A 26-year old power forward in his second D-League campaign after spending time last year replenishing his bank account in South Korea, Ivan Johnson is exactly the type of vagabond journeyman you tend to find in the D-League, having bounced around four colleges before making his way to the minor leagues.
From a skills standpoint, Johnson is anything but a typical player, though, as he's one of the most gifted scorers in the league. In a different life, perhaps coming from a different background, Johnson would be a clear-cut NBA rotation player, but instead he's toiling in obscurity making the basketball equivalent of minimum wage.
Standing 6-8, with terrific hands, a very impressive body and the type of dexterity and agility you rarely see from a player his size, Johnson is a versatile power forward who can do a little bit of everything offensively.
Featuring soft touch on his jumper and range out to the NCAA 3-point line, Johnson can make shots with his feet set or off the dribble and converts 77% of his attempts from the free throw line, a place he finds himself often.
Also capable of creating his own shot, he's an excellent ball-handler for his position, at times grabbing a rebound and then taking the ball coast to coast himself. He likes to face-up from the high-post and attack his man aggressively off the dribble, showing terrific footwork and the ability to slither his way around the paint in impressive fashion. He runs the floor like a deer and is also a solid passer when he wants to be, a product of his excellent basketball instincts.
Despite his impressive skill-set from the perimeter, it's in the post where Johnson is clearly the most effective. He uses his strong frame extremely well to body up his man and finish aggressively through contact, but also has a very developed finesse game, showing all kinds of fancy moves in the paint and the ability to finish softly with either hand.
Unfortunately Johnson's offensive efficiency is hampered by his poor decision making ability, as he doesn't always seem to know what his limitations are, and tends to overestimate his skill-set frequently. He looks off his teammates too often to instead settle for tough, contested fadeaway jumpers, and is far more turnover prone than you'd like to see.
Defensively, Johnson shows poor fundamentals and more often than not just doesn't look interested in making his presence felt. He rarely gets into an actual defensive stance, instead just standing around with his arms down, and lacks significant intensity crashing the defensive glass, as evidenced by his poor production in this area historically. It's unlikely that he received very much coaching in the little time he spent bouncing around colleges as a teenager, and it's probably his work on this end of the floor that's holding him back the most from making the NBA at the moment.
Johnson also comes with some serious red-flags surrounding his intangibles, a reputation that's followed him at every level he's played at. NBA teams love his talent, but wonder if he's worth the baggage that inevitably comes along with it. This excellent article by Matt Calkins written four years ago goes into much more detail, and from what we've heard, not much has changed.
As luck would have it, Johnson had just an average performance (by his standards) at the D-League Showcase last week, with the eyes of the entire NBA on him, but then followed that up by scoring 46 points in the game immediately following that.
Will Johnson ever get the chance to play at the level his skill-set indicates he should? That's probably more up to him than anything. But it shouldn't surprise anyone if an NBA team gave him a ten day contract to take a closer look.