Jalen Johnson points out key behind Hawks' defensive turnaround

Third-year forward Jalen Johnson spoke candidly about the Atlanta Hawks' recent defensive turnaround helping key back-to-back wins.
Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson
Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks (26-32) have won back-to-back games after snapping their three-game losing streak. Jalen Johnson had a team-high 22 points, tying Clint Capela for the lead with 13 rebounds.

But he was first asked about the Hawks allowing fewer than 100 points in each of the last two games. 

They had done it once all season before that.

“Our communication has been a lot better than it has been,” Johnson said via Jameelah Johnson on February 27. Just something we talked about in film a lot. And I just feel like we've been doing a great job just executing defensively, sticking to the game plan. So I think that's been working well for us, and just got to continue to do that.”

Head Coach Quin Snyder has called out the team’s effort on defense numerous times. The Hawks boast the 12th-best offensive rating but they offset it with the 27th-ranked defensive rating on the season.

Whether or not they can keep it up over the long haul is still to be seen. Both of these wins have come against weaker or weakened opponents.

The Orlando Magic were missing Paolo Banchero.

The Utah Jazz came into the contest healthy, but they quickly fell behind with nine first-quarter turnovers and got flat efforts from reigning Most Improved Player winner Lauri Markkanen and former Hawk John Collins while Johnson shined.

Jalen Johnson talks developing jumper through repetition

Johnson, who is enjoying a breakout season in Collins’ absence, spoke about his development.

“Just getting up a lot of shots, getting up a lot of reps. That’s something me and my trainer work hard on. That's how you get better at things – you just got to constantly rep it, and that's just what I did.”

The Hawks are without center Onyeka Okongwu, and Clint Capela just saw 20-plus minutes for the first time since returning to action three games ago.

That has led to increased opportunity for Johnson to play center.

“I feel like when I'm at the five on defense, it's easier to switch a lot of things,” Johnson said. “I'm not saying that CC and O don’t switch. But it just brings a different dynamic I think. And I'm just still trying to figure it out.

“I'm just trying to learn and adapt to being able to play the five like they do. Try to make it seem like it's not nothing off about it.”

Johnson also gave his take on how rookie Kobe Bufkin has come along.

Jalen Johnson believes G League helped Kobe Bufkin

Johnson made great strides last season, working with the College Park Skyhawks in the G League. He spoke on that and the impact it has appeared to have on Bufkin, the No. 15 overall pick in the 2023 draft.

“You can tell just from the past two games. He's smart, and he's going to make the right play every time, and everybody trusts him to make the right play,” Johnson said. “The G League definitely helps with just decision-making. And then when you get up to the NBA, the pace is a little different. He’s adjusted well to it.”

Bufkin stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, five assists, two rebounds, and two steals.