Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu not getting ahead of himself after breakout season

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Hawks saw a breakout season from young center Onyeka Okongwu last season. So, as Okongwu enters his third season with the team, the Hawks look to the 21-year-old to add more facets to his game.

This summer, Okongwu has appeared to work on jumpers in videos on social media. It’s something he promised to do following the Hawks’ first-round exit from the playoffs last season.

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Online chatter has fans excited about Okongwu’s potential to stretch the floor. But the Hawks center said he won’t get too far ahead of himself regarding the offseason work and the additions he’s made.

“People are going to have expectations for me,” Okongwu said. “I have expectations for myself. The front office has expectations of myself, and that’s what really matters, you know, my expectations, you know, what my team wants me to do. So, obviously, I’m trying to add what I can, but I’m just not (going) to get ahead of myself and just, you know, make sure (to) play a simple game.”

So, Okongwu has been using the summer to work on his conditioning to ensure that he can meet the expectations he and his team set.

In April, Hawks head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk laid out what his expectations for Okongwu were. He said that he wanted Okongwu to improve as a defensive rebounder. Schlenk added that his improvement on the defensive glass, paired with his ability to block shots, make switches on pick-and-rolls and guard on the perimeter, could help him develop into an All-Defensive performer.

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On offense, Schlenk said that he believed Okongwu had the ability to knock shots down from midrange. Then as Okongwu continues to develop, there is hope that he could make jump shots from the corner.

Okongwu said he’s striving to round out his game.

“I’m definitely striving to try and be the player I want to be for the eventual future, whether it be shooting, dribbling, I’m trying to be a complete player, really hit everything on the court, offensively and defensively,” he said. “And most importantly, though, try to be in the best shape ever. Because my game is really predicated on, you know, my conditioning, being in great shape. So, you know, I’m definitely striving to be on the right track.”

Until it all comes together, Okongwu will keep following the advice of the veterans who were on the team with him over the past two seasons.

“My philosophy is to keep the main thing, the main thing,” Okongwu said. “You know, I got to this point for a reason. I got drafted by this team for a reason. So, I definitely make sure I do what I do, but adding on something every year, every year, just add a little something.

“You know, my vets used to tell me my rookie year and last year, all right, like (Rajon) Rondo when he was here, Solomon (Hill), Lou (Williams), Bogey (Bogdan Bogdanovic), they were trying to teach me little things. Just add something new every year. Just show everybody that you’ve been working hard, trying to be a better player.”

The Hawks will open the season Oct. 19 against the Rockets, and Okongwu has a couple of dates circled. Those are the Hawks’ matchups against the Lakers (Jan. 6) and Clippers (Jan. 8), when he’ll return home.

“I look forward to going home, playing in front of my crowd, playing in front of my moms,” he said.

He has also eyed the games against the Hornets, where he gets the opportunity to face off against former Chino Hills teammate, LaMelo Ball.

“I can’t wait for it.”