The Portland Trail Blazers are certainly not short of for additonal guard assist this season. The franchise will open the 2022-23 season with Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart and Gary Payton II as the most obvious rotation items on the two smaller positions.
But what about Keon Johnson?
The younger prospect arrived within the Norman Powell and Robert Covington care for the Los Angeles Clippers in February and performed a significant section within the Blazers’ fresh Summer League championship.
Over the previous week, each Lillard and Coach Chauncey Billups have highlighted the 20-year-old as a standout in preseason exercises, calling out his building and his power. Neither had to drop Johnson’s title however obviously the younger guard used to be deserving of the reward.
“Keon Johnson, to me has been probably the most spectacular participant from ultimate yr to this yr, his building smart and the best way he’s drawing near the sport.
“I think all the vets have noticed that he’s here and he’s trying to compete. He’s done everything I’ve asked him to do.”
Getting the previous Tennessee product at the court docket this season will on the other hand be a problem. Lillard and Simons are solidified as starters with Hart and Payton II locks to get respectable mins off the bench.
Despite this roadblock, Johnson does have workable talents to supply this group. At 6’4, the flexible guard boasts athleticism, explosiveness, scoring, protection and, in spots, the power to care for and facilitate.
Johnson gave the look to be top at the Clippers wish-list on 2021 NBA Draft evening, prompting them to care for the New York Knicks to transport up 4 spots to be able to safe the younger capturing guard with the twenty first select. And why no longer? That 41.5 inch vertical soar on the mix would have triggered all 30 franchises to a minimum of take a 2nd glance.
In 15 outings with the Clippers, Johnson noticed a measly 9 mins a recreation, placing up stats that received’t give a contribution to this piece and shouldn’t be used to end up anything else.
Dealt to the Blazers along Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow and a 2nd spherical select days earlier than the cut-off date, the athletic guard used to be given alternative as Portland’s tank began rolling. He registered 25 mins, 9.7 issues on virtually 35 % from the at the back of the arc, 2.2 forums, 2.1 assists and zero.8 steals in 22 video games because the Blazers sunk down the standings.
With the Blazers season finishing in mid April, Johnson set to work and by the point Las Vegas Summer League came over in early July, he used to be in a position to head. Johnson contributed averages of 14.2 issues on 33.3 % 3 level capturing, 3.9 forums, 2 assists and 1.8 steals in what become the franchise’s 2nd Summer League name.
Fast ahead to Media Day on Monday the place the sophomore capturing guard ran via his summer season priorities, naming conditioning and making improvements to off-court conduct key to turning into a greater skilled. He labored on his frame and protection, highlighting an emphasis on selecting up gamers at 94 toes, the use of his natural tendencies and six’7 wingspan to corral opposing defenders on the level of assault.
It’s all just right and neatly to paintings laborious within the low season however how does this get him at the court docket?
Josh Hart at the Move?
One method Johnson may have a chance to look non-junk-time mins is the possible mid-season business of Josh Hart’s expiring contract. Hart seems to be one of the crucial roster’s major applicants for business. providing the opposite 29 groups a spread of treasured talents.
General Manager Joe Cronin has to watch for Hart no longer selecting up his 2023-24 participant possibility and the ensuing pay upward push he’ll be due the next summer season. Consequently, buying and selling Hart on the cut-off date for a small ahead or middle of end result would obviously be the prudent possibility whilst additionally unclogging that guard backlog.
Just to be transparent, I’m no longer for a 2nd suggesting Johnson can fill the 20-to-25 mins Hart will depart vacant. The majority of the ones mins almost certainly cross to Payton II, possibly Shaedon Sharpe and even Nassir Little. But it additionally opens a door for the Blazers’ training group of workers to a minimum of give Johnson a significant glance.
While the Blazers don’t have any transparent beginning small ahead, they’re no longer precisely shallow on the place with Little, Hart, Justise Winslow and Payton II all able to contributing. Problem is Hart and Payton II will spend time within the backcourt with Winslow doubtlessly taking on energy ahead or even some middle mins as neatly.
This opens up time at the back of Little and whilst Johnson is undersized on the 3 status 6’4, his aforementioned 6’7 wingspan and uncooked athleticism may well be sufficient to fill the void at a pinch. But that is match-up dependent, you are no longer placing Johnson on LeBron James.
Injuries and Load Management
The topic no person dare broach, however accidents occur and if a number of of Lillard, Simons, Hart and Payton II cross down — expectantly no longer for prolonged classes — doorways would possibly open. Last season, Johnson confirmed competence enjoying NBA mins, although the group used to be tanking, and if gamers quickly fall to damage, Billups would possibly glance to the Tennessee standout.
Depending on how neatly the Blazers get started the season, there will also be alternatives for 32-year-old Lillard to sit down a recreation right here and there. In this situation, Simons is also driven to indicate guard, vaulting Johnson into the beginning unit, in order to not dissatisfied the rotation.
Sharpe vs Johnson
One of the principle stumbling blocks to Johnson enjoying significant mins is the present state of the Blazers. It seems the franchise is raring to make ultimate season’s tankathon an remoted incident with Cronin bringing in veterans Jerami Grant and Payton II to assist Lillard combat with the Western Conference elite.
The prize yielded through mentioned tank used to be 7th general select Shaedon Sharpe who may be vying for the same position within the rotation and from all experiences has additionally inspired. It’s not likely a group seeking to compete performs two uncooked younger potentialities until they had been in a position to stand up to hurry briefly.
Honestly, you’d must think Sharpe will get the preliminary shot at rotation mins based totally purely on his reported skillset and the asset the Blazers used to snag him.
A be aware on Johnson’s personal business price
While Hart’s title will most probably arise in business discussions in past due January and early February, Johnson’s rookie-scale deal will also be attractive to re-building franchises with gaps of their respective guard rotations. But he’ll almost certainly want court docket time to verify the Blazers get equivalent price in go back, which implies he received’t be moved any time quickly.
Johnson’s meager $2.6 million deal (group choices in 2023-24 and 2024-25) will virtually undoubtedly be restrictive with the Blazers not likely to deliver again a participant of end result at a an identical value. Perhaps, pairing Johnson with Hart in a business may well be extra a hit however this sort of deal additionally transforms Portland’s guard backlog into a significant backcourt dearth.
Johnson could have a long run within the NBA. Whether it’s with the Blazers or no longer is unsure and whilst rave evaluations about his growth at media day are promising, his highway to actual enjoying time will probably be a problem.
An terrible get started for the franchise, damage, trades and an underwhelming Shaedon Sharpe seem his very best avenues to enjoying time. Great for him, no longer so just right for the Blazers.
But it’s additionally in the most efficient pursuits for the franchise to get him at the court docket on every occasion they may be able to to both have him give a contribution to successful or elevate his personal business price as Cronin and the Blazers proceed to construct this roster.