Nate McMillan: Okongwu playing well but Capela still Hawks’ starting center

Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu dunks during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

Credit: AP

caption arrowCaption
Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu dunks during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

Credit: AP

Second-year center Onyeka Okongwu has played remarkably well the past two games as a starter, matching up well with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns in back-to-back wins for the Hawks over the Bucks and Timberwolves.

ExploreHawks use huge third quarter to down Timberwolves

Okongwu had 12 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a steal against the Bucks. He added 17 points, eight rebounds, five blocks, one assist and one steal against the Wolves, playing a combined 70 minutes in the two games while starting center Clint Capela is sidelined with a left ankle sprain.

Okongwu has played in only 12 games since recovering from shoulder surgery, but his game seems to mature a little more with each outing, and has helped the Hawks (19-25) to two wins after a rough start to this season. Coach Nate McMillan said Wednesday that Capela is the Hawks’ starting center, putting aside the notion of Okongwu taking that spot, but added having Okongwu in the mix will push Capela and help the team overall.

ExploreHawks rally past Bucks for win on MLK Day

“Clint is our starter, and Onyeka, I think he just makes us stronger,” McMillan said. “Do we have to go there right away, we’ll see. But he’s done some good things. His play will challenge Clint, OK, to get out there and play because Clint is seeing what this young guy’s doing, and he can come in and play. But, you know, Clint is in our starting five, and we’ll see when Clint comes back how we work him back into the lineup.”

Capela, 27, led the NBA in rebounding last season (14.3 per game) and helped transform the Hawks’ defense on their way to the Eastern Conference finals, though the team has struggled on that end this season.

Daily Hawks: The AJC presents a daily look at the one thing you need to know about the Atlanta Hawks today.

About the Author

Editors' Picks