Jalen Johnson - Most Improved Player
Johnson this season... He’s just been an amazing addition to the Hawks’ frontcourt and his versatility and huge leap this season have him as a near shoe-in for a Most Improved Player finalist at the very minimum.
You would be hard-pressed to name three players in the league this season who have seen their usage, production and role within their team change for the better as drastically as Johnson’s has. He’s playing double the minutes he was last year showing the faith that Quin Snyder has in him to be a key part of this team and this increase in minutes has led to a huge leap in production.
Comparing 2022-23 to 2023-24, Johnson's averages have gone from: 5.6 PPG to 15.6 PPG; 4 RPG to 8.5 RPG; 1.2 APG to 3.4 APG; 49% field goal percentage to 52.3% FG%; 28% three-point percentage to 36.8% 3P, and 0.5 SPG to 1.3 SPG. This is an absolutely insane leap for a player who barely cracked the rotation last season. Hawks fans could see the potential he had and it seems all he needed was the opportunity to thrive within a specific role in the team.
His improvement isn’t just statistical too. He makes the team work better and, if the team as a whole was in a better place, he would be able to thrive even more. His speed and versatility on defence allows him to defend smaller guards, wings and even small ball bigs because his strength down low and verticality allows him to contest well at the rim and not be bullied in the post. His quickness and agility also allows him to switch onto smaller guards and keep them in front quite effectively whilst also utilising his size to discourage them from driving to the basket.
The development of his role in the team is noticeable on the offensive end as he can handle the ball well and has the vision and IQ to make smart reads and passes whenever the ball is in his hands. He has also earned Snyder’s trust and has been occasionally trusted with bringing the ball up the court when the defense is pressuring Young and trying to trap him high up the court. His ball handling at his size also makes him a real driving threat whilst also being able to make smart reads and set up teammates for easy looks off these drives.
By the end of this season, if he continues to improve and become more comfortable within the team, I could see him having an even bigger statistical leap by the end of the year and any bigger improvement from him would make him a near certain lock for an MIP finalist and maybe even the award itself depending on the how the voters view the improvement of other candidates such as Alperen Şengün, Tyrese Maxey, Coby White.