Onyeka Okongwu

Hawks Notes: Playoff Prospects, Okongwu, Hunter, Rondo

The Hawks have assembled a roster that could be a surprise force in the East when the playoffs start, writes Chris Kirschner of The Athletic. General manager Travis Schlenk focused on adding shooting over the offseason, signing Bogdan Bogdanovic as a free agent and trading for Danilo Gallinari and Tony Snell.

Atlanta made a powerful impression on the Suns this week, putting up 135 points in a 32-point victory.

“They have a lot of guys who can knock down shots, but not just 3-point shots,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “Bogdanovic and Trae (Young) are two guys who can get into the paint and make shots creating off the dribble. (Clint) Capela has been huge for them. He generates offense diving and gets extra possessions. His defense covers up a lot of the mistakes that the guards can make. Gallinari is a versatile scorer. They’re deep. They look like a playoff team. They look like they’re getting into playoff shape. I don’t think many teams want to play them if they’re going to continue to shoot the ball like that.”

There’s more on the Hawks:

  • Lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu hasn’t been impactful during his rookie season, playing just 11.6 minutes per night and averaging 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds, but he’s turned in some recent performances that may cause coach Nate McMillan to consider him for the postseason rotation, Kirschner adds. One of those came against the Suns, when he had 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench. “A young guy like that, he seems to get better each time he steps on the floor,” McMillan said. “… As long as he continues to play like that and show growth, he’ll get minutes. This year is basically a year for him to get his feet wet and get out there and just play.”
  • De’Andre Hunter continues to make progress toward returning from an injured right knee, tweets Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was able to play five-on-five today, and the team will wait to see how his knee responds Sunday before planning his next step.
  • Former Hawks guard Rajon Rondo praised the organization this week for how it handled his trade to the Clippers, relays KL Chouinard of NBA.com (Twitter link). “Travis (Schlenk) and I talked a couple of days before and that morning as well,” Rondo said on a TNT interview. “We had a conversation. It was a pleasant one, and one that I never had in my entire career. Big ups to the Hawks organization. I wish those guys well.”

Fischer’s Latest: Beal, Wizards, Pelicans, Hawks, Ujiri

Reiterating a point made by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday and Wizards head coach Scott Brooks on Saturday, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report confirms that Bradley Beal is not available via trade, citing one longtime executive who notes that the team’s stance on the matter appears sincere and isn’t a bluff to drive up the guard’s price.

Despite there being no change in Beal’s potential availability, it continues to be a popular subject of speculation around the NBA. As Fischer explains, opposing front offices anticipate an “inevitable inflection point,” since there’s an expectation that the Wizards won’t be able to transform into a contender before Beal becomes eligible for free agency in 2022.

That inflection point isn’t here yet though, and the expectation is that it won’t arrive prior to this season’s trade deadline. According to Fischer, there’s a sentiment around the league that, regardless of Washington’s record, team ownership is unlikely to approve a Beal trade until the 2021 offseason at the very earliest.

“Teams say it all the time, but you feel like it’s real,” one assistant GM told Fischer, referring to the Wizards’ unwillingness to engage.

Here are a few more items of note from Fischer’s latest report:

  • New Orleans’ interest in Beal is one of the “biggest open secrets” around the league, according to Fischer, who suggests that the Pelicans and Hawks could be among the potential suitors for the Wizards guard if he eventually hits the trade block. Washington had been eyeing Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 9 pick in the 2020 draft before Atlanta scooped him up at No. 6, Fischer notes.
  • The Hawks “widely signaled” prior to draft night in the fall that Kevin Huerter was available via trade, per Fischer. It’s unclear whether the team’s stance has changed at all since then or if Huerter will be a trade candidate at next month’s deadline.
  • Word in NBA circles is that the Wizards may try to make another run at Masai Ujiri this summer, according to Fischer, who says the franchise has some deep-pocketed minority stakeholders interested in pursuing the Raptors‘ president of basketball operations. Although the Wizards denied it at the time, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in June 2019 that the club was ready to make an aggressive offer to Ujiri, whose contract with Toronto expires later this year.

