Nate McMillan opens up about Atlanta Hawks prospect Jalen Johnson

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks‘ (19-21) win over the Los Angeles Clippers saw forward Jalen Johnson score double-figures for the third time in the last six games. While he has three points or less in the other three outings, he also saw fewer than six minutes in each of those contests with each of those “pop” coming in no fewer than the 15-plus minutes he saw against the Clippers.

Johnson shot 59% from the floor and even connected on 4-of-10 looks from deep in those double-digit scoring outings.

Atlanta has won two of their last three games despite being without starting big man Clint Capela for the last seven games. Johnson had seen his playing time increase before that but his minutes hold that much more significance now.

His head coach sure liked what he saw out of the 21-year-old.

Jalen Johnson ‘allowed the game to come to him’, says Atlanta Hawks HC Nate McMillan

“I thought he was just calm,” Nate McMillan said postgame. “I thought played a really solid game. He allowed the game to come to him. When the ball was rotated to him, he didn’t hesitate. He shot the ball with confidence. Knocked down his shots, was able to get on the glass. Defensively he gives us length…I thought he played really good minutes both halves.”

Johnson finished with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting with four rebounds, two steals, and one block while committing just one turnover and one personal foul.

It was certainly a tale of two halves for the former Duke Blue Devil. He started hot with 11 points in the first half nine of which came in the second quarter but could only muster two more points on two attempts the rest of the way despite splitting his time equally between halves.

Still, the Hawks need to find ways to get him on the floor, especially amid the injuries.

“That was a reason I really wanted to get him in the lineup is to try and help when we had Onyeka out of the game,” McMillan said of mixing and matching in the frontcourt. “Pair him with Frank, pair him with John to try to get some size, some type of length in there to help defend and rebound.”

Despite McMillan’s aversion to on-the-job player development, getting Johnson on the floor even sparingly has come with some significant benefits this season.

The Hawks have a better net rating with Johnson off the floor (plus-0.9) than when he is in the game (minus-8.1), per Cleaning The Glass. Their defensive rebounding percentage is also better with him on the floor rising from 69.1% to 73.4% when Johnson checks in.

Johnson is averaging 5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assists despite seeing nearly three times as many minutes as he logged per game last season. There have been hypothetical trade scenarios that would see the Hawks move on from him. But the team’s future is still mired in uncertainty.

Next. Hawks send strong message on De’Andre Hunter. dark

Keeping a prospect with size, athleticism, and innate playmaking skills should be a priority for general manager Landry Fields.