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 pretty underwhelming.
In part, Nate McMillan is to blame, but the frontcourt was loaded with no obvious path for JJ to get minutes. He only averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 5.5 minutes per game with the Hawks. He was somewhat efficient, shooting 53.7% from the field but poor from the perimeter, knocking down threes at a 23.1% clip.
Johnson had a couple of games where he totaled more than 10 points, adding seven rebounds in one of those contests, but most of his production and any glimpse into what kind of player he could become came with the College Park Skyhawks.
Johnson only appeared in 22 games with the Hawks while playing in 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, canning 37.5% of his 3’s and shooting 44.8% from the field. Johnson was pretty much dominant, but with both John Collins and Danilo Gallinari in the fold, playing time was going to be hard to come by; in fact, he played 121 minutes the entire season, less than Jordan Crawford (160 min) and Priest Lauderdale (180 min).
The team hopes Johnson will bud into an impactful two-way player, but the sample size is far too small to draw any rational analysis. It will be fascinating to see what he can do in his second year.
Johnson was the point forward at Duke and assumed a similar role with the Skyhawks. With the Hawks, though, those opportunities will be few and far between while playing with Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. His best chance to handle the ball will come in transition when he can use his elite athleticism to push the pace. He’ll need to be able to either hit shots or put the ball on the floor and drive when Young or Murray kick it out. It’ll be interesting to see how McMillan’s staff deploys JJ heading into his second year.