Southeast Notes: Wizards, Okongwu, Fultz, Hornets

The Wizards are promoting Amber Nichols, naming her the general manager of the Capital City Go-Go, Washington’s G League affiliate, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Nichols, who had previously been the Go-Go’s assistant GM, becomes the second female general manager in the NBAGL, joining Tori Miller of the College Park Skyhawks.

The Capital City Go-Go opted out of this season’s G League bubble, so the team won’t be in action again until 2021/22. However, Nichols figures to be keeping a close eye in the coming weeks on the Erie BayHawks, New Orleans’ affiliate. The Wizards are sending four affiliate players and a player development coach to Erie for the upcoming NBAGL season.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • Onyeka Okongwu, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft, has yet to make his NBA debut as he recovers from a left foot injury. However, he’s not on the Hawks‘ latest injury report, and Sarah Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link) says Okongwu is excited to get back on the court. Now I’m really feeling good,” he said. “Now I’m really feeling like my old self.”
  • Magic officials and players have said that Markelle Fultz has remained upbeat as he begins the long process of coming back from a torn ACL, writes Josh Robbins of The Athletic. “I think he’s got a great attitude about the whole thing,” head coach Steve Clifford said. “Let’s put it this way: He’s handling his injury a lot better than his coach is.”
  • Hornets assistant Jay Hernandez will be heading to the G League bubble to coach the Greensboro Swarm next month, according to a press release from the team. Hernandez will return to the Hornets when the NBAGL season ends. “This plays to my strengths, and is also something I want and need to do,” Hernandez told Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. “… I know all (the Hornets’) teaching points, I know the talking points. I can go in there very confidently, knowing exactly what (Hornets coach James Borrego) wants to do and how he wants to do it.”

Southeast Notes: Hawks, Vincent, Monk, Pierce

Earlier this week, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk updated Mike Conti of Sports Radio 92.9 The Game (Twitter link) on the health and availability status of a handful of Atlanta players. Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo and center Onyeka Okongwu could be available later this week. Sharpshooting forward Danilo Gallinari, a pricey offseason acquisition, will not be traveling with the club on the road this week but is nearing his own return.

Hawks shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, however, will miss “several weeks” as he continues to rehabilitate from the avulsion fracture in his right knee. JD Shaw of Hoops Rumors tweets that later examinations did not reveal further ligament damage.

Meanwhile, after requiring a walking boot following a December 29 right ankle surgery, Hawks reserve guard Kris Dunn had the boot removed today, Sarah K. Spence of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Twitter link). He’ll be reevaluated in two weeks.

There’s more out of the Southeast Division:

  • With the Heat lineup limited by coronavirus health and safety protocols and injuries, sharpshooting guard Gabe Vincent showcased his ability to perform at the NBA level, scoring a career-best 24 points in a 137-134 Tuesday overtime defeat to the Sixers. Vincent, signed to a two-way contract this season, could warrant a look even when all of Miami’s players return, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports. “He is a very good basketball player,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That extends far beyond spot-up shooting … Can guard multiple positions, competes, good team defender. Rebounds at his position. Offensively, you can play him like we did last night as our point guard.”
  • Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer posits that shooting guard Malik Monk might be just what the doctor ordered as the Hornets struggle on offense. Monk not been a part of the Charlotte rotation yet this season. The 22-year-old has appeared in just two games for Charlotte this season, averaging 5.5 MPG. Across his four-year career, he is averaging 8.5 PPG, 1.9 APG and 1.7 APG.
  • In a roundtable of NBA writers for The Athletic, Chris Kirschner opines that Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce will be on the figurative “hot seat” this season. After a blistering 4-1 start, the Hawks went 1-4 in their subsequent five games. Several of those defeats came at the hands of the Knicks, Cavaliers, and Hornets, hardly Eastern Conference powerhouses. The Hawks are currently hanging onto the No. 8 seed in the East, having lavished significant offseason money on veteran depth.

