2021 Draft Watch: Assessing Jalen Johnson

September 1st, 2020

By Alan Lu

I decided to take the time to watch Duke’s 6-8 incoming freshman forward, Jalen Johnson play for Nicolet High against Beaver Dam High in a March 6th game, as I was able to see this with thanks to YouTube via Daily Dodge.  Johnson had enrolled at IMG Academy earlier in the year but left shortly after, and he then suited back up to play for Nicolet.  He is a tall, skilled point forward that can notch triple-doubles with his versatile style of play, and Johnson is projected to be a lottery pick for the 2021 draft.  Here are my thoughts on how he fared that day, as well as how his game may stack up for the NBA.

Duke’s 6-8 incoming freshman forward, Jalen Johnson is a very talented playmaker whose versatility and solid all-around game could enable him to go in the lottery of the 2021 NBA Draft.
Duke Goetz/Goetz Imagery)

Jalen Johnson is a skilled point forward that sees the floor well, and he can effortlessly rack up assists due to possessing solid court vision and playmaking skills.  He is a good passer that can find cutters out of the post, and he also will push the ball up and throw long, accurate outlet passes to set up numerous scores for his teammates.  He does a very good job of taking care of the basketball, and he only committed one turnover, as he telegraphed an entry pass that ended up getting intercepted once.

He also excelled at scoring on drives as well as in transition.  Johnson can go coast to coast to score on fast breaks, and he will tend to drive to his left to finish plays at the rim.  He also managed to go quickly to the hoop to score on a thunderous, two-handed jam, and he also caught a long pass to score on an acrobatic, reverse slam another time.  He also can draw fouls upon his defenders to get to the free throw line.  Plus, he also was able to score off of a backdoor cut.  Every once in a while though, he may be prone to rushing his shots, as he may end up missing some easy layups at times.

Plus, Johnson also did a good job of scoring in the post.  He would back down smaller opponents down low to score on turnaround jumpers, and he also lowered his shoulder to get a score from the block another time. He also showed an adequate ability to knock down jumpers.  Johnson showed that he can make pull-up jumpers from the mid-range and from beyond the arc, but he also had some trouble knocking down jump shots consistently, especially when he would take them off the catch.

Also, Johnson did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  He would often leap up to get defensive boards, and he would frequently push the ball up the court to create fast break scoring opportunities for his team.

On the downside, he will need to improve his defense.  On one good play, Johnson used his length to contest a shot around the basket to get his opponent to miss on a put back attempt.  However, Johnson also tended to give up too much space to shooters, which would cause him to allow them to score on three-point shots.  He also would sometimes space out on defense, as he would not pick up a man in time, and would then allow his man to score around the basket.  Other times, he would have trouble guarding opponents off the dribble, which would cause his team to commit fouls and allow scores.

In general, Jalen Johnson is a very athletic, skilled point forward that may project to be one of the best prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft.  He possesses strong playmaking skills, is also a very good rebounder, and he is also a versatile scorer that can make shots in a variety of ways.  He will need to improve his long-range jump shot and defensive skills, but he is a player that may possess tremendous upside and will provide a lot of excitement and skills for Duke, and he could end up being a very good player in the NBA.

Other Notes:

I also was able to watch Nicolet’s 6-8 high school junior, James Graham play in this game.  At first glance, he didn’t seem to be all that impressive early on, and his lack of scoring output in the first quarter didn’t really seem to dispel that notion.  But Graham really picked it up after the first quarter as he started to make a barrage of threes, and his strong shooting skills and solid ability to defend makes him a solid player that could play for a high-major team in college basketball.

Graham is a very good shooter that excelled at knocking down three-point shots to provide floor spacing for his team.  He can swiftly knock down spot-up threes off the catch, and he also used a crossover and a step back move to make one off the dribble from beyond the arc another time.  He showed off a superb ability to knock down outside shots, as his ability to do so could be his calling card to get to the NBA one day.

He also excelled at scoring in transition.  He would run the floor to catch long passes, and he would frequently score around the basket.  Graham was able to dribble through traffic to score once, and he also scored on an emphatic two-handed dunk another time.  Plus, he also is a good scorer in the post, and he was able to use a hop step to score on a turnaround, fadeaway jumper.  However, he did miss on a left-handed drive in transition midway through this game, and it may be uncertain if he will be able to effectively create his own shots against tougher opponents in half-court sets at the collegiate level.

He also was a bit turnover prone on offense.  For the positives, Graham is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, and he also can capably pass out of the post to get his teammates the basketball.  However, he would sometimes commit ball-handling turnovers.  He had a ball poked away after trying to come down with a defensive board, and he also was called for stepping out of bounds when attempting to take a corner three another time.  He also threw a loopy pass that ended up getting picked off early on in this game.

Also, he was able to get a couple of defensive rebounds in this game.  However, Graham seemed to be more of an area rebounder, as he was unable to get other rebounds that seemed to be further away from his grasp.

