The Trail Blazers’ memorable postseason run might be over, but the the 2019 NBA Draft is right around the corner. Portland’s President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey currently has the No. 25 pick in the draft at his disposal and he will look to supplement the Blazers’ roster with a talented prospect in the latter stages of the first round. Today we look at Kentucky Wildcats forward Keldon Johnson.
- Height: 6’6”
- Weight: 216
- Wingspan: 6’9”
- Shooting hand: Right
- Position: SF
- Age: 19
- Projected draft range: 14-23
- PTS: 13.5 | Per 40: 17.5
- REB: 5.9 | Per 40: 7.6
- AST: 1.6 | Per 40: 2.1
- STL: 0.8 | Per 40: 1.0
- FG%: 46.1
- 3P%: 38.1
- FT%: 70.3
Buoyed by a relentless motor, Johnson projects favorably as an impact player on both ends of the court. Offensively, he attacks closeouts with purpose and gets inside for high-percentage looks. Johnson is more than just a finisher at the rim. Armed with a soft touch, the Virginia native’s floater keeps opponents guessing on drives. While on the perimeter, Johnson’s three-point shooting does enough to garner the attention of the defense. His shot form is far from textbook, but it is repeatable. Overhauling his mechanics would be a risky endeavor. Instead, it is likely he will continue to improve as he adjusts to the NBA’s perimeter-oriented style of play.
Outside of his scoring ability, Johnson is a willing passer and an impressive rebounder for his size. Given his length and tenacity, he should blossom into a defender capable of handling a wide range of assignments.
At first glance, Johnson appears to possess superior athleticism. Due to the amount of opportunities he was afforded in transition, his physical exploits might be slightly overblown. When Kentucky switched to SEC competition, it took a toll on Johnson’s production. He still managed to get to the paint, but he struggled to finish through contact consistently. Johnson’s outside shooting also suffered down the stretch of the season. The SEC’s superior talent combined with thorough scouting reports to reduce his three-point efficiency.
Johnson’s defensive shortcomings are tied to his lack of experience. Like most freshman featured in a major role, he was caught flat-footed when facing offenses that featured an abundance of off-ball movement.
Kentucky’s season overcame an early misstep against Duke to get out to a fast start in the 2018-19 season. Johnson contributions took center stage as the Wildcats won eight of their first nine contests. It ended in a loss for Kentucky, but Johnson connected on one of the best buzzer beaters of last season to force overtime against Seton Hall. Conference play presented a noteworthy set of hurdles for the first-year Wildcats wing, but he still managed to secure SEC Rookie of the Year honors. Once in the NCAA Tournament, Johnson crossed the double-digit scoring threshold in two of Kentucky’s four games.
Johnson’s effort and upside will attract multiple suitors that are picking just outside of the lottery. At worst, he projects to be a serviceable role player at a position of need. From the first time he steps foot on the court, Johnson can make his presence felt with his rebounding and high-flying finishes in transition. In the right situation, there is a clear path for him to reclaim the buzz he earned when he secured the No. 7 spot in 2018’s ESPN 100 rankings.
Depending on what forwards the Blazers retain this summer, Johnson could fill a variety of roles in coach Terry Stotts’ rotation. A frontcourt pairing of Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard present a list of strengths, but that duo is not known for its rebounding acumen. Inserting a high-energy rebounder like Johnson to that mix could remedy that issue for short bursts. Johnson’s long-term fit is tied closer to Anfernee Simons and Collins’ timeline. That could all change quickly with how fast the former Wildcats standout picks up Portland’s scheme. He has proven he can position himself to convert open three-point chances—a skill that the Blazers’ current backcourt needs from its forwards.
It will take a modest trade or some luck for Johnson to get within the Blazers’ grasp on draft night. Under Olshey, Portland has a history of benefiting from either one of those outcomes.
Do you want to see Johnson in a Blazers jersey next season? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.