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DISTRACTION MONDAY: KEON JOHNSON EDITION

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Let’s not talk about football, okay?

Syndication: Nashville Shelley Mays/The Tennessean, Nashville Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Other than this opening statement, this post has nothing to do with Tennessee football. As far as this piece is concerned, the football program doesn’t even exist.

This article is our peaceful trek through the trails at Ijams with the underbrush of sticks and leaves crunching beneath our feet as we make our way through the woods. It’s our stroll on the quiet beach, with a full moon shining down and the sound of the waves rushing in and then back out again. It’s us collectively taking our dogs to the dog park and watching them frolic through the weeds, nip other dog’s tails and sniff all the butts.

Today, this article is our happy place.

The Tennessee basketball team is going to be really, really good next year. Yeah, yeah, I know. The sky is blue, water is in fact wet (I don’t care what you say — it is) and Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself in prison.

The Vols shoulda been at least pretty good last season, but senior guards Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner didn’t have the seasons we’d hoped for (various reasons). If not for the emergence of freshman PG Santiago Vescovi and forward John Fulkerson as absolute basketball dynamos, the Vols could have been one of the worst teams in the SEC.

The main issue for Tennessee’s struggles was its poor offensive play. Let’s take a gander at some of the stats in ranked in relation to the rest of teams in the NCAA.

  • Field goals made per game: 23.1, 317th
  • Field goals attempted per game: 53.4, 331st
  • Field goal percentage: 43.2, 207th
  • 3-point shots made per game; 6.0, 287th
  • 3-point shots attempted per game: 19.3, 263rd

Those numbers leave the same kind of bad taste in my mouth that I get when I half-way wake up early around 1 or 2 PM, go to the fridge and take a big gulp of milk straight out of the jug (because I’m a viking — minus the raping and pillaging — and do gross things like that, only to immediately realize that milk is long since expired and essentially cottage cheese).

But Tennessee’s nationally fourth-ranked recruiting class is on campus and primed to give the Vols’ offensive the shot in the arm it desperately needs. Two 5-star, explosive guards, Jaden Springer and Tennessee native Keon Johnson headline the class and should provide the scoring shoulders to lean on for Vescovi, Fulkerson and transfer, combo guard Victor Bailey.

One of my absolute favorite websites out there about NBA draft prospects is TheStepien dot com. I literally can’t say enough about how great their site is. Well, they recently put out an article about Keon Johnson and reading it gave me the same feeling as hitting a hole-in-one on the golf course (I’m a dirty, rotten liar — I’ve been playing golf for years and never hit a hole-in-one. But I’ve watched guys do it. It’s lots of jumping and yelling and hugging. It’s magical).

I’m going to link you to the original article — please at least go click it — but I’m gonna hit what I considered to be the high points and save you some time.

KEON JOHNSON FIDDNA BALL OUT AT TENNESSEE

My title, not theirs 8^)

Here are some excerpts from the original piece:

A player who I consider among the most underrated — and one I am very interested to track due to his mixture of opportunistic scoring, on-ball abilities and current skill improvement trajectory — is Tennessee freshman Keon Johnson. The immediate reaction to seeing Johnson is “wow”, as he is the best overall athlete in the class, and one of the best I have seen while scouting.

The gist of the article is his improvement from year to year in high school and how his natural athletic gifts should advance and enhance the more nuanced aspects of his game — things that really can’t be taught (for example: Lebron James court vision. It’s a skill, yes, but it’s also inherent in his game).

Johnson’s vertical athleticism is elite, or projects to be elite (in my opinion) in every intricate detail — his basic leaping ability, his body control, his balance off either foot, his spatial awareness with defenders around him, his timing and his ability to go into/or around contact. Almost every game and every different scenario he sees off the bounce he learns and improves. He becomes more comfortable with his skills and his awareness.

The natural skill author Ross Homan seems to be most impressed with is Johnson’s spatial awareness. It’s such a critical skill to possess in basketball because it’s at the very core of almost everything that happens on the court.

Combined with the athleticism there is a specific area (that I mentioned above) where Johnson excels — his spatial awareness. That, combined with his athleticism, provides an elite ceiling as a slasher and finisher, if he can continue to improve his ball-handling and touch. Players with exceptional spatial awareness have the ability to judge openings and the time these openings will be available to them better than others can. It helps them defensively play passing lanes and contest shooters and it helps them offensively with driving lanes, finishing and passing. It’s part of the reason why you see Johnson getting open in his slashing opportunities without having elite handle or dribble combos and why he’s able to finish from different launching points on the floor around defenders. It’s a significant advantage when coupled with his athleticism because if he can gain even half a second advantage with his proprioception advantage, his basketball and athletic abilities use that advantage.

The thing with “combo” guards is you can never really be sure if they will develop the ball-handling skills to help with bringing up the ball and initiating the offense. Josiah James was labeled a 5-star combo guard and didn’t show much of that ability last season. Ideally, one or both of Springer and Johnson grow into those skills.

The article on The Stepien showed some signs that Johnson might be further along in this development than one might think when they watch his videos of high-flying, gravity-defying dunks. I want to take you through a couple of those encouraging instances.

The Stepien dot com/ Ross Homan

Here’s the full clip:

So, the first part of the video is the play I broke down, but also watch him on the next possession, where he uses the pick this and drives left, but there’s not a good shot at the rim. Instead of taking a bad shot, he makes the extra pass in the corner to an open shooter who, I guess, makes another pass instead of the open look. None of that last part is really important, but Johnson’s drive and decision to hit the open guy in the corner is important. It’s evidence of good decision making and high basketball IQ — two qualities that are exceedingly important for your back-court playmakers.

Here we see Keon get the pass on the far wing and use his defender’s respect for the possible blow-by drive to the basket against him by using a jab step to get the defender’s momentum going the wrong way. This play is already over for the defense, and it’s just started.

I haven’t played pick-up hoops in a while, but in my day, if you got hesi-d like that — there’s no cursing and no yelling. You just quietly get your things and promptly leave the court. Thems was just the rules.

Please go read the article all this came from, because there are some really spectacular instances of Johnson’s court vision, athletic ability and feel for the game that I just simply didn’t have the time to share with you guys.

If Keon develops like Mr. Ross Homan thinks he can, watch out. The Vols could very well be one of the best teams in the country next season.