Keldon Johnson Already Considered the Steal of the NBA Draft

After a disappointing 4 point start, Keldon Johnson has been lighting up the NBA Summer League. Performances of 29 points and 19 points since then has made him one of the most impressive players from this year’s draft. He is even drawing the highest praise from member’s of his own organization like the Spurs’ own Becky Hammon.

“The steal of the Draft.” That is one hell of a compliment. Seeing what Keldon Johnson has done so far should make ever Spurs and Kentucky fan excited for what he can accomplish in this year and in his future career. So much raw ability mixed with the great developer of talent that Gregg Popovich is will make him a star in the near future. I am sure falling in the Draft has motivated the hell out of him.

Of course, Becky Hammon is an assistant for the Spurs so take what she says about her own players with a grain of salt. Keldon may not be the steal of the draft overall. I think that award goes to Carsen Edwards and the Celtics. But the steal of the first round? Absolutely. Just about every analyst had Johnson going in the late teens. Almost no one saw him dropping in to the 20’s much less all the way to 29. Always proud to see former Cats prove everyone wrong.

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Keldon Johnson Shows Out in Summer League Against Grizzlies

Keldon Johnson had a disappointing start to his NBA career. In his Summer League debut, he only posted 4 points. The Kentucky and Keldon Johnson haters were riding pretty high seeing such an underwhelming performance. I’d like to see all of them now after his game on Tuesday versus Memphis.

The 29th overall pick dropped 29 points, 7 boards and 3 assists. Basically by Summer League standards, He. Went. The hell. Off. Falling so far in the draft must have gotten to him, because he looked like this game was personal. Take a look at the highlights:

There’s that outside game we always knew he had. Also, seeing Keldon Johnson consistently getting out in transistion, especially when he is leading the charge, is going to be one of the most fun things to watch this summer.

Gregg Popovich has a way of figuring out exactly what was wrong with a player and turning them entirely around in 24 hours. And he just proved again why he is the best coach in the NBA. If Pop takes Keldon under his wing and develops him the same way he built Kawhi Leonard, then Joshson could end up being one of the league’s best players. (yes, I know that is a hot take after one good game in the Summer league.)

Big Blue Ballers in the Big League

As we all know Big Blue Nation, we thankfully only have three players leaving to the draft this year. Sure, they are our best three players, but they are easily replaceable. Tyler Herro, PJ Washington, and Keldon Johnson are all great players with tremendous upside, and will all be drafted in the first round. However, the main issue isn’t whether or not they will get drafted, but will they get drafted by a good team. After all, they all will be drafted, but do we want them going to the Lakers to get traded by LeBron at a later date, or ending up on the Suns or some other organization where they have no future or hope? Hell no, we want them to go to the best fit. So, without further adieu, let’s see what team we need to be cheering for to draft our boys in blue…

1st Off the Board: SF Keldon Johnson
Average Draft Board Range: 11th-16th
Highest Projected Pick: 10th
Lowest Projected Pick: 22nd

KJ has a rough night ahead of him. Being viewed as a top 5 wing can certainly help you in terms of a payday. However, that generally means that you are looking at being in the lottery, and that is sometimes a poor place to be. Sure, the bottom of the lottery teams are generally the ones that are most likely to jump into the 8th seed. Sure, it means that you are being drafted because the team needs you, not because you’re the best player in the class. However, it still is a place that is risky to be. After all, Minnesota, Charolette, and Miami are all drafting from 11-13, and those are all rough places to go. Minnesota sucks, Miami sucks, and Charolette suck. I have seen Keldon go to Atlanta at 10th, but I think that is a pipe dream. While I do think the Hawks need a defensive wing that can get buckets due to his athleticism, I don’t think KJ is good enough on the defensive end to warrant that high of a selection.

With all that out of the way, I really do think that KJ should not go in the lottery. Him slipping will benefit him greatly in the long run. Sure, he won’t make as much money, but he will be in a better place and fit for him. With that in mind, I have the best places for Keldon to go in 17-19 range. Which teams are those? Really good teams that need a wing: the Brooklyn Nets, the Indiana Pacers, and the San Antonio Spurs. The Nets are one of the emerging teams on the horizon in the NBA; they are young, in a great city, have a passionate fanbase, and have max salary slots available. Keldon would be behind a bonafide All-Star in (potentially) Kevin Durant, and could potentially benefit from his tutelage and the trainers in Brooklyn. The Pacers are not as well off as the Nets, but they already have two stars on their roster. KJ not having to shoulder a load besides bench scoring and starter defense while Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner sh*t on teams? The Pacers were the 5th team in the East WITHOUT OLADIPO THIS SEASON. Imagine how lucky Keldon would be to land on that team? Of course though, the luckiest spot would be if KJ could slip to the Spurs. Keldon in that farming system and being taught by the greatest coach of all time? I can’t see how that could possibly go wrong. He’d be set for life.

