The Athletic identifies Hawks biggest breakout candidate for 2023-24

NBA: APR 04 Hawks at Bulls

With the NBA season right around the corner, there’s palpable excitement surrounding the Hawks as the club begins a new era under Quin Snyder.

The roster is constructed in a similar manner with one notable difference — John Collins. Atlanta finally ripped the band-aid off and shipped JC to Utah for practically nothing in return after dangling him on the trade market for the better part of the last three years. The Jazz sent a measly second-round pick and Rudy Gay in what was essentially a salary dump for the Hawks.

It will have a significant impact on the look of the team. The minutes vacated will now go to Jalen Johnson, who the coaching staff is very high on and is The Athletic’s most likely breakout candidate.

Jalen Johnson: It’s difficult to project anything with certainty with the Hawks because: 1) They’re the Hawks, and 2) this is coach Quin Snyder’s first full season. But Johnson seems like a safe bet here and the most likely Hawk to benefit from the trade of John Collins. His athleticism and ability to run the court and finish at the rim fits with Snyder’s style, and he should mix well on the court with the backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. The question will be size and defense, because the Hawks are giving up both at the four spot going from Collins to Johnson or likely starter Saddiq Bey. Either way, Johnson is a player the organization is genuinely excited about, and he’ll get far more minutes than he did in his second season under (mostly) Nate McMillan. — Jeff Schultz

I disagree with Schultz on multiple fronts. Jalen Johnson might be a tick smaller than John Collins but provides a similar level of defense. I could even argue that he’s a more versatile defender. The same cannot be said for Saddiq Bey, though.

Even still, if the Hawks give up a little bit of size with JJ, the Duke product is infinitely more versatile on the offensive end of the court, which is where Collins struggled to fit into the system. He was a ball stopper, lost his three-point shot, and didn’t have an effective post-game.

Johnson, on the other hand, is essentially a point forward that will not only keep the ball moving but also improve the ball movement because of his play-making ability.

The difference between Nate McMillan and Quin Snyder is going to be night and day. Under McMillan, JJ averaged just 4.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.9 assists over his first two seasons.

With Snyder at the helm, Johnson received more minutes. In last year’s final five contests, he averaged 11.6 points on 56.8 percent shooting, adding 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.8 steals.

Jalen Johnson is a versatile player that can score, facilitate, defend, and more. It’s going to be exciting to see him in a full-time role this season; I wouldn’t be shocked to see his name in the mix for the Most Improved Player award.

Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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