Keldon Johnson isn’t flustered by San Antonio Spurs legends
As we’ve seen over the past twenty years, the San Antonio Spurs tend to treat their rookies a bit differently than other teams in the league. Spurs rookies rarely see extended NBA action during their first year in the league, the organization has prefered that they work on their games in Austin where there is considerably less pressure and more minutes to go around.
Keldon Johnson is not your normal San Antonio Spurs rookie. The former SEC Freshman of the Year somehow slid to the Spurs with the 29th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and, for most of his first season, followed the path of Spurs rookies before him. But towards the end of the season, something shifted.
By early March, KJ was starting to prove that he deserved a role in the San Antonio lineup. Then everything came to a stop when the NBA suspended the season. Johnson wasn’t deterred. He worked in silence throughout the hiatus and when the Spurs finally took the floor in the Orlando bubble he was ready to break out.
Over the final eight games of the season, Johnson displayed a level of controlled aggression that instantly elevated the level of play for the Spurs. He threw himself into the thick of the defense, scrapping for boards and consistently creating and-one opportunities. He finished his time in the bubble averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 steal per game on 64 percent shooting from the field and 65 percent from behind the arc.
The hype was immediate and forceful. He was the best thing to come from the trade that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto and people started wondering if he could eventually reach a similar level to the former Finals MVP. But as Johnson recently said, he’s not concerned with living up to the reputations of the San Antonio Spurs legends that came before him.
Keldon Johnson only compares himself to Keldon Johnson
In a recent episode of the Locked On Spurs podcast hosted by Jeff Garcia, Johnson talked about not feeling any sort of pressure to live up to the storied history of the San Antonio Spurs. He and the rest of the young Spurs know they’re following one of the most accomplished trio’s in NBA history in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. But he’s not letting that impact how he views his work.
“As a young guy it’s hard to compare yourself to great players like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. It wouldn’t be fair to myself to sit here and live every day trying to compare myslef to those great players. They’re all great players and they all had great careers. For me, as a young guy it’s about getting better every day and for me personally, be the best version of myself every time I step on the court, every time I go workout, be the best Keldon Johnson I can be and get better. It’s not really like, go compare myself to Tim Duncan, Manu, or Tony Parker. Cause I’m not them, I’m Keldon Johnson.”
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That’s such a great attitude for a young player to have, especially one coming into a franchise that does have so much history and success associated with it. But it’s not anything less than what we’ve come to expect from Keldon at this point.
Everything we’ve heard from Johnson teammates and coaches, from college and in the NBA, has reiterated what we see from him from afar. That he’s got an infectiously positive attitude, is incredibly humble, and a tireless worker. That’s everything you could want from a young player who is going to have a huge impact on the future of this franchise.
And Johnson is right, it wouldn’t be fair to compare him to any one of the Big Three. They’re all future Hall of Famers and he’s just a young guy with a grand total of 17 career NBA games under his belt. An impressive 17 games to be sure, but not even close to a fraction of the time that the Big Three logged together.
Hopefully, someday we can have a discussion around comparing Keldon Johnson to other San Antonio Spurs legends. It’d be amazing to see him reach that level. But for now, we’ll be happy to see him continue to work on being the best version of himself. That’s proven to be more than enough.