Xavier Johnson had a solid freshman campaign for the Colorado Buffaloes last year, averaging 8.9 points in 24.0 minutes per game while scoring efficiently from all areas of the floor. Johnson brings a respectable base of skills to the table along with a pretty good feel for the game, but he may have a tough time taking his game to the next level as a sophomore as Colorado returns four of its top five scorers from last season.
Standing 6'7 with decent length and a good frame, Johnson looks the part of an NBA small forward on first glance. He isn't the most explosive or quick player around, but he's a smooth, rangy athlete for sure, and makes the most of the tools he has.
On the offensive end, Johnson does the bulk of his damage around the basket, with him seeing most of his shot attempts come from cuts or spot-up drives to the basket. He boasts good control with his ball-handling to go along with great