Injury/Coronavirus Updates: Craig, Butler, Okongwu, Snell, Caruso, Anthony

Bucks swingman Torrey Craig suffered a nasal fracture on Sunday against the Knicks and won’t play against the Heat on Tuesday, the team’s PR department tweets. Craig signed with Milwaukee last month after the Nuggets failed to extend a qualifying offer.

We have more injury and COVID-19 news:

  • Heat star Jimmy Butler is doubtful to play against the Bucks on Tuesday, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets. Butler sprained an ankle during the team’s game on Friday.
  • Hawks rookie big man Onyeka Okongwu (left foot inflammation) and guard Tony Snell (right foot inflammation) have been cleared to progress to live contact workouts, Chris Kirschner of The Athletic tweets.
  • Alex Caruso became the first Lakers player to miss a game due to COVID-19 protocols. Caruso sat out against Portland on Monday. Coach Frank Vogel said no other players or staff members were held out due to contact tracing, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony wasn’t with his team due to the same reason, as Casey Holdahl tweets.

Lottery Pick Okongwu Won’t Suit Up For Opener

Hawks lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu will miss at least the first three regular-season games, according to a team press release.

The rookie big man out of USC is recovering from inflammation of the sesamoid bone in his left foot. He has participated in modified team practice with contact and is progressing toward unlimited team practice. He will be reviewed again on December 28.

The Hawks will open the season on Wednesday against the Bulls. They’ll also play the Grizzlies (Dec. 26), Pistons (Dec. 28) and Nets (Dec. 3o) before New Year’s Day.

Okongwu, who turned 20 this month, was a one-and-done player. In his season with the Trojans, he started 28 games and averaged 16.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 2.7 BPG in 30.6 MPG. He was the sixth overall pick.

The Hawks previously announced that guard and free agent acquisition Kris Dunn would miss the opener.

Kris Dunn To Miss At Least Three Games

Hawks guard Kris Dunn will miss at least the first three games of the regular season with what the team describes in a press release as a right knee cartilage disruption.

Dunn will be “reviewed” on December 28 and a status update will be provided at that time. The Hawks open the season on December 23 against Dunn’s former team, the Bulls. They’ll also play the Grizzlies (Dec. 26), Pistons (Dec.28) and Nets (Dec. 3o) this month.

Dunn has begun participating in individual workouts with contact and is progressing toward live team practice. One of several free agent signings the Hawks made in recent weeks, Dunn inked a two-year, $10MM contract with a second-year player option.

In the short run, Atlanta has enough guard depth to make up for his absence. Noted for his defensive prowess, Dunn is expected to play a key reserve role as a combo guard.

A former fifth overall pick, Dunn averaged 7.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 3.4 APG on .444/.259/.741 shooting in 51 games (24.9 MPG) last season for Chicago. The Bulls decided not to make him a restricted free agent, passing on their qualifying offer.

The press release also provided an update on lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu, who is dealing with inflammation of the sesamoid bone in his left foot. The former USC big man has begun participating in modified team practice with contact and is progressing towards unlimited team practice. He will be reviewed on December 18.

Southeast Notes: Aminu, Bamba, Collins, Hawks, Hornets

Magic head coach Steve Clifford told reporters today that Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Mohamed Bamba haven’t been cleared for contact work when training camp begins, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Isaac is recovering from a torn ACL and is expected to miss the entire 2020/21 season, so his absence is unsurprising. Aminu and Bamba were unavailable for the Magic at the end of last season due to knee surgery recovery and coronavirus complications, respectively. It’s not clear if those same issues are keeping them sidelined this fall, but Clifford said today that both players are still “a ways away” from being 100%, per Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links).

