Much of the conversation around the Atlanta Hawks has been geared toward their search for a third star. But, while the progress hasn’t been linear, at least one rival NBA executive has been impressed by what he’s seen from third-year forward Jalen Johnson.
“Jalen Johnson has been their third best player this year behind Trae Young and Dejounte Murray,” the executive said, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype on November 29.
Johnson is in the midst of a breakout season.
He is averaging 14.1 points on 65.4% true shooting while connecting on 42.5% from beyond the arc with 7.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. There have only been three other players to produce a similar stat line across an entire season, per Stathead. None of them did it with a role as significant as Johnson’s has been.
The Hawks are 8-9 on the season. But they are 7-5 in games Johnson starts, and they have gone 0-2 since he went down with an injury.
“Jalen Johnson is expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks with left wrist injury,” reported Shams Charania of The Athletic on November 26. “Good news: Tests showed no fracture or need for surgery. Johnson is one of the NBA’s early Most Improved candidates.”
Charania called the diagnosis the “best-case scenario” for the emerging “two-way force”.
He has the third-highest net efficiency differential on the team behind Bogdan Bogdanovic and Saddiq Bey, per Cleaning The Glass. Their offense, potent as it is, ranks in the 87th percentile without Johnson on the floor. It drops to the 82nd percentile with Johnson on the floor. But his presence boosts their defense from the 11th percentile to the 52nd percentile.
Insider weighs in on Hawks’ trade chips
While Johnson makes his mark on the court, Scotto shed some light on several other Hawks that could be included in a trade for another proven star.
“Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter was among the players discussed during the Siakam talks,” Scotto wrote. “His $20 million salary and versatility on both sides of the ball playing both forward spots at times makes him a trade candidate to watch in a potential deal.”
Hunter, who is in the middle of his best offensive basketball of the season, is not alone though.
“After signing Onyeka Okongwu to an extension, some rival executives believe Capela could be used as a trade chip again before the February trade deadline,” Scotto continued. “Patty Mills and his $6.8 million expiring contract is a noteworthy trade chip that could also be included to match salaries.”
This season can still go any number of ways for the Hawks ahead of the trade deadline in February.
Johnson’s injury is a setback. But he could do a lot to prevent the Hawks from overpaying for a player on the trade market to help boost their 25th-ranked defense.