Monday, June 1, 2009

NBA Draft Prospects: James Johnson, Wake Forest

Stats: 15.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.4 bpg, 54.2% FG, 31.9% 3PT, 69.7% FT, 2.4 t/o's

Listed Size: 6'8", 235 lb, 2/20/1987 (22 years old)

(photo credit: SI)

About Him: James Johnson is one of the more well-rounded prospects in this year's draft class, especially on the offensive end. The problem is, he has all the makings of your classic tweener - he is not really a power forward, but he may not be quick enough to defend on the perimeter.

On the surface, it looks like Johnson did not improve much between his freshman and sophomore campaigns as his numbers did not change all that much. But consider this - Johnson went from being the #1 option on a mediocre team to the #2 (and at times #3) option on one of the best offensive teams in the country, all while maintaining his scoring numbers and improving his shooting percentage from 48.7% to 54%.

On the offensive end, Johnson's game is almost entirely based on versatility and finding a mismatch. He is a capable scorer on the block, possessing excellent footwork and a nice variety of post moves. His size allows him to muscle smaller defenders, and he is virtually ambidextrous finishing around the rim. But if you put a bigger defender on him, Johnson is just as comfortable playing on the perimeter. His biggest strength on the perimeter is getting to the rim. While not blessed with blazing speed or a huge vertical, Johnson takes long strides which allows him to beat slower defenders, and thanks to a background in martial arts, Johnson has exceptional balance and coordination for a guy his size.

While Johnson does have a great feel for the game offensively (he understands how to put the ball in the basket), his skill set is not quite there yet. He shot just 31.9% from distance this season, and while he was a bit more consistent with his pull-up, in general he must improve his jumpshot. His handle also needs some work. He does have the ability to go coast-to-coast, but he struggles when he is forced to change directions, especially while attacking the basket.

The biggest red flag for Johnson has less to do with his physical ability. At times, Johnson seems to lose focus, especially on the defensive end. With his athleticism, coordination, and toughness (fighting background), you would think that he would be an excellent defender. But he isn't, and in fact struggled at times, especially when playing off the ball. That same issue manifests itself on the offensive end as Johnson is a poor decision maker, taking too many bad shots and committing a high number of turnovers.

Comparisons: Best Case: Ryan Gomes; poor man's Corliss Williamson.

Bottom Line: How long Johnson hangs around the league is entirely dependent on him - will he maintain concentration defensively? Will he put in the effort off the court to get better as a shooter? He is probably going in the first round, which means guaranteed money. If he can keep improving, he has a skill set that could enable him to have a nice little career.


His face after this dunk is one of my favorite moments of the entire season.

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