The Atlanta Hawks are a team expecting to make the playoffs this season. After trading John Collins to the Utah Jazz, they have left themselves a starting spot at the power forward up for grabs. Fans may need to temper their expectations thanks to the Damian Lillard trade. But these factors could have a positive impact on Jalen Johnson’s season.
It is unlikely that the Hawks would spend a season on development with both Dejounte Murray and Trae Young in their prime. However, with Collins gone, who was the longest-tenured Hawks player until his trade, there will be a level of experimentation in the Hawks lineup to start the season.
While Onyeka Okongwu has been one player that the Hawks brains trust has started at the power forward in the preseason, Saddiq Bey is the likely starter. Okongwu has too much value as a backup center to start at the four. However, Johnson has the potential to get starter-level minutes as a sixth man, depending on how he can present his case to the coaching staff.
How can the Atlanta Hawks best utilize Jalen Johnson?
Johnson is never going to fit the mold of a typical basketball. He does a lot of things well, even some things exceptionally well. He has a solid ability to rebound, the athleticism to score close to the hoop, and developing his weakside rim protection.
However, he can start the transition play that could define the Hawks’ season. Young and Murray will go a long way to setting the bar for success for the Hawks. Johnson’s ability to rebound, put the ball on the floor, and find the right option in transition will take some of the pressure off the superstar guards.
This is going to help the Hawks get some cheap points in transition, which does not allow a defense to settle. This will allow the Hawks to have a similar offense to the OKC Thunder teams where Russell Westbrook was able to rebound the ball and start the fast break all in one move.
Not waiting for the big man to pass the ball off to a guard saves a second on that possession which can be all that is needed. Basketball at the NBA level is a game of inches and seconds, where the smallest margins can make a big difference.
However, it is not just Johnson’s ability to pass in transition that is going to help the Hawks. In the half-court, Johnson has started to show the ability to pass with both hands, His left-handed pass from the wing to Okongwu in the paint against the New Orleans Pelicans was a joy to behold. In fact, in the first half, Johnson had seven assists.
This could be one of the answers for the Hawks to solve the offensive hole that the Hawks fall into when Young is on the bench. If Patty Mills, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Johnson can all create offense for the second unit, then the Atlanta Hawks are going to be a tough outfit to beat.