Report: Hawks ‘determined’ to free up minutes for Onyeka Okongwu

Onyeka Okongwu

The expectations for the Hawks coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals were sky-high. However, the young and inexperienced team rested on their laurels and ended up with a first-round exit at the hands of the Miami Heat.

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. However, it can’t be all put on his shoulders.

Kevin Huerter was the same player he was a year ago. John Collins and Clint Capela took steps back, even if injuries were to blame. De’Andre Hunter single-handily kept the Hawks in Game 5 against the Heat, but the former fourth overall pick made little progress, if any, in his third NBA season. Still, the front office reportedly sees Hunter as a critical piece of the team moving forward. 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 when he was on the court. He’s a menace defensively and even draws comparisons to Bam Adebayo quite a bit. The former Chino Hills star improved in nearly every facet of the game in his second 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.

And now, the Hawks are determined to get him more playing time as he approaches his third NBA season, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.

“Atlanta has several key objectives on the trade front, sources told B/R. Aside from upgrading its roster around Young and Hunter, the Hawks are determined to free up playing time for promising big man Onyeka Okongwu ahead of his third professional season,” Fischer stated.

Okongwu’s 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 against Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Giannis Antetokounmpo where the USC product looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

On offense, Okongwu has paired very nicely with Trae Young in the pick-and-roll. He has the ability to score or facilitate out of it too. His touch around the rim is already head and shoulders better than Capela. Moreover, OO told members of the media in his exit interview that he vows to return in 2022-23 with a jump shot. 

If Okongwu can even be a serviceable shooter from the midrange, his 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 other teammates to take the pressure off Young. 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. Onyeka Okongwu is in for one hell of a year if he continues to improve and put it all together.

Photographer: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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