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2022-23 Atlanta Hawks player preview: Jalen Johnson

Atlanta Hawks Media Day Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s (maybe, almost) Jalen Johnson time.

When Nate McMillan was asked about offseason roster changes during media day, he mentioned the forward, saying “Jalen (Johnson) will get minutes this year.” However, it appears we will have to wait a bit longer after Brad Rowland of Locked On Hawks reported that Johnson would not be going to Abu Dhabi for the Hawks’ first two preseason games later this week.

After mostly playing for the G-League affiliate College Park Skyhawks for most of his rookie season, Johnson is slated to receive meaningful minutes this season for the Hawks. With the departure of Danilo Gallinari, and with the Hawks just trading away Moe Harkless, Johnson is next up on the depth chart behind John Collins.

Last season in the G-League, Johnson was a player that showed progress from the first game to the last game of their season. He has unique qualities, and there were times where Skyhawks head coach Steve Gansey put Johnson at the five because of what it could do for the offense.

“I’ve done different lineups so far, and I like him playing the 5,” Gansey said last season. “Offensively, spreading it out, a little bit more movement. Getting the ball when we get defensive rebounds and pushing it in transition.”

Johnson struggled with getting efficient starts early in the season, but as time went on he begin to slow down and take better shots within the offense. He had a few games where he posted impressive double-doubles, and you could see the elevation in his game as time progressed. Johnson showed the ability to grab rebounds, run the floor, and find one teammates while still being able to create for himself at times.

Later down the line in the season, as the Hawks were dealing with injuries to John Collins, it prompted them to call up Johnson. He played meaningful minutes in a few games, and though he improved his game in the G-League, there were still some things he needed to work on.

Offensively, he showed his athleticism catching lobs and running the floor, but he didn’t shoot well from the perimeter. Defensively, he was a step slow on rotations which caused a few breakdowns. Nonetheless, seeing Johnson on the floor was a positive sign, and a look into what could this season as well.

Johnson will definitely have to improve on both sides to stick on the court this season. Trae Young and Dejounte Murray will get him good looks on offense, and playing beside defensive anchors such as Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu should help him on that side of the ball as well. If Johnson is able to improve his offensive numbers on the perimeter, he can open up the floor for the Hawks second unit. Similar to John Collins, Johnson could turn into a pick-and-roll option and solid rim-runner for the team, but with his ability to handle the ball at an extent, he could be a playmaker as well.

Johnson said during media say that his mindset was to earn minutes by competing and defending. “I know if I play my game, everything will fall into place,” Johnson said.

During the offseason, Johnson had a non-surgical procedure on his left knee, but Nate McMillan said that the forward had been playing 5-on-5 the last few months, and it looked like he’d be ready to go to start the season before the Hawks decided to hold him out of the Abu Dhabi trip. It will be interesting to see how the second-year player looks on the court once he gets back to 100%.