Keon Johnson is a spectacularly athletic, versatile 6’5” shooting guard set to play for Tennessee next year.
Athletic Ability & Physical Talent
Keon Johnson is an elite vertical leaper. When he jump steps into a two-foot leap, he is easily able to rise high enough to almost touch the rim with the top of his head putting his estimated vertical leap at 43 inches. His aerial acrobatics are reminiscent of past dunk contest winners and Johnson himself may one day participate in the All-Star Weekend event.
This jaw-dropping athleticism allows Johnson to not only be extremely dangerous attacking the rim off the dribble, but also provides him with utility as a cutter, a lob target and a rim protector. Johnson is not only an amazing leaper but also an excellent athlete on the horizontal plane. He blows by opponents on straight line drives routinely and gets around help defense with fast-twitch hops or side steps that rapidly eat large chunks of space. His two-foot jump stops cover huge distances and allow him to get around multiple opponents in a moment’s notice after attacking downhill.
He regularly beats players to the ball on 50-50 plays and uses his open floor speed to turn potential half-court possessions into transition layups and dunks. While Johnson is currently not the biggest or strongest player, he has the type of frame that will allow him to add weight without sacrificing his explosiveness above the rim game and mobility. Adding strength should help him further realize his athletic upside which will allow Johnson to become an even more deadly finisher and defender.
Instincts & Mentality
It is one thing to have the athletic talent to make the sort of plays Johnson is capable of making; it is another to actually make those plays in live game action consistently.
Johnson separates himself from many of the elite athletes that never lived up to their upside in the past with his motor and feel for the game. There is plenty of work to be done within his game, but he has a natural understanding of the utility his athletic gifts provide and how he can create on-court functionality with those tools. Johnson aggressively attacks the rim, runs hard on the break, and moves well without the ball. He has natural instincts for finding creases in opposing defensive schemes and does a good job staying active and engaged on the defensive end. He is an underrated passer who sees the court well and is capable of executing advanced playmaking reads, including skip passes and well-timed and placed passes to cutters.
Despite having an inconsistent handle at this point, Johnson is not turnover prone and does a good job making quick, smart decisions with the ball in his hands. As Johnson was clearly the most talented player on his high school and AAU teams, he had to force difficult shots at times, but his assertive, decisive nature and mental approach will help him succeed against higher levels of competition. Johnson does not waste precious seconds of the shot clock holding the ball, nor does he jump in the air without knowing exactly what he wants to do or drive without any sort of plan.
As a young player who is still far from his ultimate potential, he certainly makes his share of mistakes but his natural feel for the game and the way he instinctively sees the game are both highly positive indicators for his projection. On the defensive end, Johnson will at times take plays off or end up out of position, but he shows an awareness and aggressive mental approach that are indicative of the ability to provide game-changing value. With his athletic ability, he can alter shots as a help defender. He will be one of the NCAA leaders in the nation in blocks among players in his height range and position. He can sit-down in a stance and mirror the quickest guards, use his quick hands and feet to pressure bigger wings, or get into passing lanes and to create deflections with his good anticipation and IQ.
Skill Level & Handle
While Johnson is a high-level athlete with a great feel for the game, he is fairly raw when it comes to fundamental skills. In particular, his footwork and ball handling need a lot of work. He tends to cross his feet when trying to change direction, too often does not have his feet properly positioned while beginning his attack and does not always begin his dribble before taking his first step on dribble drives. If this continues at higher levels, Johnson will be called for a lot of travels and this lack of functionality in footwork will lead to unforced turnovers and other errors.
His ability to blow by guys in a straight line from a standstill is extremely impressive and he is incredibly light exploding off his feet and getting in the air to finish. However, Johnson can further improve his driving ability by practicing proper timing and technique.
His ball-handling is similarly inconsistent. He often loses control of the ball and is not always able to make quick crossovers or changes of direction while retaining optimal control of the ball. Many back-to-back dribble moves are not within Johnson’s capability right now, especially against more talented defenders. He shows some patience when getting in the paint or attacking defenders that can stick with him, often jump stopping in the paint to pump fake or create a better angle for a shot or pass. Further improvement on craft and technique in these situations can further aid his game.
Adding muscle and getting stronger will be a major part of his development, allowing him to better take on contact, bump off defenders and carve out space in half-court situations. While he can run through many high school defenders, bigger and stronger college players will give him trouble. He already misses too many easy layups at the rim. Considering his ability to create those at-rim opportunities and the elite athletic ability he possesses, Johnson should be able to get to the free-throw line at an even higher rate than he already does. Shooting touch also seems to be somewhat of an issue.
When Johnson has the time and space to load off two feet, he is too explosive inside for any player at lower levels to be able to challenge him. However, when he does not have that luxury and is forced to quickly jump off one foot and try to lean around defenders, his touch becomes less effective and he loses some control of his body.
Johnson’s shot mechanics are solid, as he has good rhythm and balance on his attempts in a variety of different situations while showing comfort from three-point range. It takes some time for Johnson to get into his shot and his wind up is somewhat deliberate allowing defenders extra time to recover and contest. When he is pressured and forced to put up a quick-release shot around contesting defenders, he loses a considerable amount of accuracy and is prone to bad misses like air balls or hard bounce bricks off the rim. While his shot is usually fluid, it is too dependent on the wrist. Johnson can also stand to shoot up more and out less. That would help him have a shot with a higher arch and with more touch.
He rarely uses runners or shoots on the move, outside lay-ins. It is good that he avoids these inefficient looks but as a star player, being able to use runners can be necessary. He shot just above 60% on nearly 200 free throw attempts between high school and AAU which is not an encouraging percentage for a guard prospect in today’s shooting obsessed environment and he must improve in the coming season.
There is so much in place for Johnson as a prospect already. Physically and mentally he is an elite prospect who can challenge for the number one spot in next year’s draft based on those two attributes alone. However, his offensive skill and technique need significant work to reach his full potential. Those are parts of the game that players are able to improve upon more so than athletic ability or mental make up. If Johnson is able to do so, he can quickly rise among the very top of all players and prospects in the NCAA next season.