It has been a disappointing season for LSU, and the Tigers are simply playing out the stretch of the regular season at this point in the year. What has been promising though is the development and sudden appearance on the scene of junior Chris Johnson
. After seeing limited time as a freshman and sophomore, Johnson was suddenly thrust into a starting role, where he has certainly had his troubles, but has shown flashes of tremendous talent and ability.
At 611 and just 190 pounds, Johnson has tremendous length, but is rail thin. While his enormous wingspan is a huge plus for him, he doesnt appear to have a frame that will allow or support much gain in weight. This lack of strength and ability to withstand much contact has hampered Johnson
a tremendous amount in certain aspects of his game. His 5.5 rebounds per game for example is a very poor number for a player of his size and length. Johnson is capable of pulling in plenty of balls outside of his immediate area, but often he is muscled so far out of position by opponents that he simply cant make a play on the ball.
For a player listed at a frontcourt position, Johnson generally looks very uncomfortable in the post. Again, his slight build is a major factor in is lacking post game. Johnson cant hold his position on the block for more than a second or two, so often his post up opportunities are thwarted if teammates dont get him the ball quickly. When he has the ball, though, he shows some signs of having a drop step or dribble move to the middle, he has to go around defenders simply because he cant body them up or take much contact at all. As a result of his inability to play physical on the block, Johnson often resorts to a fade away jump shot down low, showing nice form and a consistent stroke, allowing him to finish the shot with a good amount of regularity.
When he is forced completely off the block and is given a little more room on the outside, Johnson likes the face up when he catches the ball with his back to the basket. Again, he shoots a solid percentage from the mid-range when he is able to get squared, although he shows some tendency to fade even when he has room for his shot. From this position, Johnson has also shown the ability to put the ball on the floor. While by no means is he a fantastic ball handler, the skills he displays for a player his size are fairly impressive. He can change direction when attacking the basket, and his first step is quick enough that he can on occasion beat some backcourt defenders off the dribble, and is certainly capable of taking most frontcourt players to the basket.
Johnson is at his most effective when he can spot up in the half court set. He likes to rotate to the weak side of the floor and set up on the perimeter, where he shoots just over 30%. While he isnt a lights out shooter from beyond the arc, if left open, he can do some damage on the outside. What is impressive though, is Johnsons ability to catch and shoot off of cuts. It is rare at the collegiate level to see a player of his size so fluid in their ability set up and fire. With that said though, Johnson does have a long, slow release that he needs space to get off, and he hasnt shown much ability to shoot off the dribble yet.
Like he does in the high post, Johnson will drive to the basket from time to time when he catches the ball out on the perimeter. While he isnt a tremendous leaper, he is a quick one, so he often catches defenders off guard with how fast he gets into the air; this also helps him a lot on the offensive glass. Johnson shows great body control for a player his size, often contorting his body around defenders in order to get himself a better look at the hoop. He shows surprisingly nice touch as well, so while his body may get tossed around due to its lack of bulk; Johnson is often still able to finish plays around the rim thanks to his finesse.
Defensively is where some questions start to arise with Johnson. While he shows some flashes of quickness on the offensive end, his lateral quickness is not good enough to guard most perimeter players at the college level, let alone in the NBA. While his size and length seem to make him a natural candidate to play the power forward spot, he doesnt have the strength to hold up as a post defender. He does come away with over two blocks per game, but this is typically against smaller opponents whom he is able to block on their way to the basket. It would be much harder for him to do this when being backed down by frontcourt players; in fact he rarely even defends the post because of his lack of bulk. Typically Johnson is left to cover taller perimeter players, but again he struggles when they take him off the dribble.
Another issue with Johnson is his basketball IQ and decision making abilities. He is one of the worst passing big men in the NCAA, and has one of the worst assist to turnover ratios in the nation. He also at times makes questionable decisions about when he should be handling the ball in the open floor and when he should defer to a guard. A lot of this may stem from the fact that prior to this season, he hadnt played very much at all.
Turning 23 this July, Johnson is old for his class, and despite his obvious shortcomings, he is a very intriguing prospect. He is a tremendous athlete, showing versatility, some quickness and great body control. He is an excellent shooter for a player of his size; in his first 13 games this season prior to missing time with a fractured hand, Johnson was connecting on 62% of his shots from the field. Despite a drop in his shooting percentage since the injury, he still has had some big games including an 8-15 performance against Tennessee and an 8-11 game against Florida. While his lack of a more solid frame may keep him from breaking into the NBA initially after his senior season, Johnson will certainly be an impact player in the SEC next year and will garner interest wherever he ends up landing. It will be interesting to see what kind of improvement he can make to his body this summer.