Hawks’ first-round pick among top projected 2024 NBA free agents

Onyeka Okongwu

The most pressing matter for the Hawks this offseason was a Dejounte Murray contract extension. It couldn’t have gone better.

Atlanta inked the All-Star point guard to an extremely team-friendly deal, and one he could’ve easily eclipsed on the open market had he tested free agency following this season.

If Murray signed elsewhere, it could’ve been detrimental to the organization after giving up three first-round picks for his services. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that, but there are still moves to be made.

Saddiq Bey is in line for a new deal. After giving up five second-round picks, the Hawks would be fools not to try to extend the forward, especially given his skill set meshes well with Quin Snyder’s system.

Another upcoming free agent is Onyeka Okongwu. His impending status isn’t as pressing because he’ll be a restricted free agent, so the Hawks will have the chance to match any offer the former sixth overall pick receives as long as the qualifying offer is tendered. Nevertheless, OO came in as Bleacher Report’s 18th-best upcoming 2024 free agent.

He’ll still have Clint Capela standing in the way of some minutes. If the Atlanta Hawks are smart, De’Andre Hunter and Jalen Johnson could soak up a lot of playing time at the 4, too.

But with John Collins now on the Utah Jazz, Onyeka Okongwu could be in line for a bigger role this season. Even if he’s not, he might wind up forcing head coach Quin Snyder’s hand.

Okongwu has a chance to be a dynamic rim protector, and he’s one of the NBA’s better bigs at switching onto perimeter players without it immediately creating a mismatch. His versatility and ability to defend all over the floor should become increasingly important as teams further lean into postitionless basketball.

More minutes with Trae Young setting him up for easy looks around the rim could raise Okongwu’s offensive profile around the league, too.

Onyeka Okongwu is someone I am very high on. He hasn’t blossomed as many hoped, but that can be attributed to a lack of opportunities.

He’s coming off a career year in which he averaged nearly 10 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks while playing a career-high 23.1 minutes per contest. His greatest asset is his versatility on the defensive end, as BR notes.

He’s able to switch 1-5 and has put some of the best offensive players in the league in a blender — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl Anthony Towns, and Joel Embiid.

I believe his ceiling is that of Bam Adebayo — an All-Defense, All-Star. Those are lofty expectations, but the kid developed some semblance of a jump shot in one offseason.

Because of his role, it’s hard to project a potential deal. Will he be paid like a starter or reserve? Jake explored this topic recently.

It depends if the Hawks are going to make him a full time starter by making a trade, or plan on using him off the bench. Here’s how I’d evaluate either scenario:

  • Starter: Four Years, $50 Million
  • Bench: Three Years, $22.5 Million

Scaled as a full-time starter, I used the rookie extension given to Wendell Carter by Orlando. He was 23 when he signed, and Okongwu will be 23 next offseason. Carter had higher production going into the offseason, but remember — this is under the assumption that Okongwu will be a full-time starter this upcoming season. Carter is a better shooter, but Okongwu is a better defender. I’d offer him a little less if he doesn’t produce something close to the 15 points and 9 rebounds Carter chipped in during his contract year, but I think he can achieve those numbers easily with more playing time.

For the bench role, I used Kevon Looney‘s contract with Golden State. I think they are somewhat similar players, and this is a fair price for a quality backup big man in today’s NBA. It’s a drop in annual money, but the difference isn’t massive. Once again, I think the Hawks would rather evaluate him in 2023-2024, but if they want to get a deal done now, I think this is a fair price for a guy that I love having in the rotation.

The Hawks could just wait for another club to do the work for them and extend the qualifying offer then match the salary, but it could be cost-effective to get a deal worked out right now. Okongwu isn’t someone the Hawks need to let walk for nothing.

Photographer: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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