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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San Antonio Spurs
Jalen Johnson - Duke v Miami / Mark Brown/Getty Images

What Jalen Johnson could bring to the San Antonio Spurs

As of today, on offense, Johnson is at his best while attacking in transition and distributing in the half-court once the offense is set. Johnson averaged two fast-break points per game, which placed him in the 88th percentile among all NCAA players. His strong finishing at the rim continued throughout his freshman season, as he averaged nearly seven points per game in the paint (93rd percentile).

The paint is where Johnson was able to do most of his damage in terms of scoring, whether it came off of a fast-break or off of second chance opportunities. Despite needing to work on his jumper, the Spurs could really use a player like him that has a strong presence near the bucket.

We'll touch on the jumper later, but offensively, Johnson flashed some impressive facilitating upside at Duke. He wasn't always consistent, but he had one game with seven assists and zero turnovers, and two games with five assists and two or fewer turnovers, with most of those assists occurring against already-set defenses.

He also has a knack for grabbing rebounds on the offensive glass, as he averaged nearly two offensive rebounds per game. At the very least, he'll be a rim-running forward who offers some playmaking ability early on in his career. For that ability to translate long-term, though, he must improve his jumper.

As mentioned previously, Johnson had some really impressive playmaking flashes, but those flashes were overshadowed by his frequent mistakes with the basketball. With nearly a 21% turnover rate (24th percentile), he’s going to need a season in the G-League to catch up to the speed of the NBA game. If he can begin to make better decisions though, the potential for him to excel as a playmaker is very obviously there.

Thankfully, across the board on defense, Jalen Johnson posted some really impressive advanced numbers. Initially in his career, that’s surely where he’ll be at his best. Despite being a bit unpolished in his technique, he's a strong and willing defender that has great instincts on and off the ball. In fact, he placed in the top tenth percentile in steal percentage, block percentage, and block to personal foul rate.

Johnson also provides upside as a weak-side rim protector and often played drop coverage-style defense while at Duke, similarly to Franz Wagner. Because drop coverage is frequently utilized in the NBA, that quality of his game will certainly provide the Spurs with an upgrade for their pick-and-roll defense. 

He’s also quite a strong defensive rebounder, averaging 4.5 boards per contest on that end of the floor. Coincidentally, the Spurs are desperately in need of more rebounding as they were 18th in the league in rebounding this past regular season. This attribute alone would probably give the coaching staff plenty of reason to play him often as the Spurs' backup power forward (with the potential to earn the starting job).

In totality, Johnson is still an extremely raw prospect on both ends of the floor, but he has a strong foundation to build upon. In time, if he can develop a more reliable jumper, in combination with his flashes of playmaking and defense, the Spurs could be looking at a steal with the 12th pick.