Hawks expecting a new version of Onyeka Okongwu

Onyeka Okongwu

The Hawks had their media day today ahead of the much-anticipated 2022-23 season after pairing Trae Young up with the first All-Star teammate of his career in Dejounte Murray. But it might be a lesser-known player that makes waves this year. Nate McMillan told members of the media that the team is excited about third-year Onyeka Okongwu and getting the ball in his hands more, citing a Bam Adebayo-like role is possible.

Outside of Ice Trae, OO was the only player on the Hawks last year who elevated his game following the team’s Eastern Conference Finals run. The former Chino Hills star improved in every facet of his game in his second NBA season —  increasing his field goal percentage from 64.4% to 69%, his field goal attempts from 3.0 to 4.7, his free throw percentage from 63.2% to 72.7%, his rebounds from 3.3 to 5.9 per game, his blocks from 0.7 to 1.3 per game, and his points from 4.6 to 8.2 per game.

On the defensive end of the court, everyone knows what he’s capable of; his versatility is undeniable. He’s able to step out on the perimeter and defend smaller, quicker guards and also defend the best centers in the Association in the paint. There were moments last year where the USC product looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate against the best big men in the league in Joel EmbiidKarl-Anthony Towns, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

On offense, as I said earlier, Okongwu has improved in most areas. He’s a very nice pair with Trae Young in the pick-and-roll with the ability to score and facilitate in those sets. His touch around the rim is already miles ahead of running mate Clint Capela. Even more impressive and to McMillan’s point, OO is developing a new facet of his game, telling media members in his exit interview that he vows to return with a jump shot.

I wouldn’t expect Okongwu to turn into Jokic or Embiid in that vein. Still, his impact and minutes will exponentially grow if he can become an even serviceable shooter from midrange.

Photographer: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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