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Is Johnson's athleticism enough for Warriors in NBA draft?

NBC Sports
Keon Johnson

Steve Kerr has been vocal in his desire for a more athletic roster, and the best pure athlete in the 2021 NBA Draft could be available for the Warriors with their No. 7 overall pick. 

Meet Keon Johnson, a consensus top-four shooting guard. Jalen Green is the clear top prospect at the position, but choosing among the next three -- James Bouknight, Moses Moody and Johnson -- is a matter of preference.

What sets Johnson apart is his athleticism. It’s freakish. The Warriors are a team in need and, also, we must keep in mind that their most athletic incumbents, Andrew Wiggins and James Wiseman, are frequently aligned with trade speculation. 

Despite unexceptional shooting, Johnson attracted considerable attention during a solid freshman season at Tennessee by combining the athleticism with defensive intensity. He then raised eyebrows around the globe with a record 48-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft Combine last month.

Initially expected to go late in the lottery, Johnson’s combine showing and the positive impression he left on interviewers likely moved him into the six to 10 range.

Johnson’s strengths are visible as well as intellectual. His smarts, lateral quickness and preternatural savvy will allow him to immediately defend most NBA guards and some wings. His burst is nearly as impressive as his bounce. Despite turning only 19 in March, he is a creative scorer, particularly in the paint, where his physical assets and smarts neutralize taller defenders. His off-ball movement is a plus. His season-highs -- 27 points (against Kentucky), nine rebounds (twice), six assists and four steals -- hint at his all-around game. There was a noticeable improvement in efficiency once he entered the starting lineup midway through the season.


There will be explosive dunks -- Johnson is destined to be a highlight regular -- but those will be eye-candy bonuses.

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There are, of course, some notable weaknesses. Johnson’s stroke looks good and seems quick enough, but he shot only 27.1 percent beyond the arc. That’s partly because he shot them so rarely, only 48 attempts in 27 games. He never made more than two in a game, and he did that only twice. He can be careless with the ball, usually trying to do too much.

If he’s available at No. 7, the Warriors have to think about it. If he’s available at No. 14, they have to take him.

Keon Johnson profile

Position: Shooting guard/small forward 

Class: Freshman

Birthdate: March 10, 2002

Hometown: Shelbyville, Tenn.

2020-21 season averages: 11.3 points (44.9 percent FG, 27.1 percent 3-point, 70.3 percent FT), 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals.

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 190

Wingspan: 6-foot-7

NBA comps: Jaylen Brown (NBA Draft Room), Latrell Sprewell (The Ringer)

What they’re saying: “What I love about him too is he's gotten to a point where he's asking questions about a lot of different things in the game. And he's not going to back down from anyone and that can be infectious to his teammates which I think it has been. As much confidence as we as a staff have in him, his teammates have that same confidence." -Volunteers coach Rick Barnes, to reporters during the SEC Tournament

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