Keon Johnson is an athletic shooting guard from the University of Tennessee. Standing 6’5, weighing in at 190 pounds, and a wingspan of 6’8, Johnson has a very similar frame to the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine. Johnson’s athleticism looks like LaVine at times too, being incredibly mobile and bouncy at their size.
Johnson’s road to draft boards has been a bumpy one. His high school career ended with a knee injury in December of his senior season, preventing him from being named a McDonald’s All-American, but he proved himself prior to the injury. Over the course of two and a half years, he debuted in high school rankings at 81, before finishing as the 16th ranked prospect nationally, via 247 Sports.
Much of that development came with Elite Ameteur Basketball Club, an AAU program in Tennessee. His coach, Mike Couey, raved about how all he did was get better over his three years spent with the program. Johnson’s intangibles grew with the program as well, with “his work ethic, coachability, and willingness to play with other guys… He really loves the game.”
At his hometown Tennessee, Johnson has seen his role grow from a background wing with defense and hustle plays as his calling card, to now being one of the primary offensive options. This month, he’s been named SEC Freshman of the Week, scored a career high 27 points against Kentucky, and had four of his five highest volume shooting performances.
Johnson projects as a team-oriented 2/3 who can fit well in just about any system. His turnover problem, especially of late, leave question marks about how early he should be drafted. It’s been a huge ongoing philosophical debate in my head about how high to draft non-initiators. However, his intangibles and promising flashes show anything is possible in his long-term projections.
Tennessee doesn’t run a lot of pick-and-roll, but when they do, it’s most often through Johnson. He’s been one of their more reliable options, too, far surpassing his freshman peer Jaden Springer.
The biggest concern when evaluating Johnson so far has been his recklessness with the ball. That recklessness really made itself known recently, as before Tennessee’s most recent game against Auburn, Johnson had a five-game stretch allotting 23 turnovers (4.6 per game). It’s fair to attribute this to the increased usage as a playmaker. That stretch came to an end against Auburn, though, when he didn’t record a single turnover in his 36 minutes.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes gave his freshman guards – Johnson and Springer – more of the load as the veterans on the team – such as Santiago Vescovi and John Fulkerson – had been lacking. That reveals itself in the box score too, as Johnson had two of his three 5-assist games over that five-game stretch, remaining the match for his career high. Diving in to the film, we can see that oftentimes, Johnson is still using the right processes when on the ball.
Working with the ball
Poise doesn’t always come easy for young guys, and neither does manipulation through eyes. In this play, Johnson shows he’s an ace on both accounts, keeping the pressure on the defense through transition, leaving ample space for the trailing three. Johnson excels in the half-transition phase of the game.
Speaking of the half-transition phases, here’s a play where all nine guys are well in front of Johnson. The Kentucky defense is setting itself, but Johnson just does not care one bit and uses a slight lean to free up enough space to get off a layup that goes in nine times out of ten.
He can do it in the half-court too. Late-clock against B.J. Boston, a peer in his class, Johnson goes to work and essentially says “To hell with tunnel vision, I’m going to pass it to my redshirt junior of a teammate, who shoots 37% from distance.”
He’s also able to create his own shot in the half-court, utilizing a hang dribble to threaten the driving lanes and get off a shot from the elbow over two Wildcats.
Johnson is at his best though when he’s able to leverage all different options and still make the right read, leading to buckets. Here he does so with a weird shovel pass type of play that I just haven’t seen too many times in my life, with such a weird motion that’s impossible to commit to as a defender.
He’s as shifty as they come, too, and once he baits the defender into biting on that shiftiness, it’s over. Here, he gets his defender into the air, and finishes with a little shake before the layup.
Working away from the ball
Remember that poise in traffic from earlier? Johnson shows it again here, catching a deep pass under the basket and taking his time to gather before drawing contact and getting to the line.
Johnson is such a smart cutter off-ball. Tennessee scores 1.407 points per possession (27 possessions) on those cuts, good for 83rd percentile in the country. He shows that off here, recognizing all the wide open space on the weak side of the driver.
Here’s another example of the same principle, though this time Johnson comes from the weak side into the strong side. He uses his body to leverage into the defender, giving him room for the bucket. Brilliant off-ball stuff.
Keon Johnson currently ranks 6th on my big board. I like his ability to fit into whatever kind of role a team needs him to play, as long as they don’t ask him to carry too much of a load as far as being the engine of your offense. Here are some lottery teams that catch my eye as good fits for Johnson: Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, and Oklahoma City.
And a little extra clip, just because this showing of athleticism cannot go unnoticed:
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Categories: NBA Draft