There seems to be deliberation among Hawks fans on what nickname is suitable for Onyeka Okongwu since ‘Big O’ originally belongs to Oscar Robertson; however, there is no question of Okongwu’s ability on the court. So much so, that he’s absolutely put himself into the “untradeable” category that originally only belonged to Trae Young and Clint Capela.
Young’s place on this team is obvious, and Capela’s contract prohibits Atlanta from trading him until this offseason. Okongwu is sneaking into that conversation. Compared to his counterpart, Big O’s offensive game is already more impressive than Capela’s. Okongwu averages 74.3% from the field and 69.4% from the line, whereas Capela shoots 57% on field goals and 46.5% at the foul line.
Even using the eye test, Big O has a better touch around the rim compared to Capela, who is one of the worst around the rim in the Association. The second-year center has a team-leading 75.1% TS% and finishes around the rim at an 80% clip, while Capela shoots 56.5% TS% and finishes at the rim on only 61.7% of his attempts. Okongwu’s ability to distribute is also head and shoulders ahead of Capela’s ability.
The only edge Capela currently has over Okongwu is defensively, and the second year center is making up ground in that area quickly. This Overreaction Tuesday is aimed at the incredibly high ceiling of Big O, which I believe to be a future Defensive Player of the Year Award winner.
Of course, this scenario comes once Capela leaves Atlanta and makes way for Okongwu to assume a full-time role. We saw a glimpse of what life without Capela could look like when he missed six games from January 9th-19th. Okgonwu put some of the league’s best offensive bigs in Alcatraz
Against Milwaukee, OO had the toughest assignment of any, tasked with slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo. When guarded by Okongwu, the Greek Freak scored only nine points on 2-of-12 shooting from the field (16.7%), 0-of-2 from beyond the arc, and a 30.7% TS%. Big O forced Giannis into three turnovers and even blocked the two-time league MVP twice while matched up for over seven minutes of game time.
It wasn’t a fluke either. OO showed once again why he has DPOY potential against the Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns. When guarded by Okongwu, KAT had only five points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field (25%), 1-for-4 from deep (25%), and a 31.2% TS%. Big O recorded two blocks and forced KAT to commit three turnovers, who was visibly frustrated with Onyeka’s tenacious defense.
After the Hawks win over the Timberwolves, head coach Nate McMillan told members of the media that Okgonwu was confused about the help defense with KAT, who went 5-for-5 from the field in the first half. Coming out at the half, McMillan elected to put OO on the ball, which resulted in Towns shooting 1-for-8 from the field.
Against Joel Embiid and the 76ers, OO once again showed out. Embiid, easily the best big in the Association on the offensive end of the court, shot 5-for-14 from the field when guarded by the undersized center out of USC. Against the Heat and Bam Adebayo, Big O limited him to six points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field and forced two turnovers.
Opponents are shooting 45% at the rim with OO as the defender with an overall -18.1 DIFF% (percentage points difference), which is absolutely unbelievable. Rudy Gobert, who has won three out of the last four DPOY awards and is competing for his fourth, has an 11.2 DIFF%. There is an argument that OO is already one of the best defenders in the Association.
When he eventually replaces Capela as the team’s starting center, Okongwu will challenge Draymond Green and Gobert for the best defender in the league. It isn’t that crazy to think he’ll eventually win a DPOY award, if not multiple.
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