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Cooper, Johnson flash potential in Hawks Summer League opener

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Strong openings from the Hawks’ 2021 draft selections as they kicked their 2021 Summer League campaign

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks returned to Las Vegas for NBA Summer League, kicking off their summer adventure with an 85-83 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon.

The No. 20 overall selection, Jalen Johnson, scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Hawks, while DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Skylar Mays added 13 points. Atlanta’s 2021 No. 48 selection, Sharife Cooper, added 11 points and six assists.

The end result doesn’t really matter a ton here, so today’s focus won’t be looking down through the stretch plays of a close game between the Hawks and Celtics (one the Hawks definitely allowed to slip away) but a look at the plays of Johnson and Cooper, who both produced solid displays on their unofficial Hawks debuts.

Let’s start with Johnson, who looked like the best player on the floor at times on Sunday, along with Boston’s Yam Madar.

Johnson scored 20 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting from the field, 1-of-2 from three and 3-of-5 from the line.

The majority of Johnson’s scoring work was done inside the paint (barring a rather fortunate bounce on a three-pointer), so let’s take a look at how he did it (these will be taken from the NBA’s upload of Johnson’s highlights but will be timestamped, so just click and it’ll take you to where you need to be).

To start, Johnson drives from the perimeter, steps inside to his right, hangs, takes the contact and hits the shot inside:

Heading up the floor, Johnson is found in a pocket of space on the pass and Johnson attacks the rim, takes the contact and finishes at the rim:

That was a great drive by Johnson and you like to see the aggression but also the ability to finish through contact too.

Johnson looked to operate from the post on a few occasions yesterday and looked as though he was going to do so again here but turns it into a face-up jumper over the defender:

On one of the many drives from Cooper, Johnson makes the cut from the corner and is found by Cooper on the baseline. Johnson drops his shoulder inside the paint and hits a tough shot inside as he falls to the floor:

Johnson also showed some strong moments defensively too, including this monster block in transition:

On the Celtics drive, Johnson is in place to intercept the pass going back as he gets his hands up, creating a fastbreak opportunity for the Hawks, leading to the assist at the rim:

Showing flashes on both ends of the floor, Johnson left a great impression upon many in a really positive opening for the 20th overall selection.

“Jalen’s got the ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor,” said Hawks Summer League head coach Matt Hill. “Versatility-wise, defensively he’s shown the ability to post up versus the switch, got some points in transition.”

“He’s a great player,” added Cooper of Johnson. “I can’t wait to continue to playing with him, somebody who is extremely athletic, can score on his own. He does it all. I’m extremely happy to play with a guy that’s that good.”

Johnson was pleased with the level of aggressiveness he came out with but was disappointed to come away without the victory.

“I’m just glad I came out aggressive, ready to go,” said Johnson. “That was the main thing I was proud of. Sucks that we end up losing. I’m not really caring about my personal stats, at the end of the day I just wanted to win. I’m looking forward to Tuesday.”

For Johnson, it was his first game for several months and was keen to get stuck into the film to see where he can improve, immediately outlining his aggressiveness and turnovers (five in total) as areas he can improve on.

“It was really fun being out there,” said Johnson. “It’s my first game since February, so it felt really good to be in back in live game action. There’s a lot of things I can take away from today. I immediately grabbed one of the assistant coaches, told him I just want to watch film, break down the game, things I can do better going forward. I know I can limit my turnovers, be a little bit more assertive on offense, plenty of things that I took away from this game. Having my coaches give me more feedback is only going to make room for improvement.”

Cooper — scoring 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting — also showed his driving potential as he got behind the Celtics’ defense time and time again, leading not only to scoring opportunities for Coopers himself but for his teammates too.

Here, Cooper drives inside, gets to the rim and finishes with the left-hand, plus the foul:

Cooper was able to punish switches on the perimeter, doing so on this possession as he skips to the rim and finishes with ease at the rim:

Again, Cooper drives inside, hangs this time near the rim and hits the short-shot inside:

These were just some of Cooper’s successful drives for baskets but all day long Cooper put himself in great positions near the rim, and delivered some great passes, dishing out six assists.

Not on a drive to start but in the pick-and-roll, Cooper delivers a nice bounce-pass to Jordan Bell for the assist:

This next clip was arguably Cooper’s juiciest pass as he emerges from a tight spot between the baseline and the halfcourt with a drive, gets to the rim and drops a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Skylar Mays for the assist:

“He’s got the ability to playmake, play with the ball in his hands, pass, he’s got the ability to get in for his guards, wings or bigs ... overall, he was good,” said coach Matt Hill.

Cooper admitted to some nerves to begin the game but settled down to provide a really solid showing for the Hawks, though admitted that his six turnovers on the game was too many.

“At first I was kind of feeling out how the game was going,” said Cooper. “I haven’t played an NBA game so I didn’t know what it would be like. At first I was trying to get some jitters out, a little nervous. I feel like I got more comfortable throughout. I was a little sloppy with turnovers, I had a crucial couple of late-game turnovers that I wish I could take back but going forward I feel like we made some good progress.”

Cooper is trying to get used to a very different looking game compared to the NCAA and noted the spacing of the NBA as a major part of the game he’s adjusting to.

“Just trying to learn on the fly,” said Cooper of the biggest adjustment. “I feel like it’s a completely different game. It’s a lot of good things that I took out of it. The floor is extremely spaced. There’s a lot of reads I feel like I could go back and make, I definitely want to go back and watch. I took a lot of good things out of this game. In college, it’s real packed in, the NBA floor is much more spaced, you’re playing with great players, guys like Johnson, Skylar Mays and all of the other teammates are great players.”

“It feels way different, way different,” addedJohnson of the spacing. “Just everybody has their own space, it’s a lot easier to cut, not everything is so compact. It’s really hard to explain in a sense but when you’re out there you can tell there’s a major difference, I noticed it as well.”

There were some solid performances to be had as well from Admiral Schofield, Ibi Watson and Max Heidegger provided some fun action in the second quarter, but the majority of the focus here is on Johnson and Cooper, and they were both showed promising flashes on Sunday. Both are keen to show improvements as the Hawks get ready to go again on Tuesday against the Indiana Pacers.

Until next time...