When head coach Nate McMillan gave Jalen Johnson the medallion for being the Hawks’ greatest defensive participant final Monday, it meant a bit of extra to Johnson as a result of he got here towards his residence nation staff. Johnson grew up in Wisconsin, however the Milwaukee Bucks did not seize his fandom — a truth that may have modified had he been born just a few years later than he was.
“They have been of their rebuilding part,” Johnson stated of the Bucks in his youth. “I used to be only a little bit of a LeBron man. Giannis (Antetokounmpo) actually modified Milwaukee and the way it’s, and the way they noticed Milwaukee basketball. Once I come residence now, it is so much completely different The video games are manner completely different and extra packed.”
A giant a part of Johnson’s job towards the Bucks was guarding Antetokounmpo, who was drafted by the Bucks in 2013 when Johnson was 12. The Bucks changed Antetokounmpo early within the sport, and this substitution sample meant that when he returned, Johnson and the Hawks bench needed to do what they might to decelerate the two-time MVP.
“It’s important to beat him for him,” Johnson stated. “It takes all 5 guys to defend a man like Giannis. He is so sturdy.”
In the long run, Johnson held on and helped the Hawks to victory. He moved his ft to remain between Antetokounmpo and the rim on Giannis’ many drives into the paint. He took the hits and saved his steadiness, and he even got a highlight block on one of them.
The primary glimmer that Johnson may be able to any such stopper-worthy play got here within the preseason.
In two video games towards the New Orleans Pelicans this season — as soon as within the preseason and as soon as within the common season — McMillan opted for Johnson as a midgame change. Within the preseason, Brandon Ingram ignited the Pelicans offense, scoring 17 factors on 6-of-9 capturing within the first half. McMillan assigned Johnson to protect Ingram within the third quarter, and Johnson managed to restrict Ingram to 1 of three pictures whereas making just a few excellent stop.
In the course of the common season sport, the 20-year-old received the decision to protect Zion Williamson, after Williamson had two strong drives to the rim early within the sport.
“I stated to teach Mike (Longabardi): ‘Pay attention, change this sport. Strive Jalen,'” McMillan stated. “As a result of Jalen is a giant physique and he can transfer his ft. He is a giant child. He invented of them Fly.”
Johnson and heart Onyeka Okongwu complement one another properly in a particularly nimble entrance court docket. Okongwu organizes the protection and helps his teammates because the again line of protection. Johnson strikes his ft whereas defending on the ball, disrupts passing lanes and might’high point a defensive rebound to finish an opponent’s possession.
“I attempt to assist Jalen the perfect I can within the sport,” Okongwu stated. “I attempt to inform him what to do, particularly attempting to inform him to get his palms off the defender. My vets inform me to cease utilizing my fucking palms, so I attempt to do the identical. We’re That going to be high quality. I really like taking part in with Jalen. He brings loads of power, loads of enjoyable. He is an awesome man.”
As strong as his protection is, Johnson can nonetheless develop his sport in loads of methods. His ball protection could possibly be forward of his ball protection at this stage, as is the case for almost all of younger gamers.
“With studying the weak aspect and aiding protection, guys who’re seasoned get a greater sense of that,” McMillan stated earlier than evaluating it to the extra stereotypical process of guarding ball handlers. “On the ball, it’s a must to maintain it and ship it in a specific course.”
On offense, Johnson continues to work on his three-point shot, having made 3 of 17 makes an attempt this season. That quantity must be coming quickly, and as it’s, he ought to open up some driving lanes the place he can use his expertise as a dribbler and playmaker.
However make no mistake, Johnson has already made an enormous leap from the place he was this time final season, and his strong defensive play has performed a notable position within the staff’s enchancment in protection. this season. With the variety of spotlight stops he persistently produces, it is a enjoyable development to look at.