Hawks: What will the role of 2021 first-rounder Jalen Johnson look like going into Year 2?
When the Hawks selected Jalen Johnson with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, many praised Travis Schlenk for landing a lottery-caliber player. However, his rookie season was quite disappointing.
In part, Nate McMillan is to blame, but the frontcourt was loaded with no obvious path for JJ to get minutes. He averaged just 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 5.5 minutes per game for the Hawks. He was somewhat effective, shooting 53.7% from the field but mediocre from the perimeter, knocking down three to a 23.1% clip.
Johnson had a few games where he totaled more than 10 points, adding seven rebounds in one of those contests, but most of his production and any glimpse of the type of player he could become came with the College Park Skyhawks. .
Johnson only appeared in 22 games for the Hawks while playing 12 games with the club’s G League affiliate, where he averaged 20.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists per game, 1.7 blocks per game and 1.3 steals per game. He was also efficient, saving 37.5% from his 3 and shooting 44.8% from the field. Johnson was pretty much dominant, but with both John Collins and Danilo Gallinari at home, game time was going to be hard to come by; in fact, he played 121 minutes all season, less than Jordan Crawford (160 minutes) and Lauderdale Priest (180 mins).
The team hopes Johnson will become a hard-hitting two-way player, but the sample size is far too small to draw a rational analysis. It will be fascinating to see what he can do in his second year.
Johnson was the point forward at Duke and took on a similar role with the Skyhawks. With the Hawks, however, those opportunities will be rare while playing with Trae young and Defeat Murray. His best chance to handle the ball will come in transition when he can use his elite athleticism to pick up the pace. He will have to be able to hit shots or put the ball on the ground and drive when Young or Murray kicks it. It will be interesting to see how the staff at McMillan rolls out JJ ahead of his sophomore year.