Atlanta Hawks: A projection of rookie forward Jalen Johnson’s ceiling

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks have had about as good of an offseason as one could expect. A team that made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals retained its own top talent and shrewdly went about filling in the gaps this offseason. Gaps, by the way, that were partly present because of a rash of injuries that affected many teams in the NBA.

With a mostly healthy roster heading into the season, the question has come up on how the rotation will shake out, especially at forward.

De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish have teased us for two years and now are approaching a crossroads with contract decisions on the horizon. But a new addition, Jalen Johnson, might have a higher ceiling than both.

Atlanta Hawks rookie forward Jalen Johnson’s ceiling could be similar to Simmons

There has been no shortage of breakdowns of Johnson’s game. Even before being taken with the 20th overall pick in this past NBA Draft, the 6-foot-8 combo forward was heavily scrutinized. Much of that was his doing thanks to unceremonious exits from his high school and college basketball programs.

But the talent was always there and the reactions to Johnson’s slide on draft night are proof of that.

We have explored many aspects of the Johnson pick, including his impact on the rest of the roster and pro comparisons for the incoming rookie. But one thing we haven’t directly explored is what, under the right circumstances, can Johnson become in this league?

Interestingly enough, he compares very favorably o a player who is very much in the news these days: Ben Simmons.

Before immediately dismissing this as either too generous or not good enough, their college numbers paint a fairly vivid picture of a player that had his true abilities curtailed by non-basketball factors.

Both players spent one season in college; Johnson at Duke and Simmons at LSU.

In his lone season as a Tiger, Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 boards, and 4.8 assists with 2.0 steals across 33 games. Johnson averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists with 1.2 steals per game in his 13 appearances.

Right away, Simmons has several advantages. He had higher averages in every category and played a full season. Interestingly, Johnson had the block advantage, averaging 1.2 per contest to Simmons’ 0.9. Again, though, the Duke product had a much smaller sample size.

Even more interesting is what some of the advanced numbers say.

Per 40 minutes (basically the college version of ‘per 36 minutes, our favorite imperfect stat for projecting) shows the two are on more even footing than the raw numbers suggest.

Simmons put up 22.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and had 2.3 steals per 40 minutes at LSU. In his short stint at Duke, Johnson averaged 21.0/11.4/4.2/2.2 and still managed 2.3 blocks; a noteworthy stat given his smaller stature.

As a 6-foot-11 point guard, Simmons has always drawn attention.

His blend of size, speed, and power with the vision set him apart and made him seem like the perfect next step of “The Process” for the 76ers.

At 25 years old, Simmons is a three-time All-Star, two-time All-Defensive team selection, former steals champ, and All-NBA selection.

That’s nothing to sneeze at.

If the numbers are in any way giving a forecast of what could be in store for Johnson, Hawks fans will be very happy. He looks to have the stat-stuffing ability of Simmons but has shown a greater capacity and willingness to score, at least in Summer League.

Next. Marvin Williams was solid and it just doesn’t matter. dark

The possibility that Johnson could (eventually) offer much of what Simmons does but perhaps in a more valuable package to the Hawks is why Johnson was one of the five reasons we said Atlanta should be out on trade talk regarding the talented but embattled Simmons.