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  • Matt Esposito

What Keldon Johnson Reveals About Your Draft Analysis

UK Athletics

Evaluating Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson was nothing short of an emotional experience. While watching film on the 6-foot-6 wing, I was impressed with his off-ball movement and high release.

He showed soft touch on floaters and powerful athleticism on breakaway dunks. Shoot, he even displayed solid drive and kick vision from time to time.

A catch-and-shoot wing who may be the fieriest competitor in this draft, Johnson looks like someone who should be a late lottery pick. But, I kept looking for more. Could he run some pick and roll? Could he create his own shot? Could he consistently switch players defensively?

Evaluating Johnson can reveal your own draft analysis tendencies. Some will consider Johnson an explosive, deadeye wing who will play hard enough on the defensive end to overcome issues with his fundamentals. Others will appreciate Johnson’s shooting prowess but wonder if he can do anything more. Let’s go over his scouting report to see where I landed on him.


Playing for Coach Calipari gave Johnson reps running through NBA sets. He was constantly moving from corner to corner, coming off pin downs and dragging defenders through stagger screens. The intent was to give KJ the space needed to get a clean look. Considering Johnson’s smooth, high release, not much space was needed.

Watching Johnson play can be appealing to scouts. It is easy to envision how he will be used in the League. A hypothetically versatile defender and improving shooter, Johnson is reminiscent of Jae Crowder or Taurean Prince. His role as a 3 & D player is defined and projectable.

But is Johnson truly a good perimeter shooter? You could look at his 38.1 percentage on 3-pointers and believe so. Hitting 70 percent of his free throws, however, suggests Johnson may not be only an average deep ball shooter.

In Johnson’s first ten games he hit 43.8 percent of his triples and 69.4 percent of his free throws. During his next ten games he hit 41.7 percent and 85.7 percent, respectively. In the next set of ten games his 3-point percentage dropped to 29 percent and his free throw percentage fell drastically. This indicates that Johnson may be a streaky shooter who goes through monthly shooting slumps.

Non-Shooting Skills

What else comprises Johnson’s skill set? His handle is elementary. Johnson can make line drives to the hoop but has not flashed stepbacks, sidesteps, or hesitation moves with any regularity. You do not want the ball in his hands with the shot clock winding down.

This is what holds Johnson back from entering the upper echelon of my big board. Can he learn to create his own shot? Sure. But to enter the upper tiers of big boards you have to be elite at a definite skill (see Hield, Buddy & Shooting) or, have the potential to perform several functions on the court (see Culver, Jarrett.) As of now, Johnson lacks scoring diversity and has shown very little to suggest he will develop elsewhere.

The one non-shooting skill set Johnson has demonstrated is passing. He can drive and kick to shooters when the defense collapses. Additionally, he makes simple reads that tell us he has the ability to think one play ahead. This is indicative of a solid basketball IQ. Yet, do not go looking for tape on Johnson delivering off pick and rolls or slinging cross court dishes.


Watch Johnson defend fellow first rounder Cam Johnson when the two faced off earlier this year. The Carolina product was dogged by Johnson and found it difficult to shake free during the first half. When he stays disciplined in body positioning, Johnson looks like a reliable defender.

With a 6-foot-9 wingspan, he also projects as someone who could defend multiple positions. Still, Johnson does not display great lateral quickness and has had some trouble with conditioning.

What Johnson advocates will promote is his intensity. The dude plays his tail off and wants to win every possession. You will never be upset with Johnson’s effort. Coaches may pull their hair out when he fails to get his but down and slide his feet but, they will not question his competitive spirit.

Personally, I want to project Johnson as a plus defender, but I am hesitant. I searched long and hard for a signature defensive play. Could he protect the rim in small lineups like Miles Bridges did at Michigan State? Could he glide from ballhandler to ballhandler like Mikal Bridges at Villanova? Realistically, Johnson may end up as playable defender whose inclusion in closing lineups depends on how he is shooting on that particular night.

Where do you rank Johnson and what does it reveal?

Will all of my projections and analyses of Johnson come true? Probably not. He could become a more disciplined defender, turn some fat into muscle and reveal his shooting stroke to be purer than I thought.

Those who are high on Johnson will envision a smooth transition into the professional ranks. After all, his role is defined and he will only have to focus on improving two skills: shooting and defense. In a league that covets 3 & D wings, Johnson’s utility is evident.

Those who are lower on Johnson may envision something different. They may question how much draft capital should be spent on someone with such a narrow offensive skill set. Today’s game features more omnipositional talents than ever, as players who can facilitate as well as shoot are in vogue.

Find out where you have Johnson on your big board. The higher you have him, it may reveal that you value guys who have clear roles and a single skill they can rely on. If you drop him down your board it may suggest that you reserve the higher tiers for players with loftier ceilings and diverse, albeit potentially less developed, skills.

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