The Atlanta Hawks didn’t get very much use out of forward Jalen Johnson last season. After taking him with the 20th-overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Hawks relegated Johnson to the G-League for most of his rookie season. And, when he did get on the floor for the Hawks, it was limited in minutes and situation.
There was not much expected from Johnson as a rookie but he disproved one notion.
He missed most of his lone collegiate season at Duke with a foot injury and left the team early, similar to his exit from his high school program.
But, heading into Year 2 and with plenty of minutes vacated by other offseason deals, there appears to be a major opportunity ahead of Johnson. And according to his head coach, Johnson will get every opportunity to rise to the occasion; in many ways for a second time.
Jalen Johnson expected to be in Atlanta Hawks rotation this season
Johnson averaged 2.1 points and 1.2 rebounds in just over five minutes per game across 22 appearances. He saw much more action – and showed more promise – in the G-League averaging 20.1 points, 11.8 boards, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks seeing 37 minutes per game across 12 contests.
He was far more efficient from deep – and only from deep – with a .448/.375/.564 slash line with the Collge Park Skyhawks compared to .537/.231/.714 in Atlanta.
Hawks head coach Nate McMillan mentioned Johnson among a group of youngsters who will see minutes. But he added the caveat that nothing will be handed to any of them, including Johnson; they will have to earn it.
That’s where last season’s experience could pay off for Johnson.
“I thought it was really good that Jalen wanted to play in the G-League. I think the minutes that he got there really helped him. He walks different. He seems like has really matured…in just a year’s time. And he knows that he’s got to battle and compete for those minutes.”
McMillan also said that Johnson, along with third-year big man Onyeka Okongwu were two players he hoped to develop in NBA 2k23 Summer League. A “non-surgical procedure” for Johnson took that option off of the table. Still, McMillan said that Johnson has been playing 5-on-5 since August and that he “looks really good”.
Johnson acknowledged that he has learned a lot just about being a professional in his first season.
Even after what he showed last season, Johnson acknowledging the growth in his maturity is reassuring after the character concerns he carried coming out of college.
The Hawks used Johnson like a big man last season. That means he will be battling with the likes of Frank Kaminsky and even Okongwu in some instances in addition to the likes of Moe Harkless for minutes.
While that could seem like a daunting challenge for a player that was so raw last season, it also highlights just how versatile he can be if developed properly.