Jalen Johnson ready to earn his minutes in Hawks’ regular rotation

Jalen Johnson, right, looks to shoot against Indiana Pacers' Buddy Hield (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Jalen Johnson, right, looks to shoot against Indiana Pacers' Buddy Hield (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The Hawks have opened training camp after taking advantage of the longer offseason to address their needs individually and collectively.

For sophomore forward Jalen Johnson, that included having a procedure that addressed tendinitis in his left knee. That’s only one way the 20-year-old is looking to secure his position in the team’s second unit at power forward.

As of now, the Hawks have plenty of versatility in the frontcourt after acquiring Moe Harkless from the Kings and signing Frank Kaminsky to a one-year deal.

So, Hawks coach Nate McMillan said Johnson will have to earn his minutes, but that Johnson was looking forward to the challenge.

“He’s got to earn that opportunity,” McMillan said. “He’s been here since August, and he’s working on doing that. He’s been playing and looking good. I thought last year, his play in the G League, he’s showing maturity and he’s showing some confidence and he’s looking forward to the challenge.”

Johnson averaged 2.4 points, 1.2 rebounds in 5.5 minutes with the Hawks, while putting up 21.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks with the Skyhawks.

A former Duke Blue Devil, Johnson credited the Hawks and his first season as a professional player with helping him to grow up. So, he said it was important for him to come to training camp with confidence.

“I think it was just kind of all the input everybody was giving me, from the coaches, players,” Johnson said. “My main thing was, picking it up on defense, picking it up on other things. My game is there, my skill set is there. So just kind of understanding the game at the NBA level. It’s much different than the college and the high school (level). So, really being able to pick up from the older guys and the vets (and) see what they do, (what) helps them stay on the floor. So just trying to pick up after that.”

Part of what helps the older guys stay on the floor is how they take care of their bodies when they’re not on the court. Since tendinitis can become a recurring issue, Johnson made sure to pay attention to the work that he would need to do to keep his knee healthy.

“I think the main thing was just making sure I keep my quads strong and my hips strong,” he said. “Because that’s the two main things that keep your knees stable. So just really, re-strengthening that. Making sure, you know, I’m doing all the things right, recovery-wise, as well as. Making sure I’m taking care of it after I’m done working out. So, you know, that’s kind of been the process with it.”

In keeping his body healthy, Johnson will be able to play aggressively in training camp, as McMillan has told all of the young players on the roster.

“I’m waiting to see what they bring to the floor, how they can help us,” McMillan said. “And one thing with young guys, (they) got to bring energy. (They) got to bring (their) scrappiness and (they) got to bring (themselves) to the floor.

“That was one of the things that I talked about at the beginning of practice. ‘Even though ... Jalen and John, play the same position, they bring something different. OK, what are you going to bring Jalen? We know what John is going to bring? What are you going to bring?’ And that’s what I want all of our young guys to do.”

When Johnson thought about what McMillan said, he said it made him understand how he can use his versatility to his advantage.

“You know, get the ball in transition and push it,” he said. “You know, that’s one of my main strengths, is creating for others. So, you know, me and John are two different players, he’s a great player as well. So, just being able to have that, two really good power forwards, fours, whatever you may call it, (and) bring those two aspects to the game, and to the team, I think will help us a lot.”