A bout of strep throat sidelined Hawks’ second-year forward Jalen Johnson from the team’s trip to Abu Dhabi. But Johnson feels better now and was back in the gym getting some work in with some players from the G League College Park Skyhawks.

Johnson, of course, would much rather be in Abu Dhabi, opening exhibition play Thursday with his teammates against the Bucks. But Johnson will be able to get in on the action next week, when the Hawks face the Cavaliers upon their return from the United Arab Emirates.

Until then, Johnson caught the game on NBA TV with the rest of the world. From the team theater at the Hawks’ practice facility, the AJC was able to get some behind-the-scenes insight from the 20-year-old as the first half unfolded.

“They’re going to mesh perfectly,” Johnson said when asked about how Trae Young and Dejounte Murray would fit with each other. “Even when Trae is not scoring, he is going to play make no matter what, same thing with Dejounte. It’s like you can’t do that, with many guards in the league, like especially just being able to throw them off ball because a lot of these guys are balling downhill, and the fact that you can interchange the two, it’s going to be nice.”

It took the two guards a little bit of the game’s opening minutes to find their footing. But they eventually did that to lead the Hawks to a 123-113 win over the Bucks.

Murray ended the exhibition game with 25 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and two blocked shots, while Young scored 22 points and had two rebounds and three assists.

The two had plenty of assistance from De’Andre Hunter (17 points, seven rebounds), John Collins (16 points, three rebounds) and Aaron Holiday (16 points, two rebounds, two assists).

It was the Hawks’ first time seeing how their new roster stacked up against an opponent other than themselves. Hawks coach Nate McMillan said during his pregame availability that the team was eager to see how they would look in live play.

The Hawks and the Bucks traded baskets for much of the first quarter. Both teams shot over 50% from the floor in the first frame despite their goal of being more competitive on defense.

The team had some solid moments early though, as they scored 17 points off of 10 Bucks turnovers by the end of the first half of action.

“It looks a lot better,” Johnson said. “It looks like we’re all on the same page. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a lot better. Last year, it was just a lot of times where it was miscommunication. Just didn’t understand what each person’s assignment was. It definitely looks like we’re doing much better at, like, rotating, understanding ‘this guy doesn’t get there, that this guy takes the next plan,’ just kind of understanding everybody’s rotation. It’s just all clicking now.”

By the end of it all, the Hawks held the Bucks to 42.3% shooting overall, while scoring 25 points off of 16 turnovers.

Johnson shared that one of the best ways to defend Giannis Antetokounmpo is to form a wall as Antetokounmpo drives downhill that may force him to kick the ball out to the perimeter or drive through the waiting player.

Roughly 10 minutes after Johnson shared how he would defend Antetokounmpo, Clint Capela drew one of two charges off of Antetokounmpo.

“That’s what I mean by kind of just building a wall,” Johnson said. “You want to position yourself and let Giannis just drive into you. CC was just already at a spot he knows (Giannis) has a tendency of driving to.”

Johnson and the rest of the Hawks understand that there is still room for improvement.

After the game, McMillan said that the team will have to do a better job of keeping things tight and keeping their bodies in front of the basketball. He added that the Hawks also need to improve on the boards after allowing the Bucks to out rebound them 52-39 because of breakdowns in the perimeter defense.

“They were shooting shots and those long rebounds -- they had 17 offensive boards,” McMillan said. “We can’t give up that many offensive boards. Ten of those boards came from their guards. So our guards, they know that we, they have to be better this season, helping our bigs rebound the basketball.”

Though not a guard, Johnson still will provide some additional length to help corral some of those rebounds, then push the ball in transition.

Johnson likely will be a fixture in the Hawks’ rotation in the coming season. One spot where he seemed to be an obvious fit was in a lineup that included Young, Murray, Hunter, Frank Kaminsky and Capela.

“I haven’t even seen that one in practice,” Johnson said. “I think it’s because Frank can space the floor and add a little more shooting.”

But that lineup likely will include Johnson once he returns to the rotation. McMillan said that with Johnson unavailable for the game, that Kaminsky took those minutes. That means there is an expectation that Johnson will pair up with Onyeka Okongwu in the frontcourt more often.

McMillan added, though, that the exhibition games are the best time for him to experiment with different lineups that the team may utilize going forward.

“We did play Frank with Onyeka,” McMillan said. “And it wasn’t bad. They’ve been practicing together. Jalen did not travel with us. So basically, Frank stepped in and took those minutes. His ability to spread the floor allows him to play out there with a five man. But his ability to pass the basketball allows Onyeka to spread (the floor); he got to one of the 3′s that he wanted to get up tonight.

“And so that lineup is something that we’ve been playing and experimenting with. I like it, I think there’ll be some nights that we can run that lineup. And then there’ll be some nights that we will go with Jalen, and we’ll get John in there with Onyeka you know, so this is the opportunity for me to, you know, look at some different combinations, some different rotations.”

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