Time with LeBron in Hawks forward Jalen Johnson’s summer of learning

Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) during Game 5 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) during Game 5 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

This summer, Hawks forward Jalen Johnson has focused on what he can control, and that’s playing basketball and learning.

He’s learned a lot this summer and from a lot of different people.

When the Hawks’ season ended in April, Johnson expressed hope that the team could build off the momentum they gained from the playoffs. At the time, he planned to take only one week off before getting back into the gym and turning his attention to what lay ahead of him.

Since then, Johnson has taken a couple of vacations here and there, but he has spent much of his time working out in both Atlanta and Los Angeles.

“My offseason has been really good,” Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ve been down in Atlanta quite a bit, L.A. as well, too, but a majority of time down in Atlanta just working with the staff and then with my trainer Chris Johnson just working on a little bit of everything.

“Just kind of really sharpening every aspect of my game, working on shooting, learning constantly still. And just like I said, just tightening things up, things that I do well, keep emphasizing that and just playing more aggressive. So, it’s been a pretty good offseason.”

The 21-year-old averaged 5.6 points, four rebounds and 1.2 assists during his second season in 15 minutes per game. He shot 49.7% overall, but only 28.8% on 3-point shots in his expanded minutes.

So, Johnson has tried to soak up as much as he can wherever he trains this summer. In August, he posted an Instagram story that showed him working with LeBron James, a 19-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion.

The two share a trainer in Chris Johnson, who has trained a number of NBA and WNBA players.

So, when Jalen Johnson found out that he would have the chance to work out with James, he had to take a moment to celebrate it.

“I was kind of little bit like, ‘Wow, I get to work out with LeBron,’” he said.

But he did not dwell on it too long and he leaned into the opportunity to absorb as much as he could from his training session. Johnson described how seriously James took everything in the training sessions. From drills to stretching Johnson said James aimed for precision in everything.

“Before the workout, seeing how he goes about his business,” Johnson said. “Just once he gets the gym, he’s locked in, laser-focused, does his routine and then, as far as drill-wise, (he’s) the best on court. Everything’s precise. Everything’s the right way. Even if he messes up, he messes up and makes a shot, he’s still coming back and doing it the right way.”

Johnson said that the 38-year-old’s close attention to detail did not come as a surprise to him in the least and expressed how good it felt for him to take those lessons in.

“I think as far as he reaches the back end of his career, I’m sure everything has to be much more precise than it was 10 or 12 years ago or whatever,” he said. “So I think he’s understanding, like, it’s later in his career, so everything needs to be even twice as sharp as it once was. Whatever his approach is, I think he’s doing it the right way. For me to be able to see that person in person. It’s good for me to take.”

James did not keep to himself the things he has learned throughout his 20-year career. Throughout the training session, Johnson said James shared some tips and tricks with him on how to be more effective in his game.

“It’s just little stuff that I picked up on,” Johnson said. “He’s giving me pointers on how to do certain moves, how to be more effective with certain moves, little tricks, just kind of when we’re working out. So, just hearing that from him, having that as someone that I can reach out and ask questions to now, you know, it’s cool.”

Johnson has had plenty of other training sessions with his trainer, as well as, the new coaches added to Quin Snyder’s staff. The team announced the hires of the new coaches, who boast a diverse range of experience, in June. That has allowed Johnson to feel like he has gotten plenty of coaching, as well as support this summer.

With so many pointers coming his way from his trainer and his coaches, Johnson said that finding balance has stuck with him the most.

“I think with my shot, it’s balance,” he said. “You know, that’s something they say, and that’s something that I know I need to hold myself to is, just sticking my balance on everything. Because without balance, you’re not going to be effective in basketball.

“So just continue to emphasize that. Continue to practice in the weight room, work on that and those types of things in the weight room that will help with my balance. So, just trying to do everything I can for when I get on the court so that it’s easier for me.”

As Johnson looks forward to his third NBA season, he reminds himself to control what he can control. While he can’t control where he falls in the Hawks’ rotation this season, he can control how hard he works to try to make his case.

The team traded John Collins to the Jazz in June, and that raised the question of who would fill that role in the starting five. With his size, athletic ability and ability to create looks, Johnson has the versatility that could open up things on offense. He also has the defensive skills and intensity that could make a strong case.

But that’s not what Johnson thinks about when he does his work during the offseason.

“I put in the same work every summer,” he said. “Even if John doesn’t get traded, I feel like I’m still, like, it’s the same mentality of trying to kill everybody that’s in front of me. Just kind of got to have that killer mentality as far as no matter what situation that is. Just go control what you can control, and that’s what I’m going to do. Not worried about the starting aspect. Not worrying about the other things and that may have a detriment to my game and be something of a distraction. I’m just able just to focus on playing basketball, and I’m glad in the right head space just to, like I said, control that.”