Hawks HC urged to take ‘risk’ on former 1st-round pick

Atlanta Hawks, Quin Snyder. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks, Quin Snyder. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

If the Atlanta Hawks want to maximize their roster as it’s currently constructed, they need to take a “risk” on third-year forward Jalen Johnson, according to Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report.

“While everyone seemingly awaits Atlanta’s inevitable change at center from Clint Capela to Onyeka Okongwu, there is another path to making this frontcourt more dynamic,” Buckley wrote on September 12. “Finding starter-level minutes (if not a starting spot altogether) for springy third-year swingman Jalen Johnson would do the trick.”

Barring the Hawks completing their long-rumored trade for Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakm, Johnson is one of two players presumably vying for the starting power forward spot vacated by the trade of John Collins to the Utah Jazz.

The former No. 20 overall pick in 2021 has already flashed his tremendous potential.

Johnson averaged 5.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in fewer than 15 minutes per game last season.

“The 6’9″, 220-pounder boasts unfair explosion for his size and a sneaky-good eye for passing that could take this offense to the next level,” Buckley continued. “There would be some risk involved in throwing major minutes at Johnson and hoping he can develop on the fly, but the potential reward … might justify it.”

In six starts he averaged 8.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. He finished the regular season strong, too, averaging 13.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.5 blocks in nearly 21.0 minutes per outing over the final four games.

Unfortunately for him, his role was reduced in the postseason.

Johnson was far from perfect, shooting just 27.3% from the three-point line and 40% at the charity stripe.

The Hawks posted a minus-1.8 net rating with Johnson on the floor last season, per Cleaning The Glass. But two of the top three groups in terms of minutes that included him posted positive net ratings. And Johnson has a clear size and defensive advantage over his apparent top competition for the starters’ job, and his offseason work could pay huge dividends.

Saddiq Bey a viable option for Hawks too

If Johnson had Saddiq Bey’s shooting stroke the Hawks would have the power forward spot solved. What Bey lacks in size compared to Johnson, he makes up for with a knockdown efficiency, shooting 40% from beyond the arc in his 25 appearances with the Hawks.

Bey also averaged 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and nearly 1.0 steals per game with Atlanta.

He averaged 13.8 points, 5.1 boards, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 steals per game while still shooting 40% from three in his seven starts with the Hawks.

But the Hawks posted negative net ratings with him on the floor including in three of the top four lineups. Coincidentally, the group that posted the best rating with Bey on the floor included Johnson and vice versa.

Next. Start, Bench, Cut: Sorting through the Hawks’ power forward options. dark

That variety already offered on the roster is likely why the Hawks aren’t overly desperate in their pursuit of Siakam. Taking the current group into the season lets them gauge exactly where the group is and what it might need to take another step forward. Despite another first-round playoff exit, there was a notable difference in the Hawks after Quin Snyder stepped in as head coach.