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2021-22 Atlanta Hawks player review: Onyeka Okongwu

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat - Game Five Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Our 2021-22 Atlanta Hawks player review series continues with a look at the second season of center Onyeka Okongwu.


When you start thinking about players of the future for the Atlanta Hawks, Onyeka Okongwu’s name should be somewhere in that conversation.

After coming in slowly last season in his rookie year, but by the time the playoffs ended, everybody knew that Okongwu had the potential to be a special player. Many were excited to see what he would look like with starting a full season, but shoulder surgery knocked him out of the first few months.

Gorgui Dieng held it down for as long as he could, and Okongwu came back around December, earlier than maybe he was expected. The Hawks brought him along slowly, but when things began to ramp up, you could see how much he impacted the second unit.

Okongwu’s versatility on the court allowed the Hawks to do different things on both sides of the floor. On defense, he’s able to step out on the perimeter at times and defend guards, and go in the paint and stand his ground against some of the best centers in the league.

Throughout the season, he had his battles during spurts of the game against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns. He may be a bit undersized at times, but he played with a toughness that is needed night in and night out.

On offense, Okongwu has become a nice roller to the rim, and one of the things that he did exceptionally well was make the right pass in short roll situations. To add to the playmaking, he has a sweet touch at the rim and was solid at the free-throw line as well.

Having two centers like Clint Capela and Okongwu was nice for the Hawks, and it felt like they could be interchangeable at times, depending on what the team needed. There were times this season when Capela had to sit out, and Okongwu came right in and gave the Hawks a much-needed boost as a starter.

There were also times when he came off the bench and made a highlight play or two to get the Hawks energized and back into the game.

Okongwu will continue to get better going into his third season, and during the exit interviews, he said that the next time we see him on the court, he’ll have a jump shot.

Many have compared the center to Bam Adebayo with his versatility on defense and soft touch on offense, and if he develops that shot, the comparison could make some sense. For now, continuing to develop will be the name of the game for Okongwu. He has the tools, and when he puts it all together, the league will be put on notice.