SA Spurs: Should we be worried about Keldon Johnson's shot?
By Cal Durrett
San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson is in the middle of a concerning shooting slump to start the season. Through 10 games, he's hit just 3 of his 22 3-point attempts and has also struggled at the free-throw line. This has been a prolonged trend for Johnson dating back to the 2020-21 season.
Last season, he started off the year shooting well from three, though his percentage steadily dropped as well as his number of attempts, suggesting that he lost faith in his jumper.
So can he regain his shooting form and his confidence? Let’s dive deeper and examine Johnson's shooting woes.
What's most surprising about Jonhson's shooting struggles is that he had a track record as a solid shooter before joining the Spurs. During Johnson's sole season at Kentucky, he shot an impressive 38.1% from three on 3.2 attempts per game and 70% from the free-throw line. In fact, several scouting reports listed his shooting as a positive during the draft process.
However, since he joined the Spurs, he's struggled to find consistency shooting the ball. For instance, he appeared in 31 G League games during his rookie season and shot just 24.5% on threes. While his shooting struggles could be attributed to playing more with the ball in his hands unlike at Kentucky where he primarily spotted up and ran off screens, it foreshadowed the problems he'd have with his shot.
Despite that, he shot an impressive 59.1% from three after being called up late during his rookie season. Last season was a different story, however, as he shot 33.1% on 2.3 attempts. Moreover, to start this season, he's hit just 13.6% of his 3-point attempts as well as 69.2% at the line (which is often a bellwether of a player's shot).
How Keldon Johnson's shot affects the San Antonio Spurs
Despite his shooting issues from three and from the free-throw line, Johnson is still having a productive season, averaging 16.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. That said, he could be even better were his shot to improve. After all, while his scoring has increased, he is averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game.
It's definitely a balancing act for Coach Gregg Popovich, considering Johnson is still one of the team's best players and will need minutes to continue to develop his game. On the other hand, he has negatively affected the team's spacing. As a result, I feel that Popovich should continue playing Johnson as he has until his shot improves.
Johnson, to his credit, is still shooting when open, though he'll have to start making them to keep defenders from playing off him. Additionally, there are a number of ways in which he can improve his shot, though I feel that the high arc on his jumpers has caused him the most trouble. While having a high arc technically increases the probability of him making a shot, it can also be difficult to gauge when the ball leaves his hands.
This has often led to him undershooting his three-point attempts. The obvious solution is for him to put less arc on the ball, though that can be easier said than done. Fortunately, the Spurs have shooting coach Chip Engelland, who has a history of successfully tweaking players' shots.
Johnson and Engelland are likely already working on fixing his shot, though it can be an ongoing process and results aren't always immediately evident. Moreover, while he has had a poor start to the season shooting the ball, there's still hope that his shot will begin to fall. Though, the likelihood of him finishing the season with a 3-point percentage above league average seems low.
Ultimately, with his outside shot not falling, his first inclination should be to drive. After all, he's made significant improvement in that area and is shooting a terrific 51.2% on 12.3 2-point field goals per game. It's also his best bet for getting to the free-throw line, where he can begin to rebuild confidence in his shot and improve his efficiency.