When we last checked in on Orlando Johnson
, we noted that the development of his ball-handling ability and the improvement of his shot selection would play a big part in his growth as a prospect after he jumped onto the radar last season. After spending the summer polishing his game against other potential draftees at the LeBron James
Skills Academy and competing for Team USA at the World University Games after withdrawing from the 2011 NBA Draft, Johnson is having another strong season, though his role has changed more than his game.
The California native is scoring marginally less and shooting 4% worse from the field and 14% worse from the line than he did last season, but he has seamlessly taken on new responsibilities in Santa Barbara's offense. Arguably the deadliest scorer in low-major hoops, Johnson has become the focal point of nearly everything Santa Barbara does on that end of the floor. After spending most of his time getting up the floor on the wings and working in isolation sets last year, the senior has brought the ball up the floor at times and has seen his per-game usage on the pick and roll and in the post double this year according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Despite the shift in his role, Johnson has continued to produce at a high level, especially against better competition. Averaging 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds in UCSB's games against San Diego State, Washington, BYU, Cal, and UNLV, Johnson has alleviated many of the concerns scouts usually have about small conference prospects with his play against the Gaucho's high-major non-conference opponents.
Still the same potent wing scorer who relies heavily on his ability to take and make difficult shots, Johnson has developed into a threat to score from almost anywhere on the floor thanks to his terrific range, unwavering confidence, and ability to create just enough room to get his shot off in the college game.
Johnson's half-court shots came from a near equal amount of catch and shoot and pull-up jumpers last season. This season, he's taken nearly five times more pull-up jumpers than with his feet set. Garnering attention for his prolific spot-up shooting in 2011, Johnson has had to create for himself far more regularly in the midrange a venture that yields mixed results at times.
Regardless of how much time he is spending on or off the ball, Johnson is still hitting his 3-pointers at a solid 41% clip this season, identical to last year. The difference has come inside the arc, where his percentages have dropped from a rock sold 51% last season to a far less impressive 44% this year.
Around the basket, Johnson's strong frame and touch make him a threat to take advantage of smaller wings in the post and finish in the paint when he finds an opening at the college level. With that said, his inability to create separation with his first step and lack of dynamic ball handling ability raises concerns about whether he'll be able to score efficiently inside the arc NBA, let alone make an impact around the basket.
Given that his weaknesses limit his upside at the next level, Johnson's experience handling the ball more regularly, dealing with the double teams he sees on the pick and roll, and passing out of them can be looked at as positives. Considering how little he turns the ball over for a player in his role, Johnson could fit into a spot-up oriented role if he can tone down his shot selection, ramp up his efficiency and fill a niche as a complimentary scorer.
On the defensive end, Johnson has been able to compensate for his average footspeed with his 7'0 wingspan as UCSB has moved away from its zone schemes for longer stretches. Using his length to effectively contest shots at the collegiate level, Johnson will need to show that he can deny penetration against NBA caliber athletes to remove questions about his defensive upside, something he's seen mixed results with this season.
UC Santa Barbara will face a tough path to return to the NCAA Tournament with the emergence of Long Beach State as a potential Big West contender, and their ability to make a postseason run will fall squarely on Johnson's shoulders. While his role is less reflective of where he seems to fit best at the NBA level than it was last year, Johnson's scoring instincts and productivity still have him firmly on the NBA radar. If he can showcase his spot-up shooting in workouts, and become a more consistent defensive player, Johnson could see his stock climb as we head towards the 2012 draft.