“A big year is coming for Jalen Johnson,” an anonymous team source said, per Keith Smith of Spotrac on July 14. “The opportunity is there. He just needs to take it.”
Johnson, 21, was the No. 20 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. A projected lottery pick ahead of that season, an injury cut his collegiate career short and led to a slide during the draft landing him in the Hawks’ laps.
He averaged 5.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists this past season making 72 appearances and drawing six starts in place of John Collins who was traded to the Utah Jazz on June 27. His departure is a big part of why the 2023-24 season could be key for Johnson as he steps into an even bigger role.
Johnson was not terribly efficient, shooting 49.1% from the floor and 28.8% from deep range.
He was better shooting the three-ball as a reserve, connecting on 29.8% of his triples when coming off the bench compared to 25% as a starter. But he averaged 8.0 points, 6.3 boards, and 2.3 assists as a starter.
Potentially complicating matters for Johnson, the person who drafted him – former Hawks team president Travis Schlenk – is gone.
The Hawks have moved off of several of their first-round picks in recent years with Collins joining Kevin Huerter (Sacramento Kings) and Cameron Reddish (Los Angeles Lakers) and, potentially, De’Andre Hunter whose name has come up in trade rumors linking him to multiple teams via trade.
Johnson offers good size and skill and figures to benefit from head coach Quin Snyder.
His game has warts as he can be foul-prone and is far from a knockdown shooter. But the Hawks could look to feed him more looks this season ahead of next summer when he will be rookie extension eligible.
Jalen Johnson could benefit from ‘difficult’ decision by Atlanta Hawks
Collins was the longest-tenured player on the team but had been mired in trade rumors for the better part of three years.
“It does sting to trade John Collins,” the source continued to Smith. “He was a big part of some good teams for us. But our cap sheet made it necessary. We were carrying too much long-term salary. Everyone is going to have to make difficult decisions like this in the new CBA world.”
The Hawks also created a $25.3 million trade exception with the deal which they don’t have to use – similar exceptions frequently go unused. But the Hawks certainly have some flexibility to make some further tweaks to the roster or even go in on a blockbuster trade with two months to go until training camp.
They have been linked to Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam but nothing has been described as being imminent.
Johnson could still find himself behind Saddiq Bey on the depth chart but his path to a bigger role has never been clearer. And his size and skill set could even give him a leg up over Bey who is more of a floor spacer but doesn’t create or defend like Johnson does.