Spurs Rookie Watch: Keldon Johnson showing his potential in Austin

Keldon Johnson of the Austin Spurs attempts a layup in an NBA G-League game against the Sioux Falls Skyforce (Photo by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
Keldon Johnson of the Austin Spurs attempts a layup in an NBA G-League game against the Sioux Falls Skyforce (Photo by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
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San Antonio Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson is having a solid season in the G-League. Could he be next in the list of Spurs draft day steals?

The San Antonio Spurs have consistently been finding value at the back end of the draft for a few years now. Since 2016 they’ve had the 29th pick three times and each time walked away with a player that many deemed a steal. He’s spent his rookie season in Austin with the Spurs G-League affiliate but Keldon Johnson is looking like the latest late-round gem.

Johnson was the SEC Freshman of the Year but still managed to slip to the end of the first round, much to the surprise of his coaches and the benefit of the Spurs. As a defensive-minded wing, Johnson filled an area of need for San Antonio. He flashed potential in Summer League and gave Spurs fans plenty to be excited about.

As is typical for Spurs rookies, Johnson has spent the vast majority of his time with the Austin Spurs. He’s built off of his impressive summer through the first 11 games, averaging 20 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. He’s also been playing the kind of aggressive defense that made him such a promising draft pick.

He plays downhill, using his quick first step and strong frame to muscle through defenders on his way to the rim. As he did in college and summer league, Johnson has shown a preference for attacking the rim and working as a slasher. You just have to look at how he’s built a true shooting percentage of 61.7 percent to see how effective a strategy it’s been so far.

Against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he racked up 27 points on a variety layups and dunks. It’s great to see him show this kind of quickness and versatility around the rim but you do worry a bit about his ability to score this consistently at the next level.

Johnson was a 38 percent three-point shooter in his time at Kentucky but has struggled to adapt to the NBA three-point distance. His accuracy has dropped down to 16 percent through 11 games. His athleticism will help him at the next level but in order to be a consistent offensive threat for San Antonio, he will need to improve his touch from outside.

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Gregg Popovich has been hesitant to play rookies if they haven’t proven that they can hold their own on the defensive end, thankfully that has always been an area of promise for Johnson.

With his 6’9 wingspan and solid frame, he should have no issue keeping up with players at the next level. He’s averaging .4 steals and .5 blocks per 36 minutes in the G-League and should be able to maintain that in the NBA.

Still, it’s unlikely that we see him play meaningful NBA minutes in his rookie year. He, along with other Spurs rookies Luka Samanic and Quinndary Weatherspoon, will probably follow the tradition of spending their rookie years working on their games in Austin. The Spurs roster is well rounded out and doesn’t have much room to give any of three anything more than rare garbage time minutes.

Trade talk’s have been heating up around San Antonio’s two stars. Both LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan have been pointed to like players who could be on the move. DeRozan has reportedly drawn the interest of the Orlando Magic while Aldridge has been loosely connected to a number of other teams. If either of the two stars were to be traded it could open up room for Johnson to carve out a role.

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Even if he rarely plays for the San Antonio Spurs in his rookie season, fans should still be excited about the promise that Keldon Johnson shows. He’s showing potential to be a great multi-positional player and a valuable part of the Spurs future.

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