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • Hawks big man John Collins is still hoping to sign a rookie scale extension before the regular season begins, admitting today that his contract situation is at the forefront of his mind (Twitter links via Chris Kirschner of The Athletic and Sarah Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
  • The Hawks issued a press release announcing injury updates on Kris Dunn (cartilage disruption in right knee), Onyeka Okongwu (inflammation of sesamoid bone in left foot), and Tony Snell (inflammation of cuboid bone in right foot). Dunn is participating in “modified” individual workouts, while Okongwu and Snell are currently limited to shooting and conditioning. Atlanta will provide another update on all three players on December 11.
  • The Hornets will open the 2020/21 season without any fans in attendance at Spectrum Center, the team announced this week in a press release. The Hornets indicated they’ll continue to work with state and local health officials – and the NBA – to develop a plan to get fans back in the building, ideally before the end of the season.
  • In the wake of the Hornets‘ acquisition of Gordon Hayward and release of Nicolas Batum, Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer examines the salary cap impact of the two transactions. As Bonnell writes, despite the significant cap charges for Hayward and Batum, the club could still open up a sizeable chunk of cap room in 2021.

Hawks Sign Onyeka Okongwu, Announce Two-Way Players

The Hawks signed first-round pick Onyeka Okongwu and filled both two-way slots, the team announced on its website.

Forward/center Nathan Knight and guard Skylar Mays will both get two-way deals. We shared news of Knight’s expected signing last week, while the contract with Mays is new. They will be limited to 50 NBA games on their two-way contracts and will play in the G League if that season is held.

Knight played four seasons at William & Mary, averaging 20.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game as a senior. Mays was the starting point guard at LSU for the past four years and was a first-team All-SEC selection after averaging 16.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 3.2 APG in his senior season.

Okungwu was the sixth overall selection in last week’s draft after an outstanding freshman year at USC. Terms of the signing weren’t announced, but he is eligible to receive up to 120% of the rookie scale, which would be $5,813,640.

Hawks Notes: Okongwu, Trade Offers, Labissiere, QOs

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk never got to see Onyeka Okongwu play in person, but he was convinced the USC center was the right choice with the No. 6 pick, according to Chris Kirschner and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. Atlanta’s scouts were promoting Okongwu during the season and urged Schlenk to watch him, but that fell through when the Pac-12 Tournament was canceled.

Okongwu also didn’t work out for the Hawks because of a stress fracture in his sesamoid bone, which is located underneath his big toe. However, Schlenk knows what his new center can provide without seeing him in action.

“He’s going to be a plus rebounder defensively,” the Atlanta GM said. “He’s going to be a rim protector, and the other thing he does is he moves his feet very, very well in pick-and-roll coverages, and as you guys know, that’s extremely important for big guys to be able to guard in pick-and-rolls. Those are his strengths coming in. He’s got great instincts. Improving defensively is important for our group. The foundation of your defense is your big guy. They’re kind of the quarterback of the defense. They’re on the back line. They see everything. … That’s his strength, and that’s a very valuable strength in the NBA.”

There’s more from Atlanta:

  • The Hawks took a long look at Israeli forward Deni Avdija and Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton, according to Kirschner and Vecenie, but decided Okongwu’s potential was too good to pass up. They also listened to trade-down offers from the Knicks, Wizards and a few teams in the teens, but there were no prospects they especially liked in that range.
  • Atlanta now has four centers on its roster, but the front office won’t be in a hurry to unload any of them, Kirschner and Vecenie add. The Hawks traded for Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon last season. They also have Bruno Fernando, and John Collins plays in the middle sometimes. The addition of Okongwu means there’s no longer room on the roster for Skal Labissiere, who will not receive a qualifying offer. QOs also won’t be coming for DeAndre’ Bembry, Damian Jones and Charlie Brown Jr.
  • The Hawks aren’t worried that Okongwu’s injury will be a long-term issue, writes Sarah K. Spencer of The Journal-Constitution. Their medical team was able to evaluate his condition during the pre-draft process in October and will check him again soon to see how much he has healed. “The doctors, they weren’t concerned about a long-term injury at all,” Schlenk said. “So hopefully it’s healed from when the MRI was taken probably about four weeks ago, but it’s really hard to say until we get him here and get our doctors to see him. But there was no concern of a long-term injury with it.”