#6 on the PB Big Board
G/F – Kentucky
Freshman, 6’6, 211 pounds
What he does well:
Scoring within the flow of the offense
Johnson was not a primary offensive initiator most of the time for Kentucky this season. His usage rate sat below 22 percent, with PJ Washington taking the lead on the block or Ashton Hagans starting things with penetration. That’s not a great sign for a potential lottery pick, yet Johnson took advantage of opportunities on offense, scoring as needed. In a draft without a ton of star potential, Johnson’s ability to answer the call for buckets, doing so in a variety of ways, is a valuable skill.
He finished the season as a 38.1 percent long range shooter, with a penchant for heating up. Johnson made at least three deep balls in six games, shooting better than 50 percent from outside in those games. When his shot is on, he looks at the rim and stays hot.
When teams ran Johnson off the arc, he was effective at getting to the rim and drawing contact. Although he’s not an elite level athlete and still even has some baby fat on his frame, Johnson uses his body to put himself in a position to score in the paint.
Ignore the score at the bottom of that clip and focus on Johnson using a stutter step to get into the lane and then finishing through a foul by future lottery pick Cam Reddish.
Johnson’s ability to get to the free throw line stands out among his peers on the wing in this draft class. He attacked contact better than any other swingman that will be selected this year.
As shown in the chart above, he also played an incredibly balanced game on offense. Johnson’s scoring isn’t reliant on hot shooting or headfirst plunges into traffic. He showed a nice pull-up game in addition to shooting off the catch and attacking the rim.
Honestly, all of these charts throughout this draft guide are supposed to make the guy I’m writing about seem great, but they all just make Cam Reddish look bad. More on him further down the board…
Keldon Johnson is not the kind of player that will have coaches salivating about the millions of ways he can switch and move throughout the lineup. He has the size, strength, and athleticism to effectively switch defensively, yet based on his build and his skills, he’s a prototypical NBA shooting guard.
In many ways, Johnson reminds me of Bradley Beal as a freshman at Florida. Comparing their profiles backed up that hunch.
Johnson is bigger, with more of a chance to contribute as a rebounder and guarding small forwards, whereas Beal showcased marginally more natural point guard tendencies.
Both, however, displayed incredibly poised and mature styles of play at an early age. Johnson’s understanding of his body and where he needs to get the ball to succeed puts him on a path like that of Beal. Early in his career, Johnson will figure to do more stand-still shooting, before having a chance to grow into a playmaking role.
Where he struggles:
Despite Johnson being in the conversation as a lottery pick for the last year or so, he is not an eye-popping athlete like other wings to whom he’ll be compared. Reddish, Hunter, and Culver all make flashy plays near the rim.
Any team selecting Johnson would have to know that he has the athleticism to hold his own in most basketball scenarios, but won’t win based on his pure physical skills.
If you have Johnson high on your board, you’re confident that his basketball IQ and his defined skills are strong enough to make up for his limitations above the rim or in high-speed transition moments.
Johnson is not a minus defender. He defended his position well all season, showing himself able to bang on the block or prevent penetration with his feet.
He failed though to make a real impact on that end of the floor, contributing only 28 steals and 6 blocked shots all season.
Johnson can probably hang defensively in the NBA, when guarding the right match-up. If he doesn’t hone his body and grow his athleticism, Johnson will struggle to fight through screens and could get picked on by elite scorers.
How his game translates to the NBA:
The chart above that tracked Johnson’s scoring distribution from the free throw line, inside and outside the arc was prescient for his chances to be effective in the pros.
Comparing those numbers to successful NBA shooting guards this season shows that Johnson is on the right path. Ideally, and this is inevitable in any NBA system, he’ll shoot more from the outside and continue to attack the paint downhill. Much of his success inside the arc will be a tougher task against NBA size and speed, yet his potential as a catch-and-shoot scorer and free throw earner should make him an efficient guard in 2020’s NBA and beyond.
- Khris Middleton
- Alternate Universe Bradley Beal
- Eric Gordon
- Wesley Matthews
Next up: #7 Brandon Clarke
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.