The Atlanta Hawks secured their spot in the East’s play-in tournament with their 121-113 win over the hapless Detroit Pistons. The Hawks have a shot at qualifying for their fourth consecutive postseason appearance after a three-year drought, yet it is already safe to label this campaign as a disappointment for this franchise.

With six games remaining on their regular season schedule, Atlanta, currently 36-40, is more likely than not to finish with a sub-.500 record.

The Hawks have been unable to build off their Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2021, following it up with two consecutive first round exits. Their decision to bring in Dejounte Murray to play alongside Trae Young has not yielded the results that they were hoping for and it seems like one of them is bound to get traded in this upcoming offseason.

However, Atlanta’s year has not been a complete waste. Trading away longtime starting forward John Collins prior to this season paved the way for third-year forward Jalen Johnson to play a prominent role in their rotation and he has exceeded all expectations.


The 22-year-old forward is averaging 16 points–almost triple his average from last season–on 51% field goal shooting, 1.3 three-pointers, 8.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 52 games. He has missed 23 outings this season due to wrist and ankle injuries during which the Hawks went 9-14. It is not far-fetched to think that Atlanta could have been fighting for the fifth or sixth spot in the standings instead had Johnson not succumbed to these injuries.

Nonetheless, the emergence of this 6’9 forward has made the outlook on what lies ahead for the Hawks much brighter and it might not be egregious to think that he is already their most important piece moving forward.

Johnson reinforced this in the Hawks’ aforementioned win over the Pistons where he tallied his first career triple double. He finished with an impressive 28 points on 14 shots, two three-pointers, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, four steals, and a block.

His on-court instincts were on full display as he seemed to always be in the right place at the right time, whether it be with a timely cut to the basket or a key defensive stop.

Furthermore, he was not only catching lobs, but was throwing them as well which teased that he is really just scratching the surface of his full potential. His assist which gave him his triple double was quite a remarkable one as he found Garrison Matthews for a corner three-pointer with a nifty crosscourt pass in transition.

With Johnson establishing himself as a viable cornerstone for Atlanta, the debates surrounding the team during these next few months are likely to zero in on who they will keep between Murray and Young. While they do not necessarily need to trade any of these two players, it would behoove the team to make their roster decisions with a focus on Johnson as he could truly be a franchise-changing player over this next decade.

The Hawks struck gold when they picked him 20th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft and they must make the most of this opportunity sooner rather than later. The future is indeed bright in Atlanta, though the player at the forefront of it all is now Jalen Johnson.