The Atlanta Hawks are finally healthy allowing head coach Nate McMillan to operate with his preferred starting lineup and rotations. They have gone 3-1 over their last four outings with two of the wins coming even before they were able to field their full group on the floor in a 130-105 romp over the Detroit Pistons.
At the same time, second-year forward Jalen Johnson has seen his minutes dwindle all way down to just 2:37 against the Pistons. It is a trend that has been forming since the December 12 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Even still, Johnson had averaged over 16 minutes per contest over his first 29 appearances this season.
He is averaging just 3.3 minutes over the last two games.
Nate McMillan sounds off on removing Jalen Johnson from Atlanta Hawks’ rotation
“McMillan said that with everyone healthy, including Bogdan Bogdanovic, he wanted De’Andre Hunter and John Collins beefing up the bench at backup 4,” tweeted Kevin Chouinard of NBA.com and the ‘ATL-&-29’ podcast.
This has not been the smoothest season for Johnson, the 20th-overall pick in last year’s draft.
Despite seeing three times as many minutes as last season and being thrust into a more prominent role, Johnson’s production has only increased by a slight margin.
He is averaging 4.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.0 assists. Those are all improvements on his line from last season but his 49.6% true shooting mark is a massive step back from last year when he posted 4.6 points, 3.5 boards, and 1.0 assists on 59% true shooting. He also has the worst net rating on the team at minus-8.9, per Cleaning The Glass.
It is telling that Johnson was essentially replaced in the rotation by Justin Holiday.
Holiday was a DNP-CD in each of the previous three outings despite the Hawks being short-handed. But McMillan still went to him (albeit for just 3:22) over Johnson who did not see the floor against the Pistons until the closing minutes.
Johnson spoke of the difference he felt coming into this season and the coaching staff noticed the difference too.
He has just three games with double-digit points but was the initiator of this game-winning play.
Compared, perhaps unfavorably, to rookie AJ Griffin – who has scored at least 10 points 16 times this season – and it is easy to see why McMillan could want to see more from Johnson whose game and size should allow him to impact the game in a more diverse fashion to his promising teammate.
It’s on the Hawks to get that out of him, though, and McMillan’s aversion to in-season development is well-documented. That is why Johnson missing summer league and half of the preseason slate while recovering from an offseason procedure was such a big deal.
He missed out on valuable reps and the opportunity to work through mistakes.
Still, it is hard to believe there is no place for a player with the size, vision, and athleticism that Johnson provides in a singular package.