Orlando Magic 2021 NBA Draft Preview: Keon Johnson’s speed demands notice

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 13: Keon Johnson #45 of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half of their semifinal game in the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Alabama defeats Tennessee 73-68. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 13: Keon Johnson #45 of the Tennessee Volunteers reacts against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half of their semifinal game in the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Alabama defeats Tennessee 73-68. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

Now that the Orlando Magic have hired Jamahl Mosley as their head coach, we can now see what the foundation of the new Magic culture will be going forward.

Mosley’s strengths as a player’s coach with an emphasis on player development give us an indication of what kinds of draft prospects would be suitable to prosper in the Magic development pipeline.

He said he wants his team to be able to play with pace and space. Defensively, he wants his team to be able to talk and to communicate but to play with energy and physicality. It is still fairly ill-defined still but everyone understands the Magic are going to play differently than they did the last few years.

The Magic are going to need a new kind of player to fit this new style.

What better prospect to pair with Mosley than the athletically gifted yet fundamentally raw prospect Keon Johnson?

The Orlando Magic need a lot of things. But the super-athletic Keon Johnson gives the team a new kind of player and could be a high-reward player to build the team around.

In a draft class that has been noted as both top-heavy and projects many mid- and late-lottery players as role players, Johnson stands out as a player who has the physical skills and intensity of a potential star player.

Johnson is someone who stands out for one skill that is completely unteachable. And while there is always risk taking a player whose skills trail their athletic gifts, if they eventually catch up the possibilities are endless.

Johnson has been ubiquitously labeled by draft pundits and scouts as one of the most athletically gifted prospects in this draft class.

This notion was punctuated by his absurd vertical jump numbers at the draft combine — posting an NBA Draft Combine record of 48 inches max vertical leap.

Johnson’s game is defined by his superhuman athletic ability and is paired with a high motor which propelled him to conduct dazzling acrobatic displays of basketball wizardry on a game-to-game basis.

Johnson will come into the league with the ability to create opportunities in transition, using his aggressiveness and athleticism as an exclamation point for any fast-break opportunities.

In the half-court, Johnson has been implemented in the past as a straight-line driver and used in dig sets and pick and rolls to take advantage of his elite speed against mismatches.

Johnson finished his season at Tennessee last year averaging 11.3 points per game. There are still plenty of limits to his game — and we will get to them — but the way he scored those points was with high-octane athleticism.

Although Johnson may be lean at the moment of this writing (185 pounds), Johnson plays bigger than his size, offering resistance against bigger post players and using his technique to remain balanced in defensive situations.

Additionally, Johnson exhibits a frame that can be built up with NBA nutrition and training, suggesting that he can develop strength as he gains professional experience.

Johnson’s immediate impact as an NBA player will come on the defensive end.

Johnson showed superb instincts as both a one-on-one defender and as a help defender — parlaying his motor and athleticism into an engaged and active deterrent when facing both guards and wings.

Johnson uses his speed and aggression to fight over screens and stay attached to his defensive assignment. Johnson’s mobility keeps him in front of his assignment often and has shown the ability to cut off driving lanes and limit primary assignments to contested mid-range jumpers.

Live Feed

3 young players Blazers should develop, 2 to give up on
3 young players Blazers should develop, 2 to give up on /

Rip City Project

  • 3 players the Blazers should trade to fully embrace the post-Lillard eraRip City Project
  • NCAA Basketball: 10 best players from state of Ohio of last decadeBusting Brackets
  • Jody Allen reiterates that Trail Blazers will not be sold; more recent newsRip City Project
  • Shaedon Sharpe to make Blazers debut at Las Vegas Summer LeagueRip City Project
  • Philadelphia 76ers: 3 deals to send Matisse Thybulle to the Portland Trail BlazersSection 215
  • In cases where he is beat off the dribble, Johnson has shown superior recovery and hip rotation to still deliver a jaw-dropping block at the rim. He posted a +3.1 defensive box plus-minus according to Sports-Reference. Johnson filled up the defensive stats even if his offensive stats still seemed well behind.

    It would be easy to chock this up to his athleticism. But Johnson has a nuanced understanding of defensive sets and his anticipation of the ball have resulted in timely steal attempts by either disrupting passing lanes or ripping the ball out of the primary ball-handlers hands as a help defender.

    Johnson will make hustle plays on the defensive end. He has shown the willingness to take charges and is eager to crash the boards for a rebound and immediately begin a fast break opportunity.

    Johnson will need to work on his discipline. He fouled at a high rate (2.2 fouls per game) and saw this number of fouls increase as his playing time increased. Much of this has to do with his aggression – Johnson will sometimes get bold with his steal attempts and will be caught with a foul.

    If Johnson can reign in some of his more reckless tendencies, he has the ability to be a high-level perimeter defender in the NBA early into his career.

    Johnson’s career trajectory will ultimately be defined by his development on the offensive end.

    Although Johnson showed some skill with his post jumper and mid-range jumper in college, his 27.1-percent 3-point percentage on very limited opportunities raises an alarm.

    There is reason to believe his shooting can be improved upon as he develops. His mechanics are relatively solid and his good-but-not-great 70.3-percent free throw percentage are indicative that his shooting mechanics will not require a complete overhaul.

    Beyond his perimeter shooting, Johnson also comes into the NBA with limited ball-handling skills, capping his immediate NBA role as a defensive pest that can be a weapon on the transition yet will be limited to perhaps an off-ball cutter or slasher in the half-court.

    NBA player comparisons to players like Zach Lavine, Victor Oladipo and Latrell Sprewell are indicative of his athletic potential and offensive ceiling yet emphasize that Johnson is still a raw prospect that will require extensive training to maximize his athleticism on the offensive end.

    Keon Johnson paired with R.J. Hampton would give the Magic the most athletically gifted backcourt in the NBA, bar none. The idea of two high-flying guards in the transition game would result in nightly abuses to the rims of which all Magic fans would tune in to watch.

    Additionally, the defensive pairing of Jonathan Isaac with Keon Johnson would be intriguing. Johnson’s intensity on the defensive end would surely aid a fledgling roster.

    With that being said, selecting Johnson must involve the understanding that he will need ample time to develop his offensive skill set.

    Next. Scott Barnes among wave of versatility. dark

    The Magic would be an interesting landing spot for Johnson as he will have the opportunity to develop behind a young, developing roster and due to the wealth of options in the guard rotation, the Magic can afford to ease Johnson into the rotation as his game develops in his rookie season.