2021 NBA Draft: How Tennessee's Keon Johnson fits Warriors, Kings

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How NBA prospect Keon Johnson fits both Warriors and Kings originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

  • This is the third installment of a series breaking down the potential selections for both the Kings and Warriors in the 2021 NBA Draft.

With the 2021 NBA Draft quickly approaching, it’s time to dig deeper into some of the prospects that should be on the board when the Warriors select at No. 7 and No. 14 and the Kings choose at No. 9.

These two teams are studying the same basic talent pool and they have a lot of the same needs, which means that they can impact each other’s draft strategy dramatically. 

After breaking down Florida State’s Scottie Barnes and Arkansas’ Moses Moody last week, the high-flying Keon Johnson out of Tennessee is now up for discussion. Johnson is scheduled to go anywhere from No. 7 to No. 10 in the July 29 draft. This is prime Warriors and Kings range. 

Stats

Stats: 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 44.9% FG, 27.1% 3-point FG

Age: 19 Height: 6-foot-4.75 Weight: 185 Wingspan: 6-foot-7.25

Johnson was one of the winners of the NBA Draft Combine. The talented, but raw freshman posted an incredible 48-inch max vertical in Chicago, setting a new record for the combine. 

He also posted solid height and wingspan measurements for an NBA shooting guard, although he’ll need plenty of time to develop and an NBA training staff should be able to build on an already impressive frame.

It took Johnson time to earn the trust of head coach Rick Barnes, but by the end of his freshman season, the 19-year-old was eating major minutes. He dropped in a career-high 27 points on Feb. 6 against Kentucky and crested the 20-point barrier three times on the season. Johnson also posted back-to-back nine-rebound games in the SEC tournament. 

Strengths

In a draft class filled with big-time athletes, Johnson manages to stand out. He can jump out of the gym and his first step is lightning quick. He finished third at the combine in the three-quarter sprint and posted solid numbers in both the lane agility and shuttle run.

He didn’t post a plus-nine height-to-wingspan ratio like Moses Moody, but Johnson’s plus-four is solid for a shooting guard. He plays with a physicality and energy that should earn him some court time early in his career.

Johnson moves his feet well to stay in front of his man and he has the ability to get through screens. He has quick hands and he projects as a strong to elite man-to-man and an active team defender at the next level.

On the offensive end, Johnson is a work in progress. He showed signs of some passing ability, although he posted a 2.5-to-2.6 assist-to-turnover ration. He needs to work on his handles, but he might be able to develop into a solid secondary distributor at the next level.

For now, he is a strong inline driver and aggressive finisher. He’s crafty around the rim and doesn’t have any problem leaping for highlight reel dunks amongst the trees. Johnson also has an ability to quickly turn defense into offense and he’s tough to stop once he’s in the open court.

While he needs to improve his ball-handling skills, he has a quick burst to create space and has a solid stroke in the mid-range. He is active without the ball in his hands and has solid court awareness. 

He gets to the line at a high clip, averaging 3.7 free throws per game. He knocks down a little over 70 percent from the line, which needs to improve, but he plays through contact and there is a chance he develops into a high-end scorer down the road. 

Johnson showed tremendous fight late in the season. He plays the game with passion and heart.

Weaknesses

Johnson is green. We saw glimpses of his potential late in his freshman season when the training wheels were taken off, but his projections as a player are mostly speculative.

As a shooter, Johnson needs a ton of reps. He has a slight hitch in his 3-point shot, which contributed to him shooting just 27 percent from behind the arc. He’s solid rising up off the dribble in the mid-range, but he needs work to extend that to the NBA 3-point line.

While he has a crossover and some solid moves as a dribbler, he needs to continue to tighten his handles, especially if his game is predicated on getting to the rim and mid-range opportunities. 

He needs to improve as a rebounder, although he showed promise on the offensive end of the court. There could come a time when he figures out how to use his incredible athleticism for all aspects of the game, including on the glass. 

Johnson might be the biggest gamble on potential in the draft and certainly in the top 10. He shows flashes of brilliance, but needs refinement on almost every aspect of the game.

Early in his career, he won’t be asked to much more than defend, get out on the break and hit an occasional jumper. But there is clearly more that he has to offer, which is why he is considered a top-10 prospect. 

RELATED: 2021 NBA Mock Draft 8.0: Warriors, Kings' first-round picks

Fit with Warriors

There are a lot of players in this range who fit the Warriors’ “win now” mode. Johnson isn’t one of them. He’s packed with potential, but he’ll need time to develop.

At some point, Golden State is going to have to answer the question about who they are as a team. Does Klay Thompson’s return put them back in contention? Can the No. 7 and No. 14 picks bring in a veteran that can turn this team around?

If there are no clear answers to these pressing questions, then the Warriors have to keep all options open. Johnson could be a star and he might have the most potential of any player at the No. 7 overall pick. He could also be a major piece, along with James Wiseman, for the next generation of Warriors basketball.

Johnson isn’t the safe pick, but he does enough now to at least be intriguing as defender who plays well without the ball and causes problems as a cutter. Do the Warriors have the patience to wait him out as a prospect and see what kind of player he becomes in two to three years?

Fit with Kings

Like the Warriors, the Kings are at an impasse. They don’t have a stack of rings weighing down their decision, but the reverse. They can’t seem to find a way to get over the hump and they’ve missed the playoffs for 15 consecutive seasons.

Normally a team like Sacramento, with two young players to build around like De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, would jump all over the chance to pick a player like Johnson. He doesn’t have elite size to play the three, but a three-guard set with this core could be really fun to watch in a few years.

But if the Kings are looking to compete this season, then Johnson probably isn’t the right pick. Unlike the Warriors, they don’t have two of the greatest shooters in the world to space the floor and hide some of his deficiencies. While his defensive presence would help one of the NBA’s worst defensive squads, his experience level would be an issue.

If the Kings are looking to build for two or three years down the road, then Johnson is the type of high-risk, high-reward pick you gamble on in the top 10 of the draft. If they are looking to improve quickly, there are safer picks and also teams looking to move into this spot in the draft.

Player Comparison

High end: DeMar DeRozan, Jalen Brown

Low end: Iman Shumpert, Ben McLemore, Gerald Green

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