I've been watching highlight videos on the internet of "Bunnies" Johnson since he was 16. I am here to pimp Nick Johnson now, at 21 years old. As an Arizona basketball psycho who watches every game and can recite the hometowns and high schools of even the walk-ons in the progrum, it is safe to say that I have closely followed the career of Sean Miller's star pupil from the beginning of his time in that hallowed cardinal and navy uniform.
Most college basketball fans, casual or not, know the book on Johnson. He's uber-athletic, won the Pac-12 Player of the Year last season and led the league in out-of-nowhere inquiries of "who's that?!" from lady passersby around the country. Other than being really, really ridiculously good looking, he's pretty good at basketball too. And still getting better. He came to Tucson from Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, where he played with future pros Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett. Also, Myck Kabongo was there. As a longtime in-state target (he's from Gilbert, AZ) of Coach Miller there was considerable hype around him...because, well, those videos though.
IT'S THE DRAFT
In his freshman season there were times we didn't know what to make of him. "Isn't this guy supposed to be All-Everything?". On a team that missed the NCAAs he was pretty good at most on-court tasks -- even handling PG duties from time to time, but not really great at anything other than dunking and blocks of the weakside-help variety. We wanted him to be the next Miles Simon, he just so happened to be the first Nick Johnson.
By last season, his junior year, we understood. He was a walking contradiction, albeit an impressive one -- a combination of world-class athleticism passed down from his father, "Jumpin'" Joey Johnson, he of the mythical 52-inch vert, and the instinctual practicality of his uncle, Hall of Famer and 3-time NBA Champion Dennis Johnson. It is all well-documented. He's one of those rare birds who is just as likely to throw down a breathtaking one-handed alley-oop as he is to draw a charge, get up and clap all the way down the floor while informing younger teammates where they should've been on the play.
His offensive numbers will not blow you away. As the leading scorer of an equal opportunity Wildcats team last year, he shot 43% from the field and 37% from 3. The surge in scoring between his sophomore and junior campaigns was a result of more shots, higher usage and an ascent in the program's pecking order. Good thing for him is that NBA people know that's not how he'll stick in the league. Chase-down blocks, steals, finding the open shooter, cutting to the basket to cap a mini-spurt -- brilliance in moments of upheaval and chaos are when Nick is at his absolute peak impact. Take this play for example:
A powerful and reactive athlete, (think more Dez Bryant than Jerry Rice) he gets beat off the dribble, recovers to smother Justin Cobbs, pushes the tempo and waits patiently before finding fellow future Sixer and Chester native Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to spark a vengeful demolition of the Cal Bears. There have been dozens of these moments during his collegiate career. The kid brought it every night. When Saint Nick took flight, we knew a present was waiting for us under the tree, along with the soul of a demoralized opponent.
A player I think about often in comparison is Avery Bradley, another top shelf athlete from Findlay Prep whose defense has always been ahead of his offense. Johnson will most likely never be that effective on the offensive end, but if your team is looking for a 3-and-D guy for your second unit, he is worth a draft pick -- especially for the Sixers, who have a thousand. Pick #52 looks about right.
Taking my Arizona Goggles off for a second, (and literally just like one second) unlike other second round guards Jordan McRae, Jordan Clarkson, Russ Smith, Jabari Brown, etc., his best asset isn't scoring the ball. And that's for the best. Nick Johnson will adapt to his role and find a way to make you go "who's that?!" one way or another.
Paddy's Pimp Yo Prospect Runner Up: Khem Birch
Non-Runner Up: Joe Harris