Justin Tatum, Jayson Tatum's dad, takes over NBL team. What it means for projected first-rounder A.J. Johnson

Justin Tatum, father of Boston Celtics guard Jayson Tatum, has been named interim head coach of the Illawarra Hawks (photo courtesy of the Illawarra Hawks and NBL)

The Illawarra Hawks, a team in Australia’s National Basketball League, parted ways with head coach Jacob Jackomas and installed interim head coach Justin Tatum, Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum’s father. The Hawks are currently 2-7 and last in the NBL.

Tatum first joined the Hawks as the North American scout and special adviser to basketball operations earlier this year, before becoming an assistant coach ahead of the season and taking over as head coach after the Hawks and Jackomas parted ways. After the announcement Monday evening, Jayson Tatum said he had heard the news following the Celtics’ 114-98 win over the Knicks.

“I’m extremely happy for him and proud of him,” Jayson Tatum said after the game. “That’s a big step. I know he’s trying to build his résumé and his coaching career. He won multiple state titles in high school with different teams. He’s been over in Australia for the last four months and is now the head coach of the Hawks. I’m excited for him and looking forward to him kind of turning that organization around.”

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What this means for NBA Draft prospect A.J. Johnson

The Hawks are struggling this season, but NBA scouts are making their way to Australia to get eyes on 6-foot-7 guard A.J. Johnson. With the 2024 NBA Draft being so wide open, Johnson has the potential to be one of the biggest draft risers and has unlimited potential with his size, length and skills at the guard position.

My time over here has been really good,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports. “Just in how I’ve grown as a player and gone through adversity, it’s really preparing me for the next level. Over here I’m playing against pros and some players that have already played in the NBA. The physicality and intensity is something that’s making me better each day and I’m just learning my role in a system and trying to get as many reps as I can.”

The Illawarra Hawks' A.J. Johnson lines up a free throw during an NBL game against the Cairns Taipans on Nov. 11, 2023, in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Emily Barker/Getty Images)

The Illawarra Hawks’ A.J. Johnson lines up a free throw during an NBL game against the Cairns Taipans on Nov. 11, 2023, in Cairns, Australia. (Photo by Emily Barker/Getty Images) (Emily Barker via Getty Images)

It’s been a slow start for Johnson, who was a five-star recruit in high school prior to joining the NBL. He was originally committed to Texas before electing to go pro and and joined the Hawks.

Johnson fractured his nose right before the season started and has been trying to get back on the court and log more minutes in the first nine games of the season. Johnson is averaging only 5.6 minutes per game, with his minutes expected to increase with the coaching change.

Several NBA teams have traveled to Australia to get eyes on Johnson. Two weeks ago, the Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers were at the Hawks’ game against the Sydney Kings.

Johnson spent the summer working out with Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green and Texas wing Dillon Mitchell before heading to Australia. Tatum was with him in the gym over the summer in Las Vegas as he worked out with NBA trainer Joe Abunassar at Impact Basketball.

Johnson is best with the ball in his hands and has a quick first step off the dribble that makes him tough to guard on the perimeter. His 3-point shot has been coming along, but he hasn’t had enough reps yet in the NBL to show him impact as a primary ball-handler in the pick-and-roll option.

As the season goes on, and more teams are able to see Johnson in live-game situations, expect his draft stock to increase and potentially rise to a lottery player. There’s nothing NBA scouts value more over youth, length and upside, and Johnson possesses all three.

He’s definitely a dark horse in the 2024 NBA Draft and one of the most intriguing players in the draft class. With the Hawks’ coaching change and Johnson’s role expected to increase, he could be one of the biggest risers in the first round.

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball played one season for the Hawks before being selected No. 3 in the 2020 NBA Draft and the NBL currently has four players, other than Johnson, who are projected in the upcoming draft: Alex Sarr (Perth Wildcats), Bobi Klintman (Cairns Taipans), Trentyn Flowers (Adelaide 36ers) and Alex Toohey (Sydney Kings).

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