Former Duke standout Jalen Johnson selected in first round of NBA draft

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Former Duke forward and consensus five-star recruit Jalen Johnson will be joining the Atlanta Hawks after being selected with the 20th pick in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft.

Coming into tonight, Johnson was considered one of the wild cards of the draft. Even before becoming a Blue Devil, scouts saw the Wisconsin native as an almost-surefire lottery pick. Recruiting website 247Sports named him the third-best small forward in the class of 2020, citing his “tremendous talent with upside.”

But at Duke, that narrative became muddier.

In his sole season in Durham, Johnson only played 13 games, starting just eight. Some of those performances — like a January loss to Pittsburgh where Johnson stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and two steals — showcased his work rate and dynamism on both sides of the ball.

Most of his performances were not as spectacular, though, even if Duke won. Playing 27 minutes of a late January blowout over Clemson, Johnson only scored nine points, while also registering eight rebounds and five assists. It was clear that he was talented, but the young forward lacked consistency.

Then, in February, Johnson abruptly left the team and declared for the draft, citing his desire to be 100% healthy on draft night. Though he received immediate criticism for his decision, his fears were legitimate, as he had missed three games of the season with a foot injury.

Johnson averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as a Blue Devil. He had gone from a certain star to a wild-card draftee who hadn’t played competitive basketball in nearly six months.

Although some questioned whether his name would be called at all Thursday, at least one team saw past through the haze and believed in the talent Johnson showcased in the past.

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