by KL Chouinard @KLChouinard
The Hawks picked freshman Jalen Johnson from Duke with the 20th overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday, and followed it up by taking Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper with the 48th overall selection.
“Jalen is an extremely talented player. He has great size and great ball skills, rebounds and defends,” Hawks President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Travis Schlenk said.
In 21.4 minutes per game, Johnson averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists. He shot 52.3 percent from the field and made 8 of 18 threes over his 13 games played.
"I see him as a combo forward," Schlenk said of the 6-foot-9 freshman. "He has got the defensive versatility to play a lot of defensive positions as you saw this year at Duke. And he has got the ball skills to play on the perimeter but the size and strength to play inside as well. We view him as the modern NBA (player) being able to play inside and outside and (with) defensive versatility."
Johnson said that his jump shot has been a focus of his offseason training as he prepared for his pro career. He expressed excitement on joining the Hawks' young core after their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
"They're a crazy young talented group. Like it's so fun to watch. Trae, he was a bucket the whole playoffs and he was just entertainment, pure entertainment. I'm excited to play with him, the other guys, Cam Reddish. It's just a great young talented group. I feel myself fitting in just great there."
Johnson, who is a native of Milwaukee, transferred to Nicolet High School prior to his junior season. He was named the 2019 Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 19.9 points per game and leading Nicolet to the Division 2 State Championship.
In 12 games last season, the 6-foot-1 Cooper averaged 20.2 points, 8.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 33.1 minutes. He is one of two NCAA Division I freshmen in the last 30 years to average 20 points and 8 assists per game. The other is Trae Young. It's not hard to envision a future point in time where Cooper can jump in to give the Hawks some Trae-like passing.
“We had (Sharife) ranked much higher obviously than 48. We got pretty excited when we saw him there late,” Schlenk said. “(He's) just a really, really good playmaker. He’s good with the ball in his hands, a very good passer. He pushes tempo and has the ability to get to the foul line. He did come in and work out for us, and he shot the ball much better than he did this past year. We feel like the jump shot will be there, so we're excited to add him to our program as well."
Like Johnson, Cooper won the 2019 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year while leading McEachern High School to their first state title in school history. He was born in Newark, NJ before moving to the Atlanta area.
Now that the Hawks have drafted him, Cooper will be coming home, and Jalen Johnson will be moving here to join him and a young, talented group of Hawks.