The Hawks haven’t had a lack of talent over the years; in fact, their drafts have been rather successful.
Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Onyeka Okongwu, Jalen Johnson, and A.J. Griffin are all first-round picks from the former regime. Travis Schlenk may have had a few missteps, but they rarely came in the draft.
However, at some point, those prospects are going to have to turn into contributors. OO, JJ, and A.J. are the next crop of potential stars. So, which Hawks youngster has the highest ceiling? Bleacher Report believes that honor belongs to Okongwu.
Onyeka Okongwu turns 23 in December and has just three seasons of NBA experience under his belt, but he’s already shown enough to justify the Atlanta Hawks’ apparent willingness to move Clint Capela.
Over the last two years, Okongwu has averaged 9.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 65.4 percent from the field, and in only 22.2 minutes per game. And while that efficiency is largely tied to the fact that the bulk of his shots come from around the rim, Okongwu has become fairly reliable in the floater range too.
Ultimately, though, Okongwu’s ceiling has as much to do with his defense as it does anything else.
His ability to protect the rim is pretty well known, but Okongwu is also solid on the perimeter (relative to other bigs) and can generate extra possessions with steals.
Predicting All-Star or All-NBA nods might be a bit bold (though certainly not crazy), but All-Defense selections certainly aren’t out of reach.
Onyeka Okongwu is someone I am very high on. He hasn’t blossomed as many hoped, but that can be attributed to a lack of opportunities.
He’s coming off a career year in which he averaged nearly 10 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks while playing a career-high 23.1 minutes per contest. His greatest asset is his versatility on the defensive end, able to switch 1-5. He’s locked up some of the best offensive players in the association — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Joel Embiid.
I believe Okongwu’s ceiling is that of Bam Adebayo — an All-Defense, All-Star. His offensive skill set is limited, though, whereas Jalen Johnson’s is limitless if he can develop a jump shot, and a lot of people within the organization believe he’s on the cusp of a breakout.
“A big year is coming for Jalen Johnson,” an anonymous team source said, per Keith Smith of Spotrac. “The opportunity is there. He just needs to take it.”
Under Nate McMillan, Johnson had minimal opportunities, resulting in a measly stat line of just 4.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.9 assists over his first two seasons. With Quin Snyder at the helm, he received more minutes.
In last year’s final five contests, Johnson averaged 11.6 points on 56.8 percent shooting, adding 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.8 steals. His most impressive stretch of play came against the Heat in last year’s play-in, putting up 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals in just 14 minutes.
Jalen Johnson is a versatile player that can score, facilitate, and defend. However, A.J. Griffin’s ability to shoot out of the gym cannot be overlooked in this discussion either.
Griffin averaged nearly nine points on 57.7% true shooting in 19.5 minutes per night — 53.6% on field goals, 39% beyond the arc, and 89.4% from the line. That is nearly a 50/40/90 shooting split as a rookie. Oh yeah, he’s only 19 years old too. He’s a high IQ player that understands the nuances of the game and can attack the basket as well as spot up for threes. Though he’s not explosive, he’s calculated in how attacks angles and screens, getting to his ultra-reliable floater.
You can’t go wrong with any of these Hawks, but I believe Jalen Johnson has the highest ceiling, given his two-way versatility and ability to facilitate as well as score.
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