Case for, against Knicks selecting Duke’s Jalen Johnson in 2021 NBA Draft


Jalen Johnson treated image

While it’s unclear where the Knicks truly may end up picking in the 2021 NBA Draft with two first-round and two second-round selections to juggle, they’re set up to take advantage of this latest crop of talent coming in.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of potential draft options for the Knicks, continuing with former Duke forward Jalen Johnson.

The case for drafting Johnson

Johnson is an athletic gift with major upside, clocking in at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan. He’s young (19) and raw, a high-upside draw who has shown flashes of being the modern dynamic, do-all forward teams crave.

Johnson won’t be coming into the NBA with one specialty, but a number of strong attributes to build on. He’s an unselfish player with an eye for ball movement, leading to a high assist rate (20.5%) among his frontcourt peers. Some of his on-the-fly playmaking this season looked guard play worthy. It’s raw like anything else in Johnson’s game, but tall forwards with the ability to create for others are an exciting combination.

This court vision compounds well with Johnson’s transition game. Run outs off defensive rebounds or turnovers are where Johnson thrived this season, either by setting up others or finishing himself. He can get up on lobs or score around contact at times.

Defensively, Johnson’s potential could make him a Tom Thibodeau target. He’s not a defensive prospect through his effort or advanced IQ, though there are moments of both, but his athleticism and instinct.

He’s able to get vertical or slide in for charges when he’s on top of the play unfolding. Some of his help defense resulted in some eye-catching blocks and his length got him active in passing lanes. Per 40 minutes, he would have put up over two steals and two blocks a night.

Johnson may not contribute to a postseason run in his rookie season, but if the Knicks are enamored with his ceiling, drafting him as a fifth big that can develop on a competitive team to one day step in as a more athletic Kyle Anderson is a smart move.

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The case against drafting Johnson

Shooting is paramount in today’s NBA, to the point bigs that aren’t able to spread the floor don’t get to see it much when things get serious. Johnson has a ways to go in this area, despite his 44.4% clip from deep. That number is on only 18 attempts, and watching his form, it’s no secret why he didn’t attempt more.

Johnson has a broken jumper, wildly inconsistent with nonfluid motions. His 63.2% shooting from the charity stripe doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence in his shot as it stands. This can be worked on, but with poor shooting prospects you hope for a bit more foundation to build on.

Poor jump-shooting only makes it tougher for Johnson to create shots for himself. He has a clean handle for a player his size but it won’t get him where he needs to go. Currently, his “spots” are around the basket or the dunker’s spot until he develops more to his offensive game.

There’s also a serious question as to need for the Knicks. This would be three years in a row New York acquires a power forward that should maybe be playing center, in a similar vein as well: multi-faceted, athleticism-dependent, needs work. They might also want to consider more of an NBA-ready guy, given they’ll be competing once again and won’t have much playing time for prospects.

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