The offseason just got a little more royal for one Atlanta Hawks player.
This time of year, social media is rife with pictures and videos of players getting into the “best shape of their life” – a yearly tradition. But for third-year Hawks forward Jalen Johnson, his workout stood out if for no other reason than he was alongside Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James.
Johnson shared the image to his Instagram with the image of a brick in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, presumably signaling that he is building “brick-by-brick”.
Johnson shared a tweet with the same brick emoji earlier this offseason, sending fans on social media into a mild frenzy. But this latest post would seem to confirm the idea that he is simply referring to the work he’s putting in.
To that end, working with James is a perfect choice for Johnson.
Billed as a two-way player with point forward potential, he has shown flashes of that in his two previous seasons, and there is a sense within the organization that he could indeed be ready for a breakout campaign with a starting role a possibility following the trade of John Collins to the Utah Jazz.
James is the archetype and is a great example for Johnson to follow as someone who leaned into his physical gifts but still worked to add to his game, namely his three-point shooting.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, James is still not a knockdown shooter – he shot just 32.1% this past season and is a 34.5% shooter for his career. But he is enough of a threat to maximize his passing and driving.
That is a dramatic oversimplification of the player that James is.
But it sets a reasonable outline for what Johnson can offer the Hawks going forward if he can continue to grow as a player. It can be easy to forget that he was considered a lottery pick before a tumultuous final season at Duke caused him to slide in the 2020 NBA Draft and right into the Hawks’ laps with the No. 20 overall pick.
Johnson, 21, averaged 5.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists this past season, making 70 total appearances with six starts after just 22 total appearances (zero starts) as a rookie.
Jalen Johnson’s offseason work taking on a beneficial theme for Hawks
Again, workout videos are commonplace this time of the year and certainly are not specific to the Hawks. But Johnson’s offseason work showcases a skill set that would seem to be beneficial to the team that has been looking for someone like him for years.
One of the biggest knocks against Collins – at least among fans – before his three-point touch abandoned him was that he could not create on his own. The Hawks have also been in rumored hot pursuit of Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakam this offseason – a player who is a multi-positional defender and scorer albeit one without a knockdown three-point stroke.
With all of the risks attached to a trade for Siakam, the Hawks might be better off giving Johnson as many opportunities to prove he can’t do it as possible.
He dealt with a hamstring injury down the stretch and had a spotty role in the playoffs last year.
But Johnson is still every bit the lottery ticket he appeared to be when it became a distinct possibility he could be an option for the Hawks in the draft.
He may have to fend off Saddiq Bey for the spot but the results could raise the Hawks’ ceiling.