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NBA Draft Scouting: Keon Johnson

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Johnson is in the mould of the ‘Old’ Thunder draft approach

Oregon State v Tennessee Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images


Height - 6’5

Weight - 186 lbs

Wingspan - 6’7

Keon Johnson’s stock has risen a lot over the last few months and it is easy to see why. Johnson is an elite athlete who has serious hops and can dunk on literally every single possession. Those sort of physicals are undeniable and often lead to players rising on draft boards.

I will be honest, I am not the biggest fan of Keon Johnson. He is very raw and has a lot of potential; I would even say that Johnson’s has an All-Star ceiling. However, he will need to do a lot of work on his game to reach that level and I have my doubts about whether Johnson will ever be able to realise his potential.

His fit with the Thunder is interesting to say the least. The idealised version of Keon Johnson is a dynamic two-way player who brings value on both ends of the floor. In theory, Johnson is a very good complement to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and would provide a contrasting style of play to the young Canadian.

Gilgeous-Alexander is a patient operator in the half-court who will slow the game down and use his dribble to take defenses apart. Conversely, Keon Johnson is a frenetic blur of explosiveness who can change the tempo of the game and catch the opposing team by surprise.

I do not expect Johnson to be a winning player at the outset of his career. He has a lot of holes in his game and it will take a lot of time for Johnson to develop the skill level needed to succeed in the NBA. Keon would be a project for the Thunder.

There have been quite a lot of comparisons thrown around for Johnson. I have seen everything from Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade to Patrick Beverley and Tony Allen. Realistically, I think that Keon Johnson could be like Latrell Sprewell.

In his prime, Sprewell was an athletic, twitchy scorer who brought gritty defense to his teams. It would not surprise me to see Johnson reach that sort of level. I feel like the comparisons to the likes of Butler and Jaylen Brown are a reach.

Johnson’s best game of the season came against Alabama in the semi finals of the SEC Basketball Tournament. While Tennessee lost that game, Johnson was exceptional and pushed Alabama all the way.

Keon Johnson as an athlete is perhaps only paralleled by Jalen Green in this Draft. Green’s second step athleticism is unlike anything that I have ever seen but Johnson possesses an elite first step. Moreover, Keon has hops and will finish above the rim.

Johnson’s vertical leap means that he is very good at scoring inside. His explosiveness means that he can elevate over the rim protector and produce a dunk that is simply unguardable. Shots within three feet are some of the most efficient looks in basketball and Johnson’s ability to get above the rim is always valuable.

Moreover, Johnson seems to glide around the rim. Whenever he leaps off the ground, Keon hangs around in the air for a long time which means that he has plenty of time to shake his defender and set up a clean look at the rim.

Johnson’s finishing is not just athleticism, he has a few crafty moves that surprised me. On his last gather step, Keon will lengthen his stride and finds just enough separation to create a shooting window. It is good footwork and it is encouraging sign of his future growth.

Johnson projects to be an excellent defensive player in the NBA. Johnson’s size and quickness is enhanced by his ability to change direction quickly. Johnson is a fluid player who can cover ground defensively which will make him incredibly valuable as an off-ball disruptor in the NBA.

Moreover, Johnson takes defense seriously and has really good fundamentals on the less glamorous end of the floor. On the film that I have seen, Johnson gets into good defensive posture and chases his assignment all over the floor. He does not allow any respite and is more than willing to fight over screens.

Johnson’s shooting is a concern to me. Keon took a lot of shots from mid-range last season and was generally pretty efficient from this shooting zone. However, Johnson’s shot seems off behind the arc.

There looks to be a hitch whenever he takes threes which could be the reason why he was so poor from downtown (27%). He will need to spend a lot of time tweaking his mechanics so that he can be an effective threat from the 3-point arc. His free throw percentage (70.3%) is encouraging and could be a reliable indicator of his potential improvement in this aspect of the game.

My primary concern with Johnson relates to his feel for the game. Tennessee put the ball in Johnson’s hands a lot last season and it did not always go well for Keon. He would get to the center of the floor and not always know what to do next. His decision-making was shaky and there were quite a few forced passes from Johnson.

It is really difficult to develop that feel for the game in a highly competitive environment. I will acknowledge that guys like Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam were raw projects who eventually developed feel in the NBA. But Leonard, Siakam and Serge Ibaka were anomalies.

The context is different for those players and the Thunder. Leonard and Siakam went into winning teams and there was no pressure placed upon them. Leonard and Siakam could build their games brick by brick in a pressure-free environment.

That will not be the case for Keon Johnson; if the Thunder take Johnson at 6, there will be expectations placed upon him to show real growth quickly. I do not know whether Keon would have the environment that he needs to truly become a great NBA player in Oklahoma City.

Johnson would be an interesting project for the Thunder who could legitimately be an All-Star if everything pans out. Keon Johnson could feasibly be a two-way force who impacts every facet of the game.

But, Johnson is a high-variance pick. He could be an All-Star or he could be a benchwarmer if his shot and playmaking never comes around. I can understand why Presti would take him but Keon Johnson is not the player I would take at 6.