Onyeka Okongwu “I should get a Rising Stars nod”

In his second season, Onyeka Okongwu has shown flashes of the potential Atlanta envisioned after selecting him sixth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Okongwu has been an efficient player for Atlanta, leading the team with a plus-3.2 rating when he’s on the court. Across the NBA, only Okongwu, Rudy Gobert and Robert Williams are the only three players currently averaging nine or more points, six or more rebounds, and shooting at least 70 percent from the field.

He leads all second-year players with an offensive rating of 135.8 and a net rating of 25.4, per Stats Pass. He also ranks second among second-year players in contested two-point shots (7.1) and screen assists (2.3).

Okongwu spoke with HoopsHype and discussed his return from injury to start the season, why he should be considered for the Rising Stars Challenge, the season for the Hawks, why he compares himself to Bam Adebayo and Draymond Green long-term, and more.

Okongwu: I wanted to make sure my team knew I was locked in and that I’d come back to how I played in the playoffs. They were telling me the earliest I could come back was late January or early February. I was killing rehab, and I was able to come back a month earlier.

Okongwu: Watching film by going back to highlights when we were so successful towards the end of the year and what was the difference in the change in my play. That was the main thing for me during my rehab process. I worked on my left hand.

Okongwu: It was my right shoulder, and it was tough sometimes because my right hand is my go-to hand for everything in basketball. There were days when my right hand was aching, and I’d be pessimistic and wondered if it would ever get better and if I’d have to deal with it for a while. Negative thoughts or doubts like that. Those thoughts were put to rest once I started playing towards December when my shoulder felt well.

Okongwu: I think I should, honestly. Everybody can see what I do out there on the court. I think my play really speaks for itself, especially defensively with what I’ve been able to do, guarding on the ball and helping. Offensively, I’ve got my confidence back. I’ve doubled my points scoring to almost 10. At the end of the day, we’re on a six-game winning streak playing good basketball, and I’m part of the mix, which is always a blessing. I’m thankful to be able to be on the Hawks, and we’re playing good basketball. I think, all things considered, I should get a Rising Stars nod.

Okongwu: I feel like it’s been well so far. It’s been kind of inconsistent a little bit, but I think I’ve had a solid first and second year, all things considered. For right now, I’m continuing to build off what I’ve been doing, staying solid on both ends of the court. I think, so far, my career is solid. I know why the Hawks drafted me for my defensive prowess, but right now, I’m starting to be more than just a defensive player in my eyes.

Okongwu: Towards the start of the year, we didn’t have the right chemistry with one another compared to last year. We didn’t have that consistency that we had last year. Right now, everyone is starting to figure out what they’ve got to do. Hopefully, we can string together more wins. We’re at six. Hopefully, we can get up to 10 or 15 in a row. For us, it’s about being consistent.

Okongwu: Last year, we went to the Eastern Conference Finals. For us, it’s the same thing. You don’t want to downgrade to not making the playoffs at all, not getting past the first or second round. We want to go up to the championship. We showed what we can do last year. We were two wins away from the NBA Finals. I feel like we have what it takes to go back there. Right now, we’re trying to build our chemistry back up and get better on defense. That’s what we’ve been doing these past few games. It’s all about baby steps.

I feel like COVID really hit us hard this year. Probably for about a month, we had a whole different team. I feel like we’re all healthy now, we’re getting our chemistry back, and we have a chance to get back in the mix.

Okongwu: We all love Cam. He’s a good kid. I have a good relationship with Cam Reddish. At the end of the day, it’s like they always say, “The NBA is a business.” It is what it is. I wish him nothing but the best. That’s my brother right there.

Okongwu: We all pay all that no mind. We’re trying to win games. That’s not in our control at all. We want to continue to win games and play with one another. We don’t pay all that outside noise any attention at all.

Okongwu: The OG, Lou Williams, of course. He’s been in my ear since he got traded from the Clippers here. He’s been really impactful to my career, and I thank him for that. Solomon Hill, too. Everyone loves Solo. He’s a character and knows the game. I miss him. That was my guy.

Okongwu: I’m so proud of my brother. We were in high school talking about times like this and seeing each other in the league one day. Now it’s a reality for us. He’s an All-Star player. What he’s done for Charlotte turning that whole team around, it’s been nothing short of spectacular. I think he’s an All-Star. He has swag, the grit, the will, and everything you want in a point guard.

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