Image result for keldon johnson

2nd Off the Board: PJ Washington
Average Draft Board Range: 18th-27th
Highest Projected Pick: 18th
Lowest Projected Pick: 4

…pretty weird range right? A lot of people can’t seem to make up their mind about our boy that single-handedly carried the team. Generally, with non-“Blue Blood” programs, any player that leads his team in almost every category in the regular season, conference tournament, and March Madness is generally ranked highly on most boards. But, then again, we live in a world that hates the University of Kentucky.

Much like with how KJ has a weird scenario, PJ is experiencing the same thing. On one hand, he could go at 18th to the Indiana Pacers, a team that kind of needs to have a younger, more athletic PF on their roster going forward; on the other, he could slide to a title team like the Bucks or Warriors and learn underneath All-Stars. The following is every team drafting in the 18 to 30 range:
– Indiana Pacers at 18
– San Antonio Spurs at 19 and 29
– Boston Celtics at 20 and 22
– Oklahoma City Thunder at 21
– Utah Jazz at 23
– Philadelphia 76ers at 24
– Portland TrailBlazers at 25
– Cleveland Cavaliers at 26
– Brooklyn Nets at 27
– Golden State Warriors at 28
– Milwaukee Bucks at 30
Can you see any team that wouldn’t benefit from having the defensive, athletic forward on their team? It would be beneficial for some of these teams to even get off older, more bloated contracts in order to gain PJ.

However, I do think that he should be praying that he doesn’t land on a few teams. While he could possibly be the starter for the Cavs and put up great stats, I do not know if that would benefit him in the long run. I’d also say that, until the Celtics figure out what is going on in their locker room, PJ should hope that he doesn’t land there either. The same could be said for the Thunder, since the amount of trade rumors surrounding the franchise has me questioning what they may or may not do for the future. The 76ers’ postseason aspirations and possible trades have me questioning what they will do as well, and I don’t think he playing with Ben Simmons will maximize his talent. The Bucks and Warriors would be bad since he would see almost no playing time. He would be behind an All-Star at either place, and he can’t stretch the floor enough in order to make it on the court with said All-Stars. In a bench role he’d surely shine, and he would be learning from two of the best defenders in the NBA currently.

In this range, any team is good for him. However, I would say the best possible places for him would be the Pacers, Spurs, Jazz, or Nets. The Pacers are a defense-orientated that are needing a younger option at power forward to play behind Thad Young, and that is who PJ should look to mirror in the beginning stages of his career. Much like the Pacers, the Spurs are defense first, but their farming system is absolutely impeccable. The young guard tandem of Murray and White will terrorize the league next year, and PJ being a part of that program would only benefit his stock in the long-run (see Jonathon Simmons). With the Nets options at power forward being the limited Jared Dudley or the severely handicapped Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, they could stand to gain heavily from PJ dropping to them.

The Utah Jazz, on the other hand, I see as the best place for PJ to land. With high postseason aspirations and a ton of cap to pursue a star point guard for their franchise, I could see him fit nicely into their plans. Sure, this pick may be traded to a team if the Jazz wish to trade for an All-Star guard under contract (looking at the Grizzlies and potentially the Raptors here), but he’d still work with the Jazz. The defensive potential of him and Gobert would be amazing, and they have other options on their roster to maximize their offense. PJ specialized at being a menace on the boards for put-back buckets, and him and Gobert could dominate the boards down low. A small-ball lineup of *insert point guard*-Mitchell-Ingles-Crowder-PJ could run the court with the best of teams, especially a (soon to be) depleted Warriors roster. It would give him the best possible place to develop his game while also giving him the chance to test his mettle in the playoffs.

Mar 16, 2019; Nashville, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward PJ Washington (25) after blocking a shot during the second half against the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC conference tournament at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

3rd Off the Board: Tyler Herro
Average Draft Board Range: 21st
Highest Projected Pick: 21st
Lowest Projected Pick: 2

I’m not kidding when I say that I see Tyler Herro going to the Oklahoma City Thunder in every single mock. Candidly? That’s one of the best places for him to go. Sure, I’d love to see him go the Cavs so I can see the potential of a Sexton-Herro-Osman lineup going forward, but I see it unlikely he get’s past the Thunder. Afterall, OKC only had two players person shoot above the league average 35% from three all season, and it was Jerami Grant (45%) and Terrance Ferguson (38.9%). Otherwise, every player was below average, with the two All-Stars being the closest to the previously mentioned two (Russell Westbrook at 32.4%, and Paul George at 31.9%). Sure, Herro only shot from 35.5% from the college three point arc in his only season for the Wildcats, but his 93.5% stroke from the charity stripe indicates that his shooting will come around. Good free throw mechanics are essential to predicting the success of shooters in the league; it’s one of the best indicators on whether or not the shooting is an outlier or consistent. Herro’s potential as a shooter will get him on the Thunder, and I am certainly just as intrigued to see the fit. A small-ball Thunder lineup of Westbrook-Herro-Ferguson-George-Grant would be able to make it rain on almost every defense. Sure, Herro’s athleticism, or lack thereof, is a huge knock against his potential right now, but if he can model how Kyle Korver gets buckets then he should have a long and fruitful career in the NBA.