Onyeka Okongwu had an inconsistent rookie season, which was plagued by injury early on as he coped with a pre-draft foot injury, but he finished strong and played significant postseason minutes for the Hawks in their stunning run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
That effort appeared to set the young big man up for a big sophomore season in Atlanta as the clear backup center to Clint Capela, but on Wednesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Okongwu would miss significant time following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder — an injury he had been dealing with since May, according to Woj.
With the NBA returning to its customary mid-October start, a six-month suspension would imply a January return, as he would miss the first three months of the season. That’s a lengthy absence, and his shooting shoulder injury will necessitate extensive therapy just to get him back to shooting the hoop. It will undoubtedly be a frustrating setback and another injury process for Okongwu, who is still young and should be building on a positive season’s end.
It’s a major blow to the Hawks’ frontcourt depth, and Travis Schlenk and the rest of the front office will have to figure out how to proceed this offseason, as it appears that what was once a strength for the team with their center rotation will now require a little more attention in free agency.