Keldon Johnson Earned Coach Pop’s Trust Early
Before jumping into specifics of his game, it is important to remember that Johnson only played a total of 301 NBA minutes during the 2019-20 season. Like most of the Spurs' first-round picks in recent years, he spent the majority of his rookie year in Austin getting all the minutes he could handle for the sake of working out the kinks in his game.
He needed the reps to improve his inconsistent jump shot, but when watching him against his G-League competition, it became very apparent that no one could keep him from getting two feet in the paint.
While he thrived toward the end of his rookie season, the sample size was too small and the environment too strange to feel confident about any observations. Then, his sophomore season happened. With 67 appearances in the starting lineup, Johnson was the first Spur to start more than 50 games as a 21-year-old since Kawhi Leonard did it in his second season.
Mind you, Leonard had over 1200 more NBA minutes under his belt from his previous year when he already earned Coach Pop’s trust and became a regular starter toward the end of his rookie season. For Pop to insert Johnson into the starting lineup despite the lack of seasoning and considering the tumultuous, practice-starved season during a pandemic says a great deal about the organization's belief in the young man.
He showed why he merited that level of trust this early in his career by playing with as much grit and poise as he did. He averaged 12.8 points per game while providing good rebounding and tremendous energy on both ends of the floor. It was how he got those points that demonstrated a unique blend of gifts all basketball fans should pay closer attention to.