WEIGHT: 215 lbs
HIGH SCHOOL: Nicolet HS (WI), IMG Academy (FL)
AAU: Phenom U (EYBL)
Versatile Three-Position Wing Defender with Offball Roaming Freedom
Primary Initiator with Three-Level Scoring
Two-Way-Wing with Two-Level Scoring
ATHLETICISM / INTANGIBLES
- Was probably injured during his only season with Duke. Shut down the season after just 13 games due to a mix of off the court reasons and his injury to prepare for the draft. Nobody really knows how severe his injury was, but the decision to leave Duke early isn’t understandable for me. The Duke medical staff should absolutely be capable of giving him the best possible treatment in this situation.
- 3 Schools in 3 years of High school. Did transfer from Nicolet to High school powerhouse IMG academy but didn’t make an on court appearance. He left IMG after roughly 6 months without playing a single game and transferred back to Nicolet HS.
- Jalen Johnson moves pretty well for being a legit big wing player, that being said, I got the feeling he overall moved better at EYBL or at the High school level. There are speculations that Johnson played with an injury for at least parts of the year. As quoted in the Fayetteville Observer:
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, however, said Monday that they are still taking precautions in terms of his injury due to its serious nature. “We had him do an MRI last night (Sunday) just to make sure everything was okay, not that he was having problems,” Coach K said. “It actually showed really good stuff, a lot better than it was in December.” The extent of the injury was never disclosed, but Johnson wore a protective boot on the foot while he sat out of practices. Coach K said Monday that Johnson’s recovery process was “something that, if it’s not done right, and it is being done right, could be a major factor in his career.”
- He has the typical Highlighttape-vertical. Going full head of steam, he really can jump and finish strong. In tighter spaces or from a standstill, his vertical is not that impressive. His burst and general acceleration are at an average level.
- An alarming thing that popped up was Johnson’s inability to beat guys on the drive. Even against rather slow footed bigs, he couldn’t create an advantage when handling the ball. That leads me to believe that his foot maybe wasn’t right for the season. In the EYBL sample I got to see, Johnson wasn’t great creating advantage with his burst, but he was able to make some plays with his handle and burst.
- Generally he seems to be a physical finisher. He doesn’t try to go around the defender with a Eurostep or by creating an advantage otherwise. He often tries to go through or over the defender which leads to mixed results as his vertical pop or beforehand advantage aren’t the best.
- His veer finishing is both impressive and sometimes frustrating. He decelerates with his last step, creates space by absorbing contact and fades away to his offhand on those. He does it a bit too often for my liking and should be able to mix it up a bit more.
- JJ projects as a capable ballhandler for a wing with clear deficits that will most likely prevent him from having bigger on ball responsibilities. His handle is quite loose at this stage and he can’t utilize his open court speed with the ball in his hand to the fullest. He is best as a transition ballhandler with open space ahead of him. In halfcourt situations, he surely can attack closeouts and drive in certain situations, but his handle won’t be at a level, where he acts as your primary creator on offense in my opinion.
- The passing looks quite interesting for a player of his size. He tried a lot of different stuff at EYBL which was very exciting and maybe helped him sort out an array of passes which he can use in normal game scenarios at a higher level. At this point, he struggles to hit guys early when handling the ball which lead to some weird situations where he missed the first window, predetermined on the pass and had to jump pass too late to hit the first guy and created a turnover or a far from ideal situation. However, Johnson looks like a wing sized player with some passing chops going forward that will help him regardless of role going forward.
- In halfcourt offense, Johnson seems to be constantly on the search of home run passes rather than making the “right” decision. He misses good opportunities instead opting for high risk, high reward passes too often. I like the approach overall, even if it leads to some unnecessary turnovers. It will come down to Johnson making better decisions when to play which kind of pass. I’m not exactly sure if he reads the whole floor well or fits just the big ballhandler category who can overlook the defense by size, but doesn’t process the game well enough to take more on ball responsibilities.
- He is turnover prone when pivoting or just standing and surveying the floor. It’s easy to poke the ball out of his hands as he reads the floor on a standstill.
