Mar 10, 2020; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) brings the ball up the court against the Dallas Mavericks in the first half at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s what the San Antonio Spurs sophomore should focus on in the offseason
As is tradition within the San Antonio Spurs organization, Keldon Johnson spent the majority of his rookie season playing for the Austin Spurs. When he finally broke into the rotation late in the season the results were exactly what Spurs fans had been hoping for.
During the final few games before the season was suspended, we started to get a glimpse of what Johnson could do in the NBA. By the end of the Spurs time in the bubble, it was clear to anyone who watched him that this young man is something special.
Through the Spurs final eight games, Johnson was on fire. He averaged 14.1 points and 5 rebounds per game on 63.8 percent shooting from the floor and 64.7 percent shooting from behind the arc.
His bubble performance, phenomenal as it was, is almost certainly unsustainable. There’s no way he shoots that well from behind the arc for a full season and unless he’s living at the rim like Giannis his total field goal percentage will regress as well.
Still, Johnson’s rookie year performance gave San Antonio Spurs fans a lot to be excited about. Now as we approach a season where he’s sure to have a larger role, let’s focus on what Keldon can work on to make the most of his offseason.
Next: Get ready to play big
Aug 5, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) shoots against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) during the second half of a NBA basketball game at Visa Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Keldon Johnson should be preparing to play power forward for San Antonio Spurs
During their time in the bubble, we saw the San Antonio Spurs change things up and go small. It was a move born of necessity, with LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles out San Antonio had to get creative with their lineups. But the positive results could mean that this is a strategy the Spurs lean on going forward.
After deploying DeMar DeRozan as their starting power forward the Spurs ranked 4th in the league in pace and 9th in offense rating. They were moving fast, putting up points, and it looked like they were having fun doing it.
With DeRozan’s status for next year in question, Keldon Johnson should be preparing to take on the role of San Antonio’s starting power forward if called upon. That means bulking up in order to hang with the bigger players he’s likely to be matched up with.
Keldon wasn’t a small player, to begin with. Unlike many young guys, he was able to hold his own for the most part. But now we’ve seen some photos of Keldon looking markedly bigger than he was when we last saw him. This Is a great sign that he’s taking this offseason seriously and adding more muscle to his already solid frame.
Adding muscle won’t just help prepare Johnson for defending larger players, it’ll also help him absorb contact better on his way to the rim. He’s already shown an affinity for finishing through contact and continuing to add muscle that’ll let him lean into his strengths as an aggressive finisher should only help increase how often he gets to the charity stripe.
Next: Tighten up his handle
Aug 11, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) handles the ball during the second half of a NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
If Keldon can add more dibble moves it’ll only help the San Antonio Spurs
Another thing that Keldon can do to advance his game during the offseason is adding to his bag of dribble moves to create space and help him get to the rim easier.
Looking back on the shots Keldon made throughout his rookie year, you’ll see that most of them came in transition, off of timely cuts, spot-up shots, or through quick drives to the rim. When he did drive to the basket, he was much more likely to lean on his physicality to body his opponent off and still find a way to get his shot off.
Very rarely did we ever see Johnson get into a situation where he was solely responsible for creating his own shot. This comes as a result of a variety of factors. First and foremost, the Spurs are not the Houston Rockets. They do not live and die by iso ball. But still, we haven’t seen that Keldon can create his own shot too often.
This isn’t something that should be a huge issue for Johnson right now. With proven playmakers like Derrick White and Dejounte Murray in the lineup, Johnson can continue to cut to the rim or prepare for a kick out and attack the rotating defender and still find plenty of success. But adding a few more advanced dribble moves and tightening his handle is only going to help him down the road.
This isn’t something that happens overnight. Kawhi Leonard was hardly a shot-creator when he arrived in San Antonio and by the time he was tearing through the NBA during his ’16-17 season he looked like a version of Kobe Bryant.
This is something that’ll take time, but if Johnson wants to become the Spurs go-to scoring option he’s going to have to make finding new was to create his own shot something he works on every offseason.
Next: Continue to work on shooting touch
Aug 11, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) shoots in front of Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker (17) during the second half of a NBA basketball game at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Keldon’s jumper is key for the San Antonio Spurs
Throughout his rookie year, Johnson got almost all of his points near the rim or beyond the arc. Of his field goals, 43 percent came from within 3 feet of the rim and 25 percent of them came from behind the arc.
That’s an analytically sound shot dispersion but continuing to work on his mid-range game and developing a variety of ways to get shots off from behind the arc should be points of emphasis for Johnson this offseason.
Keldon shot 64.7 percent from behind the arc, there’s no way that carries across a full season but it’s an encouraging sign. He’s proven that he can hit open shots from behind the arc, now let’s see him start to get off more ones.
The biggest things Johnson should work on from behind the arc are widening where he’s comfortable shooting from and becoming more confident in shooting off the dribble.
Of the two, becoming more confident in shooting off the dribble should be the bigger point of focus. All of his 3-point shots were assisted this year, that’s not really a problem but it shouldn’t be something he relies on. Murray and White will help set him up for plenty of easy looks from deep but there’s going to be times where the shot clock is running down and Johnson has to make a play from behind the arc. When that time comes let’s hope he’s ready to knock down a big-time shot.
Keldon Johnson had a phenomenal end to his rookie season with the San Antonio Spurs. Focusing on these three things will help ensure his second season is just as electric.