Hawk’s fans have something to be excited about in their sophomore center Onyeka Okongwu. They may have found their future defensive anchor in the future.
Okongwu has played really well as a starter in recent games and has intrigued everyone. He went up against superstar big men such as Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl Anthony Towns. The matchups shocked everyone, but all for good reasons as the 6’’8 center displayed an array of defensive schemes to limit the opposition.
“I don’t know what y’all call ‘small,’” Okongwu said after Hawks practice on Tuesday.
“I’m like 6-8, 6-8.5 barefoot, 6-9 on my good day, 6-10 with shoes on, and I play with shoes on, right? I don’t know what y’all really call ‘undersized.’ He continued.
“I think 6-9 for being a big man is solid. And obviously it gets the job done. So it’s like, no matter how tall you are, as long as you do what you do on the floor, it doesn’t matter. I’m athletic enough, long enough, I think I have all the intangibles. … I don’t pay no mind to that. I do what I do all day.”
Okongwu was known as the Ball brothers’ high school teammate and during their Chino Hills day and was known for that. He has since then started to make a name for himself and prove people that have called him “undersized” wrong.
Despite being often brushed off and disregarded, Okongwu kept his head down and improved on himself as the season progressed, staying ready when the opportunity arose.
That moment came when he started to get some serious minutes while starting center Clint Capela was sidelined from an ankle injury.
And in a total of 12 games as a starter, Okongwu lived up to what he is known for defensively in the absence of Capela. The Nigerian NBA player has seen action and is holding players to a 37% defensive field goal percentage and 42.1% at the rim.
Onyeka Okongwu’s last 3 games:
12 PTS, 5 REB, 2 BLK, 1 STL, 6-6 FGM
12 PTS, 7 REB, 3 BLK, 3 AST, 6-9 FGM
17 PTS, 8 REB, 5 BLK, 1 FLS, 5-8 FGM
Atlanta’s starting Center for the future pic.twitter.com/6TRWc1ea16
— ᴅᴇ’ᴀɴᴅʀᴇ ʜᴜɴᴛᴇʀ – 𝗕𝗨𝗥𝗡𝗘𝗥 (@DreTheHunter) January 20, 2022
The 6th first-round pick has made things extra difficult for opponents down the paint, limiting Embiid, Giannis and Towns to only making 9 out of 35 field goal attempts.
Okongwu with a monster block on Giannis pic.twitter.com/gjJyxIx5Km
— Leigh Ellis (@LeighEllis) January 18, 2022
At this stage and age of his career, the 21-year old center displays defensive basketball IQ beyond his years. Keeping his eyes low and continues to observe what the team needs him to do.
“I’m going to guard whoever. I’m a dog, I’m Physical, I’ll foul. Said Okongwu.
“It’s what I do!” he added.
With this mindset, the Hawks are starting to reap what they sow in drafting Okongwu. Now, only time will tell what it will all translate to in the future.