Three difficult decisions the Spurs must make this offseason
2. Can Keldon Johnson be a long-term starter?
The answer to this question probably seems like a no-brainer. How could a 23-year-old averaging a career-high 21.8 points per game not belong in the starting lineup? Nonetheless, there are layers to this discussion worth peeling back for a closer examination.
Despite leading the Spurs in scoring, Keldon Johnson has been one of the least efficient bucket-getters in the NBA. Though the fourth-year forward has made tremendous strides as a finisher, the rest of his arsenal is sorely lacking. He has shot below league average from midrange, the paint, both corners, and everywhere else along the three-point line.
We already discussed his regression from beyond the arc on Monday, and while ditching the three-ball is concerning, there are more pressing issues for Keldon. He has shied away from pushing his in-between game, leaving transition chances, straight-line attacks, and trips to the free throw line as his principal tools for accumulating points.
Johnson makes a living off taking the ball to the basket but hasn't learned how to get his teammates consistently involved when getting downhill. Of the 49 players in the league that drive at least ten times per game, Keldon makes the fewest passes (3.1) on those forays to the rim.
The six-five slasher is figuring out the playmaking process as Head Coach Gregg Popovich force-feeds him ballhandling reps. He has shown fleeting moments of brilliance with shove passes and wraparounds, though he too often misses simple reads trying to force the issue at the hoop.
That brings us to his defense, which has been shoddy at best. Keldon has allowed opponents to shoot 51.7% against him as a man-to-man defender this season. He is too heavy-footed to stick to guards and too undersized to offer much resistance against most frontcourt players.
He is arguably worse at stopping points as a team defender. Johnson gets beat on backdoor cuts when ball-watching, is frequently late on weakside rotations, and has struggled to communicate switches. Not to mention his steal and block rates are virtually negligible.
In all fairness, Keldon has navigated a rebuilding team forcibly miscasting him as a go-to option as well as anybody could have hoped. Nonetheless, PATFO must consider the possibility he may be too one-dimensional to be a long-term solution in the starting lineup.