The Hawks haven’t shown much trust in their rookie 6th overall selection Onyeka Okongwu so far this season. Before Sunday night’s win over the Nuggets, he’d only appeared minimally when much of the roster was hurt and in garbage time situations. That should change moving forward. For as much as he played well, the man who has been receiving minutes in front of him, Bruno Fernando, has been abysmal.
Okongwu finished Sunday night with nine points on 4-7 shooting, two rebounds, and a block. The last time we saw him in extended action — even if it was in a blowout loss to the Spurs — he performed similarly, racking up six points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Those are the kind of box scores that were expected out of Okongwu coming out of college. He’s an explosive big with a unique skill set that can do a little bit of everything. A foot injury prevented him from playing early in the season, but now that he’s healthy, the Hawks need to start giving him a bit more of a leash. After all, he can’t be much worse than the other backup big-men that have come off of Atlanta’s bench.
The rookie second-round pick out of LSU, Skylar Mays, has also played his way into a second unit role. We first saw him pop off in that same blowout loss against San Antonio in which he scored 20 points and had three assists without a turnover in less than 17 minutes on the floor, resulting in a plus/minus of +25. Since, Mays has seen action in every game, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him on the court for even longer stretches, especially with Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanović, and Kris Dunn out.
Mays was a four-year star at LSU. He’s a shooting guard that can defend both backcourt positions, and offensively, he has a nice shooting touch but can also distribute the ball and serve as a second playmaker — something the Hawks desperately need when Trae Young leaves the court.
Sitting just a game outside of the 8th spot in the East, Atlanta is right in the thick of the playoff race. However, with so many injuries still lingering, it’s well past time to give Mays and Okongwu legitimate opportunities to carve out permanent roles with the second unit.