How Onyeka Okongwu’s injury could affect the Hawks offseason

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The hits just keep on coming for the Hawks as far as injuries are concerned. Following a season in which nearly every player missed significant time, it was revealed late last night that an integral part of what the Hawks are trying to build in Atlanta would miss at least half of next season. Onyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall selection in last year’s draft, had surgery to repair a torn labrum and will be healing up for the next six months. Here is the official word from the Hawks PR department:

Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery earlier tonight in Los Angeles to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dr. Neal ElAttrache of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic performed the surgery. Okongwu will now enter a period of rest and rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery in approximately six months.

This is a brutal break for a young player who missed most of his rookie season with a foot injury. He didn’t start receiving many impactful minutes until Nate McMillan took over as head coach, but by the time the postseason arrived, his potential was oozing out of him.

Okongwu has all the makings to become a defensive stopper in this league because of his switch-ability, strength, and instincts. Still, I also believe he will eventually turn into an above-average offensive piece. He possesses crazy athleticism with a nice touch around the rim. If he can develop a more consistent jump shot, the sky is the limit for this young man… as long as he can stay healthy.

I fully expected Okongwu to blossom into an impact player in his second season, and based on his progression, I thought there was a possibility that he even became a starter. Now, the Hawks will be lucky if he can give them good bench minutes again come playoff time next year. That will affect how Travis Schlenk approaches this offseason.

Bringing back John Collins now becomes even more of a priority. The frontcourt depth without him and Okongwu would be pretty pathetic. The Hawks also now have another hole on their bench. They need another backup big man. I liked what I saw out of Nathan Knight in spurts last season, but I’m not sure he can be trusted as the center on the second unit just yet. Look for the Hawks to make adding one more big body behind Capela a priority this offseason.

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