When Nate McMillan spoke to the assembled throng on media day he said that Jalen Johnson would be getting more minutes this season. True to his word, McMillan played the sophomore for more than 22 minutes in his first game back with the Atlanta Hawks since last season.
Johnson had a non-surgical procedure during the offseason meaning that he missed the Las Vegas Summer League. On top of that, he missed the first two games of the preseason with a non-Covid related illness. While it would have been good to see him on the court, having a player healthy for the start of the season is more important than getting a player on the court in the preseason.
Still, now that McMillan was able to get Johnson on the court, he made sure to use him in a role that was going to benefit the Hawks. The thing is that Johnson has such a diverse skillset that he is going to be able to help the Hawks in multiple areas. In true McMillan form, he appears to have given Johnson a role, with the objective of meeting it before he gives him more.
Atlanta Hawks sophomore balled out in the Cleveland Cavaliers game.
In the first half, Johnson only took one shot which he missed. However, it is pretty easy to see the task that McMillan set him. His job was to collect every rebound he could while he was on the floor. Johnson ended the half with seven rebounds which is pretty good for his first game action with the squad.
However, he appeared to be given a little more freedom in the second half and ended the game with eight points and 11 rebounds. While the Hawks lost, being a preseason game McMillan would have been very pleased with what he saw.
Johnson spent most of last season in the G League to aid his development and it appears to have worked. Is he ready to start if John Collins is not ready to go? Probably not. However, based on what we saw against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Johnson should be able to hold down the backup minutes.
This gives McMillan plenty of options for his second unit. He can go with Johnson at the four or if he wants to go a bit bigger he can play the sophomore at the three with Justin Holiday as a big two-guard. This is going to be a season of endless possibilities for the Hawks.