Onyeka Okongwu is a future defensive player of the year


The Atlanta Hawks selected Onyeka Okongwu with theNo. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Okongwu, one of the draft’s top big men, has flown under the radar for most of his amateur career. In just a short amount of time, Okongwu showed why he has sky high potential as a defensive player. Okongwu was playing big time minutes in the playoffs. He was guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Julius Randle, and Joel Embiid.

Okongwu, showed flashes of what he can be as a defender last season. He played behind Hawks big men Clint Capela and John Collins . Capela was the league leader in rebounds last season. Okongwu recorded some big time notable blocks last year. One of them comes against 2 time MVP and NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo. This was a huge moment for the rookie. His presence on the defensive side is unmatched, in the eastern conference finals Okongwu entered the game. He immediately gave the hawks a much needed spark on the defensive end. Okongwu was once again faced with the task of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. He held Giannis to just 6 points and 3-7 shooting while guarding him. Unfortunately this spark was not enough to win the game. Khris Middleton went on a hot streak in the 4th quarter. 

Onyeka Okongwu, the biggest cloud around him so far is can he stay healthy? He has had a few injuries in his young career so far. Okongwu battled a foot injury heading into his rookie season, the injury sidelined him for all of summer league, pre season, and a few NBA games. This off-season Okongwu had surgery to repair a torn right shoulder labrum, with appropriately six months recovery time. Okongwu saw the floor for the first time since his surgery in July. He made his debut for the Skyhawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League team. He recorded 10 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in his debut. He played just 24 minutes for the Skyhawks. Okongwu led the team in rebounds and posted a double-double in the blowout win. There is still no timetable for his return to the Atlanta Hawks. 

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Once Okongwu is fully healthy I expect big things from him. In an interview Hawks head coach Nate McMillan said this about Okongwu. “I think his basketball IQ is very high and that has shown, really, throughout this season… He has a calmness about him. He goes out there, and he’s not afraid. He’s a confident player. He asks a lot of questions about what is needed, what should I do. He’s constantly asking questions to our coaches about things that he needs to do and how to do them. He has shown that growth. He does play as a very mature rookie coming into this league.” Coming into the league Okongwu drew similar comparisons to Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo. Reasoning for this is because he can get high on the floor and have presence at the point of the screen and still retain the ability to recover to the lane to help offer resistance at the rim. One of Okongwu’s best games came against the Houston Rockets last year. He put up 21 points (career high) 15 rebounds (career high). After this impressive performance, it was clear he is the future.

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