Hawks: Onyeka Okongwu vows to return in 2022-23 with a jump shot

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Coming off a season that ended just a couple of games shy of the NBA Finals, the Hawks had sky-high expectations entering the 2021-22 season. Resting on their laurels, Atlanta rivals the Lakers for the most disappointing season. The Hawks, led by Trae Young, seemed complacent they had made the Eastern Conference Finals and struggled for much of the regular season.

They turned it on late in the season and in the play-in tournament with impressive wins over the Hornets and Cavaliers. Heading into the series with Miami, many were optimistic Atlanta would surprise the NBA world and give the Heat a run for their money. The reality couldn’t have been further from that notion. Jimmy Butler, Erik Spoelstra, and the rest of the team completely dominated the Hawks in all facets of the game. Now, a difficult road begins toward next season.

Travis Schlenk can’t go into the 2022-23 season with the same formula as this year. Nate McMillan deserves partial blame — reluctant to call timeouts and try new rotations. Even though De’Andre Hunter single-handily kept the Hawks in Game 5, the former fourth overall pick took a step back in his third NBA season. Kevin Huerter was the same player he was a year ago. John Collins and Clint Capela took steps back, even if it was for unfortunate circumstances — injuries. Onyeka Okongwu was about the only player outside of Trae Young who elevated his game following a run to the conference finals.

OO was phenomenal for the most part when he was on the court. He’s a menace defensively and resembles Bam Adebayo quite a bit. The former Chino Hills star improved in nearly every facet of the game in his second season. Okongwu increased 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.

It seems the Hawks have something special in Okongwu, but we’ve seen this story unfold poorly before — i.e., De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish. Still, OO told members of the media in his exit interview that he vows to return in 2022-23 with a jump shot.

If he can even be a serviceable shooter from the midrange, Okongwu’s impact will grow exponentially. The Hawks desperately need a secondary playmaker that can put the ball on the floor, get his own shot, and create for his other teammates to take the pressure off Young. So, that should be the primary focus for Schlenk this offseason, but internal improvements will also be needed if the Hawks are to make another playoff run next year.

Photographer: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire
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