Hawks up-and-coming star cracks top 25 players under 25 list

NBA: APR 04 Hawks at Bulls

The Hawks find themselves at a fork in the road with the option to trade Trae Young or Dejounte Murray and build around the one they keep.

I haven’t been shy about the player I prefer. In my estimation, it’s much easier to surround Trae Young with plus defenders than it is to try and replace that it factor Young has that’s necessary in the postseason.

Thankfully, the Hawks have the assets required to right this ship, and there’s one guy in particular that makes it so. It’s not Trae Young or Dejounte Murray either; it’s Jalen Johnson.

The former 20th overall pick has real star potential and has all of the makings to be the Robin to Trae Young’s Batman. In fact, he’s among the best young players in the league according to The Ringer, who ranked the Duke product 21st in their top 25 under 25.

Reason for hope: Top 1 percent in terms of athleticism and feel for the power forward position. A plus motor. Human highlight reel. Flashed competence from distance this season, albeit at a pretty low volume. The former 20th pick looks more like the premier prospect he was coming out of high school, and a potential building block for the next phase in Atlanta.

Reason for doubt: Johnson struggled to stay on the floor this season, missing 26 games due to injury. And he’s ultimately the kind of guy who needs to be set up by plus playmaking, as he lacks a true “bag” on offense: a problem, of course, that may be exacerbated if he’s minus one of the league’s truly best setup guys next season in Trae Young.

Bold prediction: Johnson will lead the Hawks in scoring next season. Young’s ball dominance will likely be out the door, and even if Dejounte Murray stays, Quin Snyder will craft an attack centered around the franchise’s true centerpiece. —Wosny Lambre

Johnson is coming off a career campaign in which he averaged 16 points per game on 51% shooting and 35% from three, with 8.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 33 minutes per game.

He’s not the best player on the team, but I could argue that Johnson is the most important player ont he Hawks because of his ability to impact the game in so many different ways — rebounding, facilitating, scoring, transition, defending, etc.

The Atlanta Hawks should be able to build a sure-fire postseason team around Trae Young and Jalen Johnson.

Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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