Rookie Review, Bubble Watch Edition: Keldon Johnson

By Jesse Cinquini

The San Antonio Spurs — sans LaMarcus Aldridge mind you, went 5-3 in Orlando. And while guys like Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Rudy Gay deserve recognition for their help in keeping the Spurs afloat in the bubble — Keldon Johnson’s encouraging play might be the team’s most noteworthy storyline. His blend of physical tools, athleticism, and finesse should have Spurs fans enamored with.the 20-year-old and his tremendous upside.

Upper-echelon finisher with a terrific layup package

Not many rookies can say they shot 73 percent at the rim. Johnson is a rare breed. He’s in the 93rd percentile among all forwards in interior efficiency, according to Cleaning the Glass. Johnson’s 6’6″ frame certainly has proven advantageous when attacking the rim — but it’s his craftiness inside and ability to absorb and finish through contact that separates him from your run-of-the-mill NBA wing.

Like a running back, Keldon tucks the ball close to his side when driving to the basket — which prevents him from getting stripped as he makes his move. Johnson is the total antithesis of a careless decision-maker; he is stupendous at recognizing open lanes to exploit, and just as importantly, he doesn’t force his way to the cup.

Also, the film gives a sneak peak of Keldon’s vast arsenal of creative finishes. Creativity is crucial to being a consistent and efficient interior sccorer as a wing, especailly when there’s behemoths waiting for you in the painted area.

In conclusion, Johnson’s ability to punish unprepared defenses as a driver is his calling card on the offensive end. It’s where he’s at his best, but he wouldn’t be doomed without this skill. See, Keldon has fared wonderfully from beyond the arc in his short time with the Spurs.

Reliable three-point threat

Throughout 8 bubble games Keldon Johnson has hit 64.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. Awesome efficiency. Is it sustainable? Heck no. But it’s encouraging nonetheless.

Keldon hasn’t fully developed his off-the-dribble game yet, so he primarily functions as a spot up shooter when looking to fire away from distance. And let me tell you — this young man’s form is as smooth as butter. It’s uncanny how often his long-distance makes hit nothing but nylon. It’s not as if Johnson’s adeptness as a floor-spacer in the NBA came as a surprise, though. After all, he buried triples at a 38.2 percent clip on 3.2 attempts per game during his lone season at the University of Kentucky.

Considering how efficient Johnson’s been from deep as a Spur (albeit on a small sample size), expect him to let it fly with much greater regularity in 2020-21. San Antonio needs three-point shooters (26th in the league in threes made and 28th in attempts), so Poppovich should gift the kid an uptick in minutes to help address a glaring weakness of the Spurs’ offensive attack.

Excellent at drawing fouls

The upper-echelon scorers in today’s NBA get to the free-throw line consistently and shoot a high-percentage from there. Fortunately for San Antonio, Johnson checks both boxes. He went 83.3 percent from the stripe this season (79th percentile), and 18.3 percent of the neophyte’s shot attempts resulted in him heading to the line (97th percentile).

Keldon’s effective at drawing fouls because he invites contact at the rim. Youngsters typically struggle finishing under duress, but with tremendous strength, balance, and composure, he makes it look easy. An impressive 23.5 percent of Johnson’s total shooting fouls drawn resulted in an and-one, according to Cleaning the Glass. He’s a tighter handle away from being someone who you can rely on for a few trips to the free-throw line every game.

Offseason to-do list

I’d like to see Keldon Johnson improve in transition. He seemingly has the attributes to burn defenses in the open court, yet he ranks in just the 19th percentile among forwards in transition points added per 100 possessions. Fastbreak chances will open up more scoring opportunities for Johnson, and at his favorite spots on the court, too — the rim and the three-point line. Keldon’s play this summer no doubt caught the eye of San Antonio brass, who ought to view him as pivotal to their chances at future success.

Published by Jesse Cinquini

A 20-year-old aspiring sports journalist who is majoring in Communication with a concentration of Multimedia Sports Journalism.

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