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Hawks Defensive Duo Receives Disheartening Injury Updates

Atlanta Hawks defenders Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu, now out with injury

The Atlanta Hawks may have lost two of their best defenders for the remainder of the season, as the team has announced that Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okongwu would be out for multiple weeks.

The Hawks’ final regular season game takes place on Apr. 14 against the Indiana Pacers. With the 2024 NBA Playoffs beginning on Apr. 20, Atlanta has to defeat the Chicago Bulls in the Play-In Tournament to have any chance at either player returning before the end of their 2023-24 campaign.

Hawks Duo Receives Injury Updates

Jalen Johnson

Johnson left Tuesday’s game again the Miami Heat with a right ankle sprain. On Wednesday, the third-year forward took an MRI in Atlanta. Diagnosed with a Grade 2 lateral ankle sprain, Johnson will be re-evaluated in approximately three weeks.

This season, he’s averaged 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. Because of his multifaceted impact, Johnson has enhanced Atlanta’s play at both ends of the floor. Indeed, his combination of athleticism and skill may be the best on the team.

Without Johnson, guarding the East’s top wings and forwards got that much harder. To that point, the bulk of the East’s premier talent plays at those positions. In the Play-In, he would have the perfect size to help slow down DeMar DeRozan. If the Hawks advance to the First Round, they’ll face Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics.

The season-ending injury sustained by Saddiq Bey is also worth noting due to his strength, hustle, defensive technique. With him and Johnson out, De’Andre Hunter is Atlanta’s only healthy and reputable wing defender.

Onyeka Okongwu

Okongwu underwent a non-surgical procedure on Tuesday in California to address ongoing inflammation in his left big toe. He’ll be re-evaluated in approximately four weeks. The 2020 No. 6 pick, Okongwu has only played two games since Valentine’s Day.

At a listed 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, Okongwu is an undersized center but is springy with fluid athleticism. As a result, he’s not just a solid pick-and-roll weapon on offense. He’s also a relatively versatile defender capable of guarding out in space or altering shots around the rim.

With his absence, the Hawks are a more limited in their defensive coverages. Veteran center Clint Capela is a noteworthy interior defender. However, he’s not trusted to guard out in space.

It’ll be worth monitoring Hawks rookie Mouhamed Gueye for the remainder of the season.

Playing substantial minutes for the first time in his NBA career on Wednesday, if he can build off his performance, he may earn a bit of trust heading into the postseason. A 6-foot-11 big man with guard skills and terrific defensive instincts, Gueye has the highest chance of mirroring Okongwu’s play.


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