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Jalen Johnson is emerging as a Most Improved Player candidate

Atlanta Hawks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Jalen Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks has emerged as a standout in the early stages of the 2023-2024 NBA season, catching the attention of fans across the league. Let’s take a closer look at his performances on both ends of the court, starting with offense.

Offense

Jalen Johnson has lived up to expectations, and perhaps even surpassed them, in the offensive department this season. Over the initial 14 games, he’s maintaining an impressive stat line, averaging 14.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1 block, and 1.1 steals per game. His overall efficiency stands at 59 percent, placing him in the top 10 in the NBA. However, it’s his three-point shooting that is particularly noteworthy, hitting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc on 2.7 attempts per game. While not yet classified as a sharpshooter, Johnson has certainly demonstrated the ability to knock down threes. This proficiency ranks him 34th overall in the league, a significant improvement from last season’s 28.8 percent on 1.5 attempts per game. His progress places him in the 83rd percentile in three-point percentage.

Beyond his three-point shooting, Johnson shines in overall offensive efficiency, ranking in the 95th percentile in effective field goal percentage and the 96th percentile in true shooting percentage among starters.

In addition to his scoring prowess, Johnson’s playmaking at the power forward position has been a standout for the Hawks. His capacity to create plays, both for himself and his teammates, has been a valuable asset. A particular strength is his impact in fast-break situations, where he emerges as a significant threat at the rim. Notably, Johnson’s ability to run the floor independently has been evident in many instances throughout the season, adding a dynamic element to the Hawks’ offensive strategy.

Not only can he score on his own, Johnson has greatly improved in his fast-break decision making since game one. As seen here, he opts to slow down under control and deliver a lob to Onyeka Okongwu.

While Johnson may not stand out as an offensive rebounder, he has still managed to create numerous second-chance scoring opportunities for the Hawks. Averaging 1.4 offensive rebounds per game, he ranks fourth on the team, trailing Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu, and Saddiq Bey.

Beyond his work on the offensive glass, Johnson’s offensive prowess has been evident, showcasing remarkable improvement from the previous season. His scoring ability is diverse, and notably, he has expanded his arsenal by incorporating a midrange shot during the offseason. This adds an entirely new dimension to his game.

The ability to score efficiently from midrange adds versatility to his offense, but also makes him a more unpredictable and challenging player for opponents to defend. This development bodes well for Johnson’s overall impact on the offensive end of the court.

Defense

While Johnson undeniably plays a pivotal role in the Hawks’ offensive success, his significance on the defensive end is arguably even more important. Maintaining an average of 1 block and 1.1 steals per game, Johnson’s defensive capabilities are poised to improve as the season progresses. He currently ranks in the 78th percentile in blocks per 75 possessions and the 62nd percentile in steals per 75 possessions. All percentiles in this section are measured against starters and are adjusted to exclude guards.

Known for his disruptive presence on the defensive end, Johnson possesses a toolkit that extends beyond being a disruptor. Despite the Hawks’ proficiency in creating turnovers, their overall defensive performance has been a challenge. However, with Johnson’s versatility and switchability, there exists the potential for him to elevate the team defensively by becoming a great point of attack defender.

A notable aspect of Johnson’s defensive development is his improved anticipation of passes, as evidenced by his consecutive two-steal performances against the Nets and Pacers. As the season unfolds, Johnson’s defensive contributions will be a crucial factor in the Hawks’ success.

Hawks’ fans should expect to witness more shot-blocking like this from Johnson as the season progresses.

Johnson ranks in the 82nd percentile in rim contests per 75 possessions, causing havoc for opponents with great contests. He logs 7.7 defensive rebounds per game, ranking in the 84th percentile among starter. Johnson getting defensive rebounds is an extreme positive for this team because of his ability to put the ball straight on the floor to run in transition.

Despite the Atlanta Hawks not meeting early-season expectations, Johnson stands out as a bright spot on the team. What we see now is likely an unpolished version of Jalen Johnson playing his first NBA season with consistent minutes. As he gains more experience, the Hawks will have a special player, and hopefully one they choose to keep for a long time. NBA’s Most Improved Player is an award that may be in reach for him.