Atlanta Hawks urged to move on from former first-round pick

Sep 23, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) poses for a photo during Hawks media day. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 23, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) poses for a photo during Hawks media day. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks are planning on second-year forward Jalen Johnson having a sizeable role this season. That is already off to a somewhat rocky start as the 20-year-old was unable to make the trip with the team over to Abu Dhabi for their first two preseason games against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Atlanta got the win in a 123-113 affair.

But, with so much riding on this season, there are questions about Johnson’s ability to step into a major role even coming off of the bench. The Hawks moved on from four bench rotation players this past offseason including Danilo Gallinari and Delon Wright.

Strong showings from a rotation of De’Andre Hunter sliding up, Onyeka Okongwu coming off of the bench, and even Frank Kaminsky behind John Collins further cloud the issue.

Jalen Johnson could need a trade from the Atlanta Hawks to thrive

“After adding All-Star guard Dejounte Murray at the expense of three first-round picks this summer, the Hawks entered win-now territory,” suggests Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report, “or win-very-soon land, at least. That means developmental minutes could be even harder to find, which is bad news for Jalen Johnson after he rarely ventured off of the bench as a rookie.”

Buckley points to the aforementioned rotation at power forward as well as the presence of Clint Capela at center – the other position Johnso figures to contribute most at – as explanations for why he could finish similarly to last season when he had just 120 total minutes in 22 games.

Johnson averaged 2.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in those games.

In the G-League with the College Park Skyhawks, however, Johnson averaged 20.1 points and 11.8 boards while also chipping in with 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks.

“Those roadblocks haven’t budged, meaning Johnson, the No. 20 pick in 2021, could have just as hard of a time finding the floor as he did as a freshman. He might be more valuable to the Hawks as a trade chip that brings back a more established player at a greater position of need.”

Despite constant trade rumors, Collins is indeed still with the Hawks.

Capela was never going anywhere and Okongwu is seen as his eventual replacement which certainly could leave Johnson without a clear-cut pathway toward a starter’s role.

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He was raw when he came in so it made sense for him to spend a year at least in the G-League to develop. But, at some point he needs to get that development at the NBA level and, if it is not going to come with the Hawks, perhaps it would be better to get him somewhere that it will. Of course, it takes two to tango.

It might be more difficult to convince the Hawks to move him than it would be to find a taker.

As Buckley points out, the Hawks traded three first-round picks to the San Antonio Spurs for Murray. Johnson, along with fellow former Duke Blue Devil, rookie AJ Griffin, represents a bridge between two timelines.

They give the Hawks the option to package young talent along with a big contract such as Capela’s or that of Bogdan Bogdanovic to reel in another big fish via trade.

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But, as it stands, the Hawks have no incentive to actively seek out a new home for the talented 6-foot-8 forward. Even if it has seemed – and may once again this season – that he could be better utilized.