Onyeka Okongwu had an uneven rookie season that was marred by injury early on as he dealt with a foot injury suffered in the pre-draft process, but he closed the season strong and played meaningful playoff minutes for the Hawks in their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
That effort certainly seemed to set the young big man up for an impactful sophomore campaign as the clear backup center to Clint Capela in Atlanta, but on Wednesday, word broke from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Okongwu would miss significant time after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder — an injury he was battling since May, per Woj.
Atlanta Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu – the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – underwent surgery to repair a torn right shoulder labrum on Wednesday and will miss approximately six months, sources told ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 22, 2021
A six-month absence would mean a January return, as he would miss the first three months of the season as the NBA returns to a its normal mid-October start. That’s a significant absence, and the injury being to his shooting shoulder will require plenty of rehab just to get back to shooting the basketball again. For Okongwu, it will surely be a frustrating setback and another injury process to go through at a young age when he should be building on such a promising finish to his season.
For the Hawks, it’s a big blow to their frontcourt depth and Travis Schlenk and company will have to determine how to proceed this offseason, as it seems what was a strength for the team with their center rotation now will likely require a bit more attention in free agency.