The Spurs have not been good this season. That’s a universal sentiment from Spurs nation, and the proof is in the pudding—they currently hold a 4-23 record after 27 games. With a young team, growing pains are to be expected, and although the overall wins and losses may not show it, there have been some bright spots for the team.
Keldon Johnson, a polarizing figure for the silver and black, has been one of those bright spots. Plenty of fans love him, and others seem ready to jettison him to a new team with expediency. Pundits say he plays well, but that he may be their best trade piece.
Johnson is a vital member of this team when looking at the big picture. What type of impact has he had this season as both a player and a leader?
Grading Keldon Johnson through the Spurs’ first 27 games this season.
Johnson has started every game this season for the Spurs. He’s been a constant through a lot of trial-and-error lineup-wise, as the season began with questions at point guard. Keldon’s mostly played on the wing alongside Devin Vassell.
Keldon has had some adjustments to make from last season, as he is no longer “the” guy in the offense. He plays a vital role, but with the addition of wunderkind Victor Wembanyama as well as the continued emergence of Devin Vassell, Johnson has been able to take a step back offensively.
Before looking at actual numbers, it seemed Johnson was settling for too many three-pointers and wasn’t being as aggressive in taking shots in regular sets. In turn, his points per game average was down, and he hasn't been making as much of an impact on the game as he has in previous years.
The numbers tell a different story. Johnson’s points per game average is down from 22.0 to 17.2. Johnson, however, has improved in every other major statistical category from last season. Johnson’s impact on the game has increased despite it not leading directly to more points for him.
Johnson’s assists are up from 2.9 to 4.0 this season, and he is grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game as opposed to 5.0 per game last season.
As for the three-point attempts, Johnson’s shots from beyond the arc are down over one full three-pointer per game, from 6.5 to 5.3. His three-point percentage is up to 35% this season, which is respectable and something that defenses will have to gameplan against.
Johnson is taking fewer shots overall, 13.5 per game from 17.7 last season, but is shooting a higher percentage (47% this season from 45.2% last season). He’s getting to the charity stripe less as well this season but connecting at a higher rate-76.7%- his highest percentage since his rookie season.
Keldon's role has changed but his determination has increased
Defensively, Johnson’s numbers have improved, albeit slightly. His steals and blocks are up slightly over last year, averaging almost 1 steal per game (0.9) and just under half a block per game (0.3).
The John Calipari disciple's turnover numbers are also down from 2.1 to 1.8 per game this season.
Johnson’s leadership impact on this team is not quantified in numbers. Watching each game, the team clearly looks to Johnson for guidance and to provide a veteran presence, even if he is only 24 years old. He’s proven his ability in this league, and with a young team, they look to him to steady them during crunch time.
It's also nice that Keldon’s a steward of the community, routinely going to charity events to represent the Silver and Black.
Twenty-seven games is enough time to carve out a role for a player, and Johnson has done just that. Earlier this season, he shouldered a little more than he should have, causing some poor play in timely situations. As the season has progressed, he’s become a slasher who can drive to the rim whenever he wishes, gets his teammates involved, and helps in all aspects of the game. To add to all that, Johnson’s a team leader whom the Spurs organization can trust to be one of the faces of the franchise. He hasn't been great but he's been good enough to earn his grade.