Atlanta Hawks Draft Grades

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Wednesday night was the NBA Draft, and there were fewer fireworks than some expected, specifically for the Atlanta Hawks who stayed put at #6 and took one of the best players available, Onyeka Okongwu. Later in the evening, Atlanta also selected Skylar Mays with the 50th pick of the draft. Mays is a 6’4 guard who has potential as an on-ball defender and is a versatile offensive player.

Okongwu was not on many people’s radar as an option for the Hawks, including myself. Many thought Okongwu would be gone, or Atlanta would nab a guard like Killian Hayes or Tyrese Haliburton.

Onyeka Okongwu

Onyeka Onkongwu rose up the NBA draft boards after a great season at USC, where he averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds, and almost 3 blocks per game. He shot a great percentage from the field (61%) and was a 72% free throw shooter in his freshman season at USC.

The Chino Hills, California native and former teammate of Lonzo and LaMelo Ball (who went #3 to Charlotte) has all the tools to be a great forward and small-ball 5 in the NBA. He has fantastic measurables and an NBA ready body, standing at 6’9 with a 7’1 wingspan and weighing 245 pounds. He’s a do it all big man with rare defensive versatility for his size.

This is what the Hawks are banking on with Okongwu — a rim running big man who can finish, adept in the pick and roll, and occasionally step out and hit mid-range jumpers. His greatest asset and ability will be on the defensive end as he shows elite potential as a shot-blocker. The best-case scenario for Okongwu is he blossoms into a player like the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo.

The Hawks have quite a formidable front line now, including John Collins, Clint Capela, and Okongwu. Okongwu can expect to receive minutes off the bench when he is healthy, playing alongside both Collins and Capela in the frontcourt. Okongwu was one of the best players available at #6, and the Hawks didn’t overthink it, getting their guy. Still, with Tyrese Haliburton on the board — a player I think would have come into Atlanta and started right away — the fit here is a little strange because Capela is already a defense-first center. Okongwu does not fill an immediate need, but as Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has reiterated throughout the draft process, it’s about getting the best player available. Okongwu certainly could end up being that guy. 

Grade: B

Skylar Mays

Selected 50th overall, the Hawks secured Skylar Mays, a senior guard out of LSU who they hope can contribute off the bench in his rookie season. Mays improved every year he was at LSU, culminating in his senior season, averaging 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists with strong shooting percentages.

The Hawks hope Mays can fill a need off the bench as they need depth at the guard position. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk, when asked about Mays, was quoted, “We had Skylar ranked a lot higher (than No. 50). Mays is “a four-year guy, an extremely smart basketball player, a very good body, a combo guard, a high basketball IQ, skilled player. We were excited when he was there because, like I said, we had him ranked much higher than that.”

Schlenk and the Hawks clearly like where they got Mays at #50. Given he played all four years at LSU, it shouldn’t be long before we find out if he can contribute at the next level. 

Grade: B+

Photo: John Rivera/Icon Sportswire

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