In less than a month, the Sixers will be looking to draft a difference maker when they have their chance on the clock during the NBA Draft. There are several holes to fill on the bench, and with the 24th pick in the first round, they have a chance to select someone that could play a role on day one. Next up in our prospect breakdown series is Kentucky wing Keldon Johnson.
One of the most highly touted recruits in the country, Keldon Johnson took his talents to Lexington to play for John Calipari and the Wildcats. The University of Kentucky is known for their great recruiting classes, and this past year was no different. Johnson was the big get of the group, the seventh-ranked recruit in the nation and a player many believed would be able to shoulder the load on offense.
Johnson became a solid offensive option, but never took over like many thought he could. His shot was inconsistent for a solid chunk of the season, and with that being the focal point of his game, he was forced into using his secondary scoring options more often than necessary. Shooting 3-pointers at a 38 percent clip isn’t inspiring, but there is reason to believe that will improve due to technically sound form and a body that is still growing.
Johnson’s form is tight, bringing the ball up and releasing at the highest point. While he did only shoot 38 percent, he had a solid feel for when to take shots and when to pass up on them, only taking 3.2 3-pointers per game. His career-high in attempts from deep was seven shots on two separate occasions, proving that he can find other ways to score.
His large frame allows Johnson to drive into the lane, either scoring or getting fouled in the process. When his shot isn’t falling from deep, it is important that he can rely on his athleticism to get on the scoreboard.
If Johnson does make a habit of drawing fouls by getting into the lane, he will have to improve on his free throw shooting numbers. The 70 percent he shot in his freshman season won't cut it at the next level if he wants to be more than just a shooter. Overall, Keldon Johnson showed flashes in his one season of collegiate basketball on offense, and more coaching at the next level could see him take another step towards becoming the reliable scoring option that many thought he would be as a Wildcat.
Keldon Johnson has that bulldog mentality on the defensive side of the court that you can’t teach. When watching his film in his lone year as a Kentucky Wildcat, his defensive reps oftentimes stood out more than his offensive reps. This isn't to say that Johnson isn’t a difference maker on offense, but defensively he felt a lot more mature than a college freshman. Johnson has a thick frame that helps him a lot on defense. Guards aren’t able to push him out of the way when driving, and he can stick with larger players when he has to play down low. Quick feet allow him to stick on the hips of quick guards, which is the most impressive thing about a player with his build.
A solid 2.0 defensive win share proves that Johnson isn’t just a big body with a nice shot; he’s a player that is going to go out and compete every play on both ends. The Sixers need more players that are going to dive on the floor for loose balls and bring a little extra aggressiveness. Keldon Johnson will bring that mentality.
Keldon Johnson is going to have a tweener role at the next level, and should be playing both shooting guard and small forward for an NBA team in the near future. Due to his aggressiveness on both sides of the court and his large frame, he should be able to play down a position. Filling minutes at small forward is something that Johnson often did in college. Even though he is listed as a shooting guard, he should be able to handle defending players who are a tad bigger than him.
If he is drafted by the Sixers, he should slot right in next to Zhaire Smith on the bench unit. Two plus-defenders in Smith and Johnson would give the Sixers the wing depth that they had missed all last season, and adding another playable option on a rookie contract would help a team that is growing more expensive by the minute.
Projecting where Johnson is going to be drafted has been difficult. Because of his up-and-down play, his draft stock has fluctuated, but with a month until the draft, it seems like he has settled in at the early- to mid-20’s range of the draft. With the Sixers in possession of the 24th pick, they may have the chance to draft Johnson, but depending on who is still on the board when the time comes, they may have other more pressing roles to fill. Because of this, I see Keldon Johnson being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers at 25th overall, one spot after the Sixers. Personally, I like Keldon Johnson and think there is a lot to like in his game, but for a team like the Sixers who are competing for a title now, they may not want to wait around for him to develop into a true difference maker at the professional level.