Atlanta Hawks: Is Onyeka Okongwu the right pick at No. 6?

After months of speculation over what the Atlanta Hawks would do, the wait is over after they selected Onyeka Okongwu sixth overall in the NBA draft.

There were many rumors of the Atlanta Hawks trading down and sometimes even up in the draft in the weeks leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft. There was plenty of buzz about prospects the Hawks considered taking with the sixth pick, such as Tyrese Haliburton, Isaac Okoro, and Killian Hayes.

No more hypothetical trades or rumors of who they want; the wait is over. With the sixth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks selected Onyeka Okongwu out of USC.

The Atlanta Hawks entered the offseason with playoff aspirations despite having one of the youngest and most inexperienced rosters in the NBA. At the time of this writing, the Hawks have just two players who have made at least one playoff appearance.

There are glaring holes in this Hawks roster as currently constructed. Last season we saw incremental improvements from the team. Still, even when playing their best basketball, the Hawks were an average team at best, on offense, and were tough to watch on the defensive end.

The Hawks ranked 17th in points per game (111.8) and had the fourth-worst offensive rating (107.2). They also possessed the third-worst defensive rating (114.8) and ranked dead last in opponent points per game (119.7). That’s not going to cut it if you’re trying to make it to the playoffs.

Despite dreams of playing in the post-season, the Hawks weren’t in a position to draft for need. Unless you have a superstar locked in that slot already, the last thing you want to see on draft night is your favorite team pass up on a prospect because they don’t necessarily need a player at a specific position.

In the Hawks’ case (and my personal preference for all teams regardless of the situation), the goal should be drafting the best player available, not drafting a player because he fills a gap. If the player doesn’t necessarily fit in with the team’s plans, you can always trade said player.

That is, of course, unless you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a position to draft the best player available (or one of the best) and fill a hole at the same time, which is exactly what happened with the Hawks.

Okongwu is widely considered the best big man in the draft besides James Wiseman. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor had him listed as the tenth-best prospect in his final pre-draft big board.

News of Okongwu suffering a fractured toe sent the NBA world into a frenzy earlier in the day, but ultimately it was not enough to hurt his draft stock. He’s expected to be fully recovered before the start of the 2020-2021 season.

The 6’9” 245-pound Okongwu is a swiss army knife on the court. In his lone season at USC, he averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 1.2 steals in 30.6 minutes per game. He will easily improve this Hawks team’s defense. He hustles on every play and can switch onto guards in the pick-and-roll.

He’s a versatile defender who can step out onto the perimeter and is also an elite rim protector despite being undersized for the center position. Okongwu ranked 17th in the nation last season with 76 total blocks and ninth in blocks per game. After allowing the most points in the paint on a nightly basis last season, the Hawks could surely use Okongwu’s presence in the paint.

His defense often dominates the conversation when talking about Okongwu, but he’s pretty good on offense as well. He can take defenders off the dribble like a wing player and has a quick first step. He does a good job sealing off defenders on the block and has a soft touch around the rim.

Okongwu made 62.1 percent of his 2-point field goals last season. He’s also a reliable free throw shooter for a big, nailing 103 of his 143 attempts (72 percent) from the charity stripe. His 64.5 true shooting percentage is quite impressive as well.

He’s a tremendous rebounder, a solid passer, sets hard screens, can guard almost every position on the court, and has drawn Bam Adebayo comparisons. What’s not to like about this pick?

By selecting Onyeka Okonwgu with the sixth overall pick, they got one of the best players available (I was hoping they drafted Killian Hayes), fill a need, and instantly improve their defense. For all the talk about the lack of talent in this year’s draft, the Atlanta Hawks got it right.