Spurs Draft Prospect: Brice Johnson

Apr 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrates a shot during the second half against the Syracuse Orange in the 2016 NCAA Men
Apr 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrates a shot during the second half against the Syracuse Orange in the 2016 NCAA Men /

The San Antonio Spurs showed their weakness in rebounding against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semi’s. With the NBA draft approaching, the Spurs are in need of front-court help.  North Carolina Tar Heel Brice Johnson could be an option if he falls to 29th.

For those that follow college basketball, every year all eyes are usually on a team out of North Carolina–the Tarheels. Those familiar with the team saw Senior Center Brice Johnson wreaking havoc on opponents. Johnson averaged a double-double with 17 points and 10.4 rebounds during his teams run in the NCAA Tournament. There were only three games all year when he didn’t score in double figures and he had 23 double-doubles.

Standing at 6-foot-11 and 230 pounds Johnson has been dubbed as “a human pogo stick”. With a vertical of 38 inches and an impressive no-step vertical of 33.5 inches, this is definitely a player that will be on everyones draft boards looking for a big man that can play at both ends of the floor.

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If Johnson were to fall in the Spurs lap at pick 29, they would by far get the best steal in the draft. What they would be getting is a player with the talent to help the front court. Johnson’s NBA potential, as it has throughout his entire career, starts with his sensational athleticism, even if he’s a bit of a mixed bag from a physical standpoint.

The South Carolina native does not have outstanding size, but he is, without question, an outstanding athlete. A bouncy interior player with good speed, impressive fluidity, and the type of elite leaping ability that allows him to play above the rim with absolute ease, Johnson’s explosiveness is his clear calling card as a prospect.

Putting his athletic merits to good use on the offensive end, Johnson did most of his damage this season as a finisher, primarily off of cuts, put backs, and fast breaks as his effort, instincts, and explosiveness frequently paid off inside. He ended the season ranked eighth in the country in points per possession among the 267 Division I players who used over 500 total possessions.

Upping his scoring rate from 19.7 points per 40-minutes pace adjusted as a junior to 25 as a senior, Johnson took on and excelled in a bigger role emerging as the first option on a balanced Tar Heel squad that looked far better on offense some nights than others.

On top of his ability to finish, Johnson’s athleticism also translates fairly well to the post. Lacking great bulk, he isn’t adept at establishing deep position inside, but he has solid footwork and though his repertoire is a bit predictable, his ability to elevate often allows him to get his shot off when well defended.

Making quick, decisive moves on the block, Johnson makes hook shots at the nice rate over his left shoulder and has fairly solid touch on his turnaround jump shot over his right, but will also use aggressive drop steps to get to the baseline where he tries, and sometimes succeeds to score from difficult angles jumping from behind the rim.

Apr 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) grabs a rebound infant of Syracuse Orange center DaJuan Coleman (32) and Tyler Roberson (21) during the second half in the 2016 NCAA Men

Johnson was a very effective scorer and offensive rebounder during his senior season, but the rest of his skill set, like his jump shot, appeared to be a work in progress, as he lacks a degree of versatility. He is a decent interior passer but isn’t going to provide much value as a playmaker, and though he can attack slower big men off the bounce, he often plays too quick for his own good when looking to slash the rim. He does a nice job on the offensive boards and rebounding the ball in general, but hasn’t been overwhelmingly productive in that regard.

Defensively, Johnson averaged a fairly impressive 2.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per-40 minutes pace adjusted, but digging deeper, has a lot of room to grow on this end. He struggled with foul trouble on a number of notable occasions, still lacking a degree of discipline, awareness and feel inside.

More than athletic enough to hold his own defensively at the college level, Johnson had some nice moments using his leaping ability rotating over to the weak side to protect the rim, but also struggled at times, notably with lapses biting on fakes on the perimeter or getting out of position in the pick and roll.

Johnson still has some things to iron out and has some upside, which is saying something given that he was one of the most impactful players in all of college basketball some nights last season. Johnson figures to be in a mix to hear his name called in the first round come draft day.

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