Wizards

Wizards could use a player like Jalen Johnson, but will he fall?

Wizards

The Washington Wizards are picking squarely in the middle of the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. Whether Washington trades up, down or stays firm at No. 15, here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who the Wizards could consider selecting.

2021 NBA Draft Prospect Preview: Jalen Johnson

School/team: Duke

Position: Forward

Age: 19

Height: 6-9

Weight: 220

Wingspan: 6-11

2020/21 stats: 13 G, 11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.2 bpg, 52.3 FG% (4.4/8.4), 44.4 3PT% (0.6/1.4), 63.2 FT%

Player comparison: OG Anunoby, Kevin Knox

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 9th, Sports Illustrated 8th, Ringer 12th, NBADraft.net 11th, Bleacher Report 8th

5 things to know:

-There is a lot to like about Johnson as an NBA prospect. He has good size for his position, is fast and agile with bounce. He scored efficiently at Duke, while also rebounding well and forcing turnovers. He averaged more than a steal and a block a game, which isn't easy to do. Johnson is comfortable with the ball in his hands, particularly in transition, and has flashed potential as a passer.

-He is best-known at this point for opting out of his freshman season at Duke to prepare for the NBA Draft. There was quite a bit of backlash in the media and the college basketball community. Johnson also happens to have left his high school team in the middle of his senior year. Whether those should be considered actual, real red flags for the draft is up for debate.

 

-Part of why Johnson opted out, according to reports, was to play it safe due to a foot injury. Though that may explain why he left school, it is something teams will want to get a good read on during their evaluation process.

-Despite his high 3-point percentage, there are some questions about Johnson's ceiling as a shooter. He was a low-volume shooter and shot a poor percentage from the free throw line. Projecting his ability to shoot could come down to how front office experts view his shooting mechanics.

-Johnson comes from a basketball family. Both of his parents played college basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and his brother played at UT Chattanooga.

Fit with Wizards:

Johnson would fit what the Wizards need quite well, particularly since he plays the three. That is the No. 1 hole in the Wizards' rotation and Johnson would help fill it, if not immediately, with good size, explosive athleticism and the potential to both shoot and play defense. Washington needs 3-point shooters and somebody to match up with tall, scoring wings. Johnson likely won't be able to do those things consistently right away but could be good at both long-term.

With the 15th pick, the Wizards may need to opt for long-term upside, anyways. It's hard to find a player in that range who can make an instant impact on a team with playoff aspirations. Johnson's raw skill set, combined with his lack of experience at the college level, suggests he may take some time to develop.

Johnson also may not be there at 15. He could go as high as six or seven, though most mock drafts have him in the back-end of the lottery. Still, as we saw last year with Tyrese Haliburton and Deni Avdija, guys can fall and sometimes much further than anyone expected. The Wizards ended up taking Avdija at ninth overall when some thought he could go in the top-four. Haliburton was rated even higher by some, yet fell to the Kings at 12.

Maybe Johnson will drop due to concerns about his foot injury, or how his college career ended, or something else like his shooting motion. If he did slide, the Wizards would be a logical landing spot as they aim to add another talented young player to their improving roster.