his last two seasons in college.
Defensively, Martin doesn’t have great length, which was a big reason why his steal and block averages were low throughout his four years in college. But because of his physicality, astute IQ, and sharp balance, his on-ball defense and ability to stay in front and contest his opponents makes him a tough defender to work up against, something the Hawks can’t get enough of (especially on the perimeter).
That said, what makes Martin an interesting sleeper candidate is how well he performed in the NBA Summer League. After a slow start in the Hawks’ first two games, Martin ended up dropping 21 points twice over their next three games, first against the Miami Heat and then once more in their final matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The NBA Summer League can sometimes be the start of a young player’s ascendence into what they can truly become. Whether you’re a rookie or not, it’s an opportunity to showcase how you can contribute, and Martin illustrated what kind of value he brings on so many different levels. As long as he gets the minutes, Martin could shine off the bench this season. Don’t expect it to be right away. But by the end of the 2022-23 campaign, he could be one of the key bench players Head Coach Nate McMillan could turn to regularly.
Onyeka Okongwu - C
Come the end of the 2022-23 season, the most impactful sleeper on the Hawks will likely be the third-year man out of USC and the 2020, 6th overall pick, center Onyeka Okongwu. Though he made a big leap as a sophomore, the steady development Okongwu has demonstrated since college could lead him to take an even bigger step with his progression in the NBA this season.
In his sole season at USC, Okongwu highlighted how elite of a two-way interior threat he can be. Over all 28 games he started (30.6 minutes per game), Okongwu averaged 16.2 points on 61.6% shooting from the field, gathered 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 1.2 steals.
Upon joining the NBA, Okongwu didn’t receive the minutes he needed to hit his stride and produce at the level he was accustomed to in college. Okongwu played 50 games as a rookie but only received 12.0 minutes per game, leading him to score an average of 4.6 points while posting 3.3 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, and 0.4 assists.
In year two, Okongwu played 48 games (6 started) but this time received 20.7 minutes per game, which granted him a fair chance to come into his own and improve his production. Okongwu didn’t disappoint. He scored 8.2 points per game, tallied 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.3 blocks, all career highs.
Entering year three at only age 21, Okongwu has matured nicely and has grown into his athleticism and strengths. Seeing how well he did with only 20 minutes per game and how quickly he’s developed in just two seasons, the potential Okongwu came into the league with could very well explode onto the scene, particularly if he receives more than 20 minutes per game.
Though he could be a bit limited depending on how many minutes Capela receives and how healthy he remains, Okongwu has everything he needs to produce a big breakout season, one that could lead him to post a Per 36 stat line of 14.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per Basketball Reference’s 2022-23 projection.
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