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What could rookie extensions for Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey look like?

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

With most of the dust from the offseason settled — and the Hawks roster just about looking locked in for 2023-24 — the next items of business for the Hawks will be addressing the status of the extension-eligible players. Dejounte Murray already finalized a four-year extension worth up to $120.5 million that will keep him in Atlanta until possibly 2028 around a month ago — assuming the final year player option is picked up.

Most uncertainty now surrounds the status of the two players approaching the end of their rookie contracts.

After being drafted in the lottery of the 2020 NBA Draft, both Onyeka Okongwu and Saddiq Bey are eligible to pen an extension with the Atlanta Hawks between now and the beginning of the 2023-24 regular season. Should the two sides not reach an agreement, they will both enter restricted free agency in 2024 assuming qualifying offers are tendered and declined at that point.

The Hawks have had to tangle with a number of dicey extension sagas in recent years — Trae Young’s quick max contract agreement not withstanding. For both De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks and the players’ camps took until late in October to ink four-year deals at $90 million and $65 million total respectively. The Hawks were unable to do the same for John Collins, who waited until his own restricted free agency in the summer of 2021 to earn a five-year deal worth $125 million total.

Neither Onyeka Okongwu nor Saddiq Bey are cemented as starters for the Atlanta Hawks even as they approach their respective fourth year in the league. Okongwu has found himself behind incumbent Clint Capela at the center position, although there has been significant noise recently about the Swiss international’s future in Atlanta.

Bey started 165 games out of 204 appearances in two and a half seasons with the Detroit Pistons. But after arriving in Atlanta at the last trade deadline, he started just seven of 25 games for the Hawks in the regular season and none in the Play-In Tournament or NBA Playoffs.

Needless to say I don’t expect either player to command a maximum salary given their current backup statuses. However, the new 2023 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) now allows for non-maximum rookie extensions to be five years in length without restrictions of the number of five-year deals handed out, now a real possibility in these two cases. As of the date of writing, no player south of the max has finalized a five-year deal so let’s stick with four-year projections for the sake of ease.

Onyeka Okongwu’s case

Isaiah Stewart’s recently agreed upon extension could provide a valuable baseline for Onyeka Okongwu’s extensions. Stewart was drafted 16th overall in the same draft and just inked a four-year, $64 million deal to stay with the Detroit Pistons. Stewart has been a starter the past two seasons, and in an injury-shortened 2022-23 season, he put up averages of 11.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Okongwu and his camp will surely ask for north of that figure given the greater potential he’s shown in limited minutes. ‘OO’ is the superior defender having ranked among the elites this season in block percentage. And his per 36 minutes and 100 possession averages generally trump Stewart.

Per Basketball-Reference/Stathead

So, if given more minutes, Okongwu would most likely produce at a better per game rate than Stewart. Although he’s currently among the best backup centers in the league, a contract extension would project to represent an above average starter’s salary. To be clear, the Hawks would have to heavily consider dealing Clint Capela between now and the start of the 2024-25 season to avoid paying two centers starter money. But I think a contract starting at roughly $20 million annually would be fair projecting growth and development into his mid 20s.

Saddiq Bey’s case

Saddiq Bey’s new contract could be a lot closer to Stewart’s figure due to a similar amount of production in the same context of a rebuilding Pistons regime. Bey does play on the perimeter compared to the post-bound Stewart, of course, but there are significant questions about his defensive impact — ones that haven’t followed Okongwu.

Still, Bey is a valuable offensive piece due to his shooting and strong rebounding for his position. After being traded, Bey shot 40% from three on 7.2 attempts per game en route to a 60% true shooting percentage in the final 25 games with the Hawks. He also chipped in 6.1 defensive rebounds and 3.0 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions. This ability on the glass opens the door for him to see more minutes at power forward in the future, especially in the wake of John Collins’ departure.

Of course, you could look a lot closer to home for a better extension comparison. Just a season ago, De’Andre Hunter and the Hawks agreed on a four-year, $90 million extension that kicks in next season. Bey and Hunter have a significant amount of positional overlap with both being able to play anywhere from the 2 to the 4 in a given lineup.

Per Basketball-Reference/Stathead

Both players have scored and assisted at a similar rate since the start of their NBA careers. Bey looks to be the better rebounder less prone to fouling, but Hunter has had to take on tougher defensive matchups than Bey, which may induce the need to foul.

The early verdict around the league is rumored to be that Hunter’s deal is an overpay even before it kicks in this offseason. Hunter could have offset that perception with a leap forward in play in 2022-23, but that never materialized. And as a result, the Hawks may be hesitant to shell out another $90 million or more deal.

Final predictions

Here are my ballpark numbers for the extensions should the sides reach an agreement:

Onyeka Okongwu: Four years, $88 million

Saddiq Bey: Four years, $70 million

Per me. My sheet calculations per the CBA.