1 step Jalen Johnson must take to become a star for the Hawks

Fourth-year Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson needs to do this one thing to reach his maximum potential.
Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson
Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

The excitement about what 2021 first-round pick Jalen Johnson brings to the Atlanta Hawks is palpable, both in the intermediate and long-term.

Johnson made significant progress in Year 3 compared to his first two seasons. He posted career highs with 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He had a strong case to be the Most Improved Player before injuries set in.

He is already on a star trajectory, and Johnson could flirt with superstardom with improved health.

Johnson finished last season with a 113.3 offensive rating, per NBA.com advanced metrics. But his minus-1.9 net was seventh-best among all Hawks players in 2023-24. 

Johnson held opponents 4.1% below their season average on three-pointers last season, per NBA.com tracking data. That is a better mark (on similar volume) to New Orleans Pelicans wing Herb Jones, whom the Hawks eyed in trade talks.

Johnson also held opponents 2.1% below their average within six feet of the rim. 

Johnson elevated the Hawks’ team defense, which ranked in the 36th percentile with him and the 13th without him, per Cleaning The Glass. 

However, none of the top three most-frequently-used lineups with him on the floor ranked higher than the 42nd percentile defensively. That includes the Hawks’ most-used lineup overall of the 2023-24 season.

That group included Johnson, Clint Capela, Dejounte Murray, Trae Young, and Saddiq Bey.

Conversely, a lineup featuring Johnson with Capela, Murray, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Andre Hunter, and Vit Krejci was the Hawks’ fourth most-used lineup – ranked in the 72nd percentile.

That raised two other most-used non-Johnson lineups. They ranked in the 37th and 7th percentile. Johnson has already proven to be a versatile offensive threat, equally adept at initiating offense – especially in transition – and finishing. 

He also shot 35.5% from beyond the arc, up from his 28.8% in 2023. 

Johnson’s shooting season can be broken down into three parts. Johnson started (42.5%) and finished (38.3%) strong.

However, he slumped (31.0%) in between after returning from a wrist injury. That underscores how badly the Hawks need Johnson to remain healthy. Injuries can also be random, though, and therein lies the problem for Johnson and the Hawks moving forward.

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Health the only obstacle between Hawks’ Jalen Johnson and stardom

Johnson possesses all the tools to become great, including his attitude toward improving. But he can only do that if he stays healthy and on the floor – both practice and game.  Johnson entered the league with injury concerns. 

He played sparingly as a rookie, logging just 34 games between the Hawks and their G League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks. 

He then dealt with a minor hamstring issue during a 70-game campaign in 2022-23.

The wear and tear of logging more than 33 minutes per game after averaging 14 MPG last season simply took its toll. Johnson’s wrist injury was a freak incident. But his ankle injury lingered and was an issue on several occasions.

An ankle injury vastly differs from a hamstring or any other soft tissue injury, and their respective prevention methods reflect that.

There may not be a true solution to unlocking Johnson’s full potential.

It could be as simple as the randomness with which injuries strike all players. Still, he must do all he can to prevent some of what has slowed him down from the hamstring, which many attribute to perfecting a diet and exercise regimen – to the ankle.

Johnson said he plans to switch from LeBron James’ signature shoe during his season-ending press conference. Ironically, the two players trained together before last season.