So the Atlanta Hawks season is only six games old. But there is something in the air about the play of third-year man, Jalen Johnson. The 21-year-old combination forward is starting to show the potential he was touted to have back in 2021 when he slipped to the Hawks at No. 20 in the draft.
Questions were hanging over his career when drafted, having sat out the majority of his single season at Duke. However, there was no questioning his talent and no doubt that the Hawks made the right move when he slipped down the draft order.
After a slow start to his career, he played his best rookie basketball in the G League before injury stopped him in his tracks. Johnson has had to play behind John Collins for the past two seasons. Given the Hawks paid Collins handsomely two off-seasons ago, it made sense to play him. However, thanks to Collins being traded, Johnson has the court time to show his potential now.
How the Atlanta Hawks have benefitted from Jalen Johnson’s coming out party.
In the offseason, Johnson showed where he had the potential to help the Hawks. Now that the season has begun, he is showing that this potential is starting to be realized. While he has only started three of the six games, Johnson has played well enough to make the starting spot his to lose, relegating Seddiq Bey to the bench.
So, how has he done this, you ask? By being the player he promised to be in college. While he is a solid, not spectacular team defender, Johnson has shown that his offense is where his true benefits lie within the team.
Johnson is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game, which is a sharp increase on his career number of 3.3 rebounds per game before the season started. This is also the case with his scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game, which is another sharp increase on his 4.9 points per game for his career over the past two seasons.
Part of this can be explained by his increase in playing time, going from 12.6 minutes per game to start his career to 29.7 minutes per game this season. The other reason is that his efficiency has increased with a season slash line of .621/.400/. 643 compared to his career slash line of .513/.295/..636. Except for his free throw shooting, this is an incredible increase in his efficiency.
On top of that, the Hawks are benefitting from a forward who can create for himself or others. We all remember how hard Collins worked on the boards, some of his putback slams were the stuff of legends. He was also a tremendous perimeter shooter until his finger injury slowed that down.
Not only does Johnson create for others in transition, but he is also not afraid to work hard in the half-court setting as well. This means that the Hawks only have one player on the court at any time who is reliant on others to create for them, be that Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu.
The biggest knock on Collins offensively was that he went missing for long periods. Countless articles and social media posts were dedicated to how the Hawks needed to use Collins more. However, if he is being defended well, there is little point in the ball passing through his hands on offense.
Johnson will make a pass, or create for himself, or cut to the hoop if the opportunity presents itself. This makes the Hawks harder to defend meaning that Trae Young and Dejounte Murray are even more dangerous.
So, what award does this put Johnson in the running for? Well, it is going to be hard to find a player who has improved more this season than Johnson if he can sustain this level of play. The Atlanta Hawks will certainly benefit from it.