Plus, Graham played solid defense.  He did a good job of blocking shots, as he was quite active on this side of the ball, and he would swat shots off of drives due to possessing solid length, athleticism, and timing.  He also was able to contest three-point shots as well as a shot in the post to force misses other times.  On the other hand, there was one play late in this game where he gave up too much space to a shooter, which led him to allow his man to score on a corner three-point shot.

In summary, James Graham is an athletic, skilled swingman that possesses solid shooting and defensive skills, and he could project into a 3 and D type of role in the NBA one day.  He could be an impact player in college basketball right away with his sharpshooting skills, and he is a talented player that could be a worthwhile prospect to watch down the road.

Nicolet’s 6-5 high school junior guard, Kobe Johnson also played well in his team’s win over Beaver Dam.  He is an athletic, versatile player that can make plays on both ends of the floor, and he showed off fairly solid all-around skills to help get his team the victory.

Johnson did a good job of scoring on strong drives to the basket.  He will go hard to the rim, and he was able to score on a powerful dunk, as well as on a baseline drive another time.  He has good speed and strength to get to the hoop, and he also can draw fouls upon his defenders.  Plus, he also managed to make a pull-up jumper from just inside the left elbow.  He did miss on a contested runner once, but generally Johnson excelled at getting scores off the dribble.

He also was able to draw free throws by getting the ball on a backdoor cut to the basket, but Johnson ended up missing both of his free throws once he got to the foul line.  Johnson was able to make a corner three, but he struggled to make long-range jumpers consistently from beyond the arc.

Plus, he also displayed fairly good playmaking skills.  Johnson is a good passer that can throw long passes to find open shooters and teammates on the break to set up scores for them, and he also can find cutters to get them the ball.  However, he did commit a couple of turnovers in this game.  He got tied up when getting an offensive board, and he also was called for a clear-out foul when trying to get the ball in the post, which led to an offensive foul and a turnover that time.

Also, he was able to get plenty of rebounds in this game, as he would leap up to haul in multiple boards on both sides of the ball.  He also would tend to push the ball up the court after getting defensive boards for his team.

Plus, Johnson also played solid defense.  He did a great job of getting steals, as he would often poke balls away to do so, and he also ran back to intercept a pass to get another.  Johnson was able to jump on a loose ball, and he also would play passing lanes to get steals and deflections, and he also contested a three-point shot to force a miss another time.  Sometimes though, he would miss on steal attempts, or play too far off to a side, which would cause him to get beat off the dribble, which would lead his team to commit fouls as a result.  Other times, he would be late on his rotations and give up too much space to shooters when guarding out on the perimeter.

Overall, Kobe Johnson is an athletic, skilled basketball player that has a variety of skills that could allow him to thrive in college basketball.  He is a versatile scorer that primarily excels at driving the ball to the hoop to get scores, and he also is a good passer and defender.  He is a rangy defender that can get steals, and he can force opponents to commit a lot of turnovers.  He will still need to work on his jump shot and be a more focused position defender in games, but he is a talented prospect that may have the skills to be an effective role player in the NBA one day.

Nicolet’s high school sophomore guard, Donovan Sparks also played well in his team’s win over Beaver Dam.  He is a strong, skilled player that can score the basketball, as he would often score on hustle plays, and he also can score out of the post and off the dribble.  He has very good strength to seal his man when getting the ball in the post, and he also was able to knock down a corner three off the catch to show his ability to space the floor.

He is a strong, physical player that has very good strength, especially for a 6-3 guard.  Also, he did a good job of grabbing offensive rebounds to help his team on the glass.  On the downside, sometimes Sparks would miss shots in traffic, as he would struggle to score more when playing against help defense.  He also struggled to defend opponents off the dribble, as he would tend to commit fouls and give up too much space to shooters out on the perimeter.

Overall, Sparks put forth a solid performance in his team’s win over Beaver Dam, and his ability to score and rebound could potentially enable him to end up on an NCAA Division I college basketball team sometime down the road.  He will need to improve his lateral mobility and defense, and it may be unclear as to how well he would fare against more athletic teams, but his solid ability to score and rebound could allow him to thrive as a role player at the collegiate and professional level.

For Beaver Dam, they looked to be a fairly good shooting team that remained competitive early on, but their lack of size or athleticism hurt their ability to score on one-on-one plays or to defend, and they ended up being overmatched when matched up against the length, athleticism, and skill level of Nicolet’s team.  Among Beaver Dam’s players, Broden Boschert appeared to have played the best amongst them, as he showed that he can make deep threes, and he also blocked a shot inside.  However, he is rather undersized to play the point as he stands at just 6 feet tall, and seemed to show just average at best physical tools.   There may not have been a D1 caliber player on Beaver Dam, but they were competitive, and their ability to make threes helped them stay in it longer than they were expected to.

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