Atlanta Hawks big man Onyeka Okongwu, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, had surgery Wednesday to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. He is expected to miss roughly six months but should make a full recovery. The NBA’s condensed schedule means that a six-month absence will have him out until the middle of next season, which begins in October.
Okongwu didn’t play much early in his rookie season but came on strong late and in the playoffs. As the Hawks were decimated by injuries in the postseason, Okongwu’s energy and defensive potential shined through, even blocking Milwaukee Bucks star and eventual Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference finals. Clint Capela is Atlanta’s starting center for now, but eventually, Okongwu figures to challenge for that role.
But his absence could have a major impact on how Atlanta manages this offseason. John Collins, their starting power forward, is a restricted free agent. He will be pursued heavily and is likely to receive offers in excess of $100 million, but with Okongwu out, Atlanta’s urgency to keep him is heightened. The Hawks have championship aspirations for next season, and playing the beginning of next season without both would weaken them significantly in the regular season.
The Hawks will now have to find another backup center to help them through the earlier portion of next season, but given their stature as contenders, that should be doable. The Hawks only need someone to hold down the fort until Okongwu returns and can begin building on his successful postseason debut.