San Antonio Spurs: 5 Controversial 2021 NBA Draft picks
Controversial San Antonio Spurs draft prospect #1: Jalen Johnson
Lastly comes perhaps the most controversial young draft prospect in Jalen Johnson. Coming into his freshman season with Duke, Johnson was considered the 13th best recruit on the 2020 ESPN 100 rankings. While classified by them as a small forward, Johnson has the size of a power forward with the ball-handling and playmaking skills of a guard. Before the season started, many assumed he would be a consensus lottery pick in this year's draft.
Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan for him or the Duke basketball program. Duke ended their season with an overall record of 13 wins and 11 losses, which was tied for the fewest wins in a season since their 11-win 1982-'83 season. Not only was their season as a whole historically bad though, but Johnson decided to opt-out of the final three weeks of their regular season.
When Johnson opted out, he had been dealing with a nagging foot injury, the Blue Devils had an 8-8 record, and they were unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament. In these ways, Johnson opting-out was considered by him, his family, and the Duke coaching staff to largely be a business decision given the likelihood that he would be drafted (and one I can understand).
That being said, this is not the first instance of Johnson "quitting" on his school, as he had previously decided to leave his team at IMG Academy to return to Nicolet High School in Wisconsin, where he had originally led his team to a Division II title. The reasons for his decision to leave IMG Academy seem to be largely unknown.
Regardless of Johnson's intentions in both cases, to leave two teams within the span of a couple of years is not a great look for him.
Outside of that controversy, though, during his time with Duke, Johnson flashed his upside both as a playmaker and rebounder, particularly in transition. He would fill a position of need for the Spurs, brings several skills that the team is lacking in currently, and has the athletic tools to potentially become a very good NBA player.
I trust the Spurs to do plenty of homework on him considering the lingering questions about his time with Duke and IMG Academy, however, if the Spurs think he'll fit the team culture, he could be a player with tons of upside that would come at a good value with the 12th overall pick.