San Antonio Spurs: Is Jalen Johnson worth the risk?

Jalen Johnson - Duke v Louisville
Jalen Johnson - Duke v Louisville / Andy Lyons/Getty Images
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Whether it be through a trade, free agency, or the NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs are likely looking for help in their frontcourt. In the draft, the Spurs ought to take a look at Duke forward Jalen Johnson, who had a roller-coaster ride for the ages throughout his freshman season. Once considered a "lock" to be chosen in the top half of the lottery in the 2021 NBA Draft, Johnson has slid down draft boards considerably in recent months. But is it for good reason?

Jalen Johnson stood out as the 13th best overall recruit in his high school class and a five-star recruit that received an offer to play at the Jordan Brand Classic.

The ultra-dynamic 19-year-old came into his college basketball career with high expectations and, at times during his freshman season, showed why he's receiving such high consideration at the next level. But the good didn't outweigh the bad throughout his lone season at Duke, which ultimately ended in Johnson's early exit from the program just 13 games into his freshman year.

The decision to leave the program early opened the eyes and ears of the media and brought unnecessary attention to a choice that was understandable from Johnson's perspective. Duke's basketball team wasn't very talented last season, there was no good reason for Johnson to risk further injury, and quite frankly, he wasn't showing strong signs of development throughout his time with the team.

To focus solely on the draft and embrace the quickly approaching new chapter of his life was a brave decision considering the resulting backlash. But in the eyes of various media members and potentially NBA teams, it'll definitely be framed as a talking point and area of concern. In fact, analysts and credentialed media outlets like The Athletic, CBS Sports, The Ringer, and others have already begun spinning Johnson's decision as him "quitting" on his team.

Coupled with his inconsistent play, some mock drafts are now predicting Johnson to be selected outside of the lottery, with CBS's latest mock draft predicting him to go 15th overall to the Washington Wizards. If he's to be selected anywhere near the top ten, Johnson will have a PR battle to overcome on top of answering questions about his game.

With that in mind, though, The Athletic posted their latest 2021 mock draft on Thursday morning, with Jalen Johnson landing with the San Antonio Spurs, selected at pick #12.

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of Johnson's game and his fit in San Antonio, it's worth noting that Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Coach Gregg Popovich have worked together in recent years. Should San Antonio decide to select Johnson, that will certainly mean that Pop and company have done extensive homework on him, his game, and his background.