Despite playing only 13 games during his freshman season at Duke University, Jalen Johnson has still shown flashes as one of the best prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft. The athletic point forward possesses every skill necessary to make a difference in the league, but scouts question his overall interest in the game of basketball. He’s a risky pick, but one that will definitely find a home in the first round.
Jalen Johnson 2021 NBA Draft Profile
It’s been several years since Johnson played a complete season of basketball. That season dates back to his junior year of high school. Johnson attended the IMG Academy for his senior season but failed to see any in-game action and left the school for undisclosed reasons. This was his third school in three years prior to college basketball. Still, Johnson committed to Duke as a five-star recruit that consistently ranked top-five or top-10 on recruiting lists.
Unfortunately for Johnson, his lack of full commitments plays into his narrative. Johnson showed some flashes of his brilliance throughout a freshman campaign at Duke that ended after only 13 games before he opted to “focus on the next level.” In those 13 games and eight starts, he averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per contest on better than 50% shooting from the field. One instance of his brilliance came on January 19 against Pittsburgh, a game he recorded 24 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks, and two steals.
When evaluating his strengths, it’s necessary to start with his build. Johnson has a prototypical NBA body, especially for a point forward. The Duke product stands at 6-foot-9-inches and 220 pounds with a 6-foot-11-inch wingspan. Johnson is both versatile and athletic with solid ball-handling and can score at the rim. His athleticism plays a huge factor in his ability to score in multiple ways. Johnson also showcases solid vision on both offense and defense. He’s regarded highly as a great defender and can pull down rebounds and blocks with his size.
Johnson’s most glaring weakness comes from his ability to shoot from deep. He doesn’t shoot often from deep, and in college, teams dared him to take outside shots. Johnson shot a respectable 44% from 3-point range but only took 18 attempts throughout his 13 games. If he continues to shoot decently from outside, then NBA teams will focus on this cautiously and it could have the potential to turn into a weakness.
The five-star recruit also became somewhat of a turnover machine in college. He has all the skills to run point-forward, but his inconsistencies led to more turnovers than assists throughout his short college career. Of course, his lack of dedication at any of his stops the last couple of years is a growing concern as well.
Johnson is a unique gamble for teams in the 2021 NBA Draft. With his skill set and size, Johnson has the ability to turn into someone as good as Jayson Tatum. On the safer side, he compares better to a Stephen Jackson or T.J. Warren.
It’s all a matter of which teams are willing to take a gamble. The Denver Nuggets took a chance on Michael Porter Jr. back in 2018 and he turned into the steal of the draft. Johnson could easily slide into the top-10, but based on these fears, expect him to be closer to the 15th pick.
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