Duke’s Jalen Johnson picked 20th by Hawks

One of the more divisive players in the 2021 NBA draft found a decent landing spot.

Jalen Johnson, the Duke freshman who sparked controversy by opting out in the middle of last season, was selected No. 20 overall by the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday.

Johnson entered last season as the crown jewel in another decorated recruiting class for Duke, ranked No. 9 overall in Rivals’ 2020 prospect ranking, but was considered a disappointment up until his opt-out. When he announced his decision, he was averaging 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in 13 games for Duke, which was only 8-8 at that point.

Despite those struggles, he still had enough promise that Yahoo Sports’ Krysten Peek predicted he’d be picked seventh overall in her last mock draft before he opted out, citing his size, ballhandling and shooting. and the fact that he could do this:

Many fans and professional opinion-havers excoriated Johnson for supposedly quitting his team, including legendary Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. 

Boeheim would later walk those comments back, admitting he hadn’t seen Johnson play, but some questions might have still remained. Falling all the way back to No. 20 could be taken as a fall due to Johnson’s decision, or maybe NBA teams were never really high on him based on the games he did play at Duke.

Fortunately for Johnson, he’s at least landing with a team that reached the Eastern Conference finals last season and has plenty of young talent to complement him. The Hawks are also weirdly stocked up on ACC wings now, with Kevin Huerter (Maryland), De’Andre Hunter (Virginia) and Cam Reddish (Duke) already in the fold, plus big man John Collins (Wake Forest). 

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