Hawks take Nicolet grad Johnson in NBA Draft

Jalen Johnson

The Atlanta Hawks bolstered their frontcourt by selecting forward Jalen Johnson of Duke with the 20th pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson gives Atlanta depth at the forward spot as the team faces the possibility of losing John Collins to free agency while opening the season without Onyeka Okongwu, who had surgery on July 21 to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and is expected to be fully recovered in about six months.

Johnson played only 13 games as a freshman at Duke last season before opting out. He averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds.

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, blessed with a deep roster following an improbable run to the Eastern Conference final, entered the draft with plans to take the best available player instead of draft for need. Johnson, who was highly regarded entering the 2020-21 season, projected as a possibly lottery draft pick, might fill both categories.

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Johnson made 52.3% of his shots from the field while also averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals in his abbreviated season.

The Hawks missed the playoffs three consecutive years before losing to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference final.

The Hawks built through the draft. Such first-round draft picks as point guard Trae Young, shooting guard Kevin Huerter, wing players De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish and Collins and Okongwu were the foundation of the team that finished 41-31.

Collins is a restricted free agent. The Hawks have the option to match offers from other teams, but it could be a difficult decision as they face future contract decisions with Young and other young players.

Other key players from that team — including center Clint Capela and shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic — are expected to return.

Also returning is Nate McMillan, who was named the full-time coach on July 5. The Hawks were only 14-20 before firing coach Lloyd Pierce and finishing 27-11 under McMillan as interim coach.