- The overall shooting is an area where Jalen doesn’t really excel at this point. The good thing is, he takes shots and understands that it would be very important for his NBA role going forward. It’s not that he doesn’t try to improve anything about his mechanics, he changed it several times during his time in High school and even between EYBL and senior season of High school by multiple styles of coaching. With that in mind, his numbers are a bit more bearable with a FT% of 62.2% (299 FTA) and 26.3% 3P% (194 3PA). Those numbers are expandable, but his overall FTr and 3PAr numbers are fine for his role going forward. The mix of attacking the rim on self created drives plus a solid rate of attempted threes as a 6’9 guy is a promising one, even when it takes a bit of time to develop the shot.
- He displayed quick and active hands and the ability to disrupt ballhandlers or entry passes.
- With space to load up, he is able to make vertical plays at the rim. His relative lack of length (reported wingspan under 7 feet) and vertical pop paired with an inconstant motor and awareness gives him a decent floor as a rim protector, but it’s hard for me to view him as a clear positive on every matchup here. He is best suited as a helper in those situations in my opinion, using space and well-timed rotations to make plays at the rim.
- When watching Johnson play for Duke, it’s quite obvious that something went terrible wrong with his closeouts. He sometimes either didn’t even raise his hands or just got blown by nearly every type of player. There are times he didn’t even attempt to close out or defend his man it seems. It will be very interesting where he ends up in that regard as his EYBL tape wasn’t nearly THAT bad on defense.
- In man to man situations, Jalen looked not that enticing as well. Getting blown by many times, unable to swing his hips in time. It was fairly easy to create an advantage on Johnson this season. He made a good effort recovering from time to time but was pretty mediocre overall for a guy with his physical profile.
- The “big” test on his ability guarding a bigger player came against Illinois Kofi Cockburn, a true, oldschool 7 footer who is very physical. Johnson wasn’t really able to guard him on the interior but was quite solid when denying position early or preventing the entry pass. When the ball got inside and opposing bigs are in position, there isn’t much Johnson can do besides fouling.
So, what’s the case here? It’s hard to get a grasp for me where Johnson stands defensively as of now. I don’t think that his Duke tape was totally accurate to determine Johnson’s defensive value, as the contrast between his college and AAU tape in terms of movement and will to defend was quite big in my opinion. His overall feel for the game is just too good to miss rotations regularly and his physical profile is too good to get beaten by average college players.
The elephant in the room is certainly his exit at Duke and how it went down. As I’m not able to get a full grasp about neither the situation at Duke nor the situation at the IMG Academy, I won’t speculate what could have lead Jalen to those decisions. According to Sam Vecenie, some NBA front offices were already a bit concerned about Johnson for going to three different High school programs in three years. The Duke situation is another reason to believe that there is maybe something going on in or around Johnson’s camp/his surroundings. We have to keep it in mind, but it’s not a red flag for me as long as I don’t have reliable information regarding those situations.
After watching the Duke tape for Jalen, I wondered if there is something going on off court. Not necessarily between him and the team, but health wise. He seemed to be not at full strength and besides that, there are early stories about some tension between him and the school. Did we underestimate the effects of the Covid-19 riddled season and pre-season? Without normal campus life it seems to be quite difficult to build relationships with the rest of the team, especially when you are a one and done prospect who will leave the campus after just one year.
Jalen Johnson is an interesting prospect. Big wing sized, with above average movement and passing ability and an understanding, what he needs to do on an NBA court. Some areas of his game need to be developed for sure; like his shooting. But his skillset leads me to believe that he has both a solid floor and a high upside as a player. His main swing skill is his shooting, but he seems to be more than an “if he shoots guy” at this point. He showed the willingness to tinker with his mechanics and improve as a shooter. His indicators besides pure shooting percentage numbers are quite encouraging to me. He possesses a solid touch, understands that he has to shoot at the next level and is an above average ballhandler and passer for his size. It wouldn’t surprise me if he became a league average shooter during his rookie deal in the NBA, but it’s not a sure thing. He has avenues to help his teams spacing regardless if he shoots or not, but he should be put in a role, where he can use his passing and driving ability in the flow of the offense.
AS OF: 3/20/2021