Keldon Johnson has earned a reputation as a fearsome slasher during his four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, but sometimes narratives fail to match the reality of a situation. Though a generic talking point might be a helpful crutch for color commentators to fill time on a local broadcast, the cold hard truth is the fourth-year forward has been inefficient at the rim.
Since Johnson joined the NBA, the league-average field goal percentage inside the restricted area has been 64.7%. Through the first 191 games of his professional career, Keldon shot 4.3% below that mark, consistently ranking in the bottom 50th percentile from that zone. At least, that was the case up until recently.
The 23-year-old human battering ram has turned the page across his last 17 games, finishing an outstanding 68.1% of his 119 attempts at the basket during that stretch. This small sample size might give you a little cause for pause, so how about we look at how Keldon has pulled off his expeditious midseason development?
Before examining all the changes that Johnson has made to his approach near the hoop, it's crucial to understand where he was going wrong in the first place. All it takes is one glance at the film to see the myriad of issues that held Keldon back as a finisher.
From taking subpar driving angles, unnecessarily far takeoffs, and shoddy awareness of weakside help defenders to poor touch off the glass, forced finishes, and uncomfortable midair adjustments, Keldon all but set himself up for failure. While his physicality and determination to pursue his misses were his saving grace, those traits often translated to turnovers, offensive fouls, and more bricks.
If you sequester his tape from December 29 onwards, Johnson is virtually unrecognizable from the reckless driver he was at the start of the season. He has cleaned up his mechanics on his downhill forays, initiating contact with purpose, changing pace to keep defenders off balance, safeguarding layups with the glass, and being more selective with his timing.
Players rarely experience a prolonged spike in effectiveness in the middle of a season. The fact Keldon has boosted his volume from 4.9 attempts at the rim (first 30 games) to 7.0 (last 17 games) and still displayed immense improvement speaks to his ability to identify weaknesses in his repertoire and take the proper steps to turn them into strengths.
Could his defense, playmaking, shot versatility, and self-creation use an upgrade? Absolutely. However, for a youngster forcibly miscast as a go-to scorer still acclimating to the challenges and obligations that come with that tile, there are several reasons for Spurs fans to be encouraged by Keldon's undeniable progress as we close in on the All-Star Break.