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2021 NBA Draft scouting report: Keon Johnson

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Oregon State v Tennessee Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops continues its prospect scouting report series with an eye on what the Atlanta Hawks may do come draft night. For this edition, we peak at Keon Johnson, an athletic wing out of Tennessee.


Some NBA prospects have high floors, some have high ceilings. Few have the range of outcomes that someone like Keon Johnson has. His combination of burst, size and speed give him tremendous upside considering he’s only 19. Standing at 6’4 with a 6’7 wingspan, Johnson posted the highest standing and max vertical at the NBA Draft combine. His max vert was the highest ever recorded at the combine.

The floor with Johnson may be as low as the ceiling is how, however. He isn’t very skilled, at this moment at least, offensively. He shot 27% from 3 on low volume in his lone NCAA season, but what may be more concerning is that the athleticism did not translate into much offense for him. Johnson struggles to finish in the halfcourt inside for someone with his level of explosiveness. He’s very unpolished as a whole on offense.

In terms of how the experts see it, there’s a wide scope that reflects Johnson’s range of outcomes. ESPN ranks the wing as the No. 9 player in the 2021 class, while Sam Vecenie of The Athletic ranks him No. 21. The disparity in where you rank Johnson likely tells how much faith you have in him becoming a good enough offensive player and shooter to keep his freak athleticism on the court. Mike Schmitz of ESPN seems to be encouraged that he will improve as a shooter, which makes their ranking make sense.

Offense

As of now, Johnson is best served off the ball offensively. The problem with that is of course, he’s not really a threat at all from 3 right now. Strictly on the offensive end, there is a decent amount of stuff to be worried about.

Strengths
  • tough to deal with off-ball, very active, won’t just stand on the perimeter (which is key because he isn’t a threat to shoot)
  • strong cutter, if you’re late reacting it’s over, better hope you’re anchor can clean it up at the rim (if he’s not already on a poster)
  • obviously a big transition threat with the speed, max effort and verticality.
  • flashes of being decent on the ball as a point, but still a rough draft in that area as well
Weaknesses
  • shooting, he shot 27% from 3 on just 4.1 3PA per 100 possessions
  • needs to improve his handle, sort of sloppy with the ball and it slows down an otherwise special athlete
  • finishing on non-dunks is an issue as well for Johnson right now, he often attempts awkward looking shots or throws wild jump passes near the rim when he’s unable to get all the way to the rack
  • mechanics — from shooting to ballhandling to finishing, he’s unpolished

The weaknesses here are major. If he doesn’t tighten up some of the key areas like shooting and decision making, he’s at risk of becoming a 6’4 Josh Smith offensively. To what degree he’s able to correct these flaws likely decides what type of career he has. He could become a versatile 3-and-D type wing with some on-ball ability, or if he doesn’t shore up some of the offensive weaknesses, he could just be a defensive specialist type player.

Defense

Defensively, there are less concerns for Johnson. His athleticism plays, he’s strong for his age and moves well laterally. He’s engaged, plays with great effort and makes plays both on and off the ball. And when there’s a live ball turnover or long rebound, he can do stuff like this:

Strengths
  • tough, fast, physical — these sound like cliches from a football movie but in Johnson’s case he is all of these things and it’s what helps him be so effective on the ball and at the point of attack
  • again, the effort and engagement is always there, and with his physical gifts, his motor, focus and intensity goes a long way towards making him a quality wing defender
  • good team defender, active and talking, rotates and switches effectively

Johnson should be more than fine on defense. By all accounts, he has a great motor and work ethic to go with his truly rare physical tools. The 6’7 wingspan helps too, and should be a big aid for Johnson when wreaking havoc on the wing.

Fit with Hawks

Johnson would be a great get at No. 20 for the Hawks, if he slips that far. There may be a real chance that he does, not a great chance but a chance nonetheless. In the short-term he could play a little bit on the second unit and at least guard someone while he works behind the scenes to get up to speed on offense. The fit on the second unit with Onyeka Okongwu (when he returns) and Cam Reddish may lack shooting, but that’s not something to worry about in the draft process.

It’s very likely that if Johnson slips to No. 20 that he’s the best/highest upside talent left of the board, and best player available has always been the go to ethos for Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. Given that he also seems to be a prospect with great work ethic and character, it would be difficult to envision a better prospect being on the board at that spot.