The Buzz Around Armon Johnson

Folks are starting to effusively praise Armon Johnson's Summer League play.  Other folks are starting to wonder why others are effusively praising Armon Johnson's Summer League play (usually as opposed to, say, Patty Mills).  With the always-present caveat that this is Summer League and we've only seen two games so far, the buzz surrounding Johnson is justified.

You can boil down his ability into three important words:  mastery of space.  That's not some Zero Wing flashback.  Watch what happens when Johnson has the ball on offense.  He'll dribble, hold, set up, then all of a sudden he'll make a move and, as if by magic, the once-defended guard is alone in a private, three-foot-radius oasis on the court.  Part of people's excitement comes from his athleticism which creates these situations.  Mine comes more from his quick instincts to take advantage of them.  Lots of guys get free in Summer League but their reactions and/or decisions are slow enough that the opportunity gets lost.  Johnson appears to know how to score and pass when he gets open, nearly-instantly and with authority.  That's not to say every decision he makes is correct or flawlessly-executed.  But even when they don't go in those little pull-up jumpers look like NBA shots as opposed to Summer League shots.  He won't get as free in the League as he does in Vegas but when he does get free he should be as instantly dangerous.  Those pull-ups are a weapon no matter the name on the court.  That transferability of skill (and potentially production) is a legitimate reason to be excited about this guy's prospects over and above players who are putting up better numbers and making more of a sustained impact in these July games.

Johnson is also good at using his body and judging space on defense.  Most folks have picked up on this already from the obvious steals but if you look at how he bodies up or lays back on defenders his sense of space, while again not perfect, is still pretty well-developed...certainly above most of his peers.  Defense is a mixture of athletic ability, brainpower, will, and experience.  Johnson is showing his physical chops and has enough brainpower to take advantage of it.  If he can find a reservoir of will his future looks pretty bright as a defensive guard.  That prospect is also plenty tantalizing for a team with a shaky backcourt on that end.

Anointing Johnson as a rotation player would be premature.  He hasn't even hopped all of the Summer League hurdles yet and those are a long way up the track from actual playing time.  But if you're looking for a guy with the inside track, who might be able to help the Blazer lineup eventually, even in a reserve capacity, Johnson is the stand-out this year.  As Ben pointed out in his recap post A.J. is looking like a hot prospect and a good fit.  That's a great combination.  So far, the buzz is justified.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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