Today’s NBA Draft Blog Scouting Report is focusing on another player who made the most of a summer spent on the US Select Team which scrimmaged against the US Olympic team – Purdue senior JaJuan Johnson. Johnson had a tough choice last year in passing up a probable mid-first round selection to come back for his senior season, but he has made the most of it, becoming more versatile on both ends of the floor, and making Purdue a Top 10 team again this season. So where does his game fit in the NBA scheme? Let’s take a look:
JaJuan Johnson, Purdue - Senior
Forward- 6'10, 221
20.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 51.1% FG, 80% FT
Post Skills- While lacking the ideal bulk to be an effective post player, Johnson manages to use the advantages he does have, namely his length and long arms, to find ways to get good shots. He does a very good job getting position in the post, keeping his body low and keeping the defender on his hip. Once he gets the ball, he uses length well to create separation and get clear shots at the rim, and he has become very adept at turnaround jumpers over either shoulder. He has steadily improved his face-up moves out of the post, and with the ability to consistently hit 15 footers, has become a much more efficient offensive player. He needs to still work on becoming stronger (though he has gained 40 pounds since he entered college), and he settles too much for shots away from the rim. As he becomes stronger, he should be able to finish better in traffic, as well as add some power moves to his post repertoire. He has shown some flashes of being an effective pick and roll player, though he hasn’t done it enough to be comfortable with it.
Footwork- Johnson’s footwork has improved greatly since last season, showing mostly in the fluidity of his post moves this year. The last few years, he would spend a lot of wasted movement with his feet, looking to find position for a shot. This season, his moves are much more precise, especially a great drop step move into the lane, and a very tough to stop un-and-under move which with his length is near unstoppable. On the perimeter, he is not as smooth, but it is still a huge improvement over past years. He has the ability to make a move past the defender, but as he gets closer to the basket, he often makes his decisions too late, leading to him taking unsure steps and ending up in poor position. I would expect this to be improved even more over the rest of the season, and by next year, he should become very comfortable on the perimeter.
Ballhandling/Hands/Penetration- Johnson is a decent ballhandler for his size, and has improved even more as the season goes on. In the post, he controls the ball well, keeps his dribble close to his body and has the ability to make his move with either hand, though he prefers to go to his right hand. On the perimeter, like his footwork, his ballhandling is a bit shakier. He has a strong first dribble when making a move, but he susceptible to help defenders swiping at the ball as he goes by. As he becomes more comfortable going to the basket, he will be able to bring that dribble closer and lower to his body. He has good hands, and he has the ability to handle both high and low passes, and he does a solid job having has hands ready when getting position. As I talked about above, Johnson is just learning to work out on the perimeter with the ball, but he has shown that with more time at it, he could become an above average threat. The footwork and ballhandling issues should resolve in time, and with his length and body control, Johnson should be able to get some very good shots off of penetration. Another issue which will be resolved over time is his ability to finish strong off penetration, as he tends to prefer to pull up and take a short jumper or drive and back into a post move. As he becomes more adept at his penetration moves, he will become better at taking the ball right to the rim.
Perimeter Shooting- Coming back from a summer with the US Select Team, the first thing people noticed was how much more comfortable Johnson has become shooting from the 10-18 foot range. He always had a nice stroke, but he seemed to lack the confidence to take the shot, especially with a hand in his face. This season, not only has he has he become comfortable in this range, he has become a threat requiring defenders to come out on him. The only real drawback I have seen on his shot is his release time, which can be downright slow, though he has shown that he can release the ball quicker and still take a good shot. It will be a matter of repetition for him to get the rhythm on his jumper. The addition of the consistent jumper has also made him a legitimate pick and pop threat on the outside, though as in the pick and rolls discussed above, he has not spent enough time doing this to be very skilled at it yet. Finally, he has already hit more threes this season than he has attempted the previous 3 years, though you can see that distance is really a bit out of his range right now. However, the face that he can hit occasionally from behind the line will force defenders to come out on him, giving him a chance to work on his dribble drive offense.
Rebounding/Passing- Johnson is a very good offensive rebounder, extremely active around the rim, with the ability to jump straight up and keep balls alive without fouling. While increased strength would make him more effective in putting back misses, he has shown to be very adept at tip-ins and putting the ball back before the defense can adjust. Passing is one area where Johnson could use a lot more work. While it’s not that he makes a lot of bad passes, its that his decision-making and reaction time in the post to double teams needs to get better. With his skills and body, he has the unique ability to draw 2 defenders and still see the court well, but he tends to try and get rid of the ball quickly,, not really making the defense commit. That being said, he does see the court well, and as he becomes acclimated to playing different places on the floor, he should become much better at reading defenses.
Free Throw Shooting - Johnson is an excellent free throw shooter, especially for a big man, and he looks comfortable at the line at any point in the game. He has become more consistent this season in drawing contact and looking for scenarios where he can get to the free throw line. With his ability to hit free throws, he is able to stay on the court in late game/close game situations.
Post Defense- Johnson has improved every season as a post defender, including becoming much better at using his lower body to prevent players from getting good position, and using his length to deny entry passes and alter shots. He is still ad a disadvantage against bulkier post players, and can too easily be backed down by stronger players. He has solid footwork in the post, which allows him to make up for his lack of strength, and as I said, his long torso and arms makes him tough to shoot over. If he can get stronger, and play a more physical defensive game, he could be a top-level defender. However, even with his current frame, he makes things very difficult. He needs to learn how to hedge better on pick and rolls, as he seems to be a step behind and against a talented post player, he can get beat often.
Perimeter Defense- Johnson has really improved as a perimeter defender, and is one of the best for his size I have seen in a long time. He positions himself well, stays low and moves his feet very well. He needs to become more aware of who he is guarding off of switches, and he needs to learn not to play all players the same – tighter on shooters, give some room to players who primarily look to drive. He handles screens well and does a good job switching or getting through it, and he moves well enough to recover when he is beat on the perimeter. He needs to become a bit quicker closing on perimeter shooters, but even a bit slow, he can alter perimeter jumpers.
Rebounding/Blocking- Fundamentally, Johnson is a very good rebounder – boxing out well and going strong after the ball and securing it before he makes an outlet pass. Again, its his lack of strength which prevents him from becoming an elite rebounder, though he has very good instincts for missed shots and can get to spots quickly to grab the miss. He is a very good outlet passer and can find his man even against pressure. Johnson is a very good shot-blocker with excellent timing and a good ability to get to shots without contact. He is excellent at coming over as a help defender and blocking shots, though he still needs to work on keeping his blocks in play, preferably getting it to teammates.
Summary & Intangibles
Athleticism – Very Good
BB IQ - Above Average
On raw talent alone, Johnson would be projected as late-lottery pick this season, but based on the amount of improvement he has shown over the last 2 years, he has the potential to be one of the best players to come out of this year’s draft class. As his perimeter game develops, he will give teams to options to play him in multiple places on the floor, and with added strength, he could be a very good post option in the NBA. Defensively, he has the ability to be productive immediately, with good instincts combined with strong shot-blocking skills. I think at this point he has secured a spot in the Top 10, and wouldn’t be surprised based on the lottery order to see him go as high as 5 or 6.
Tomorrow, we will stay in the Big 10 and take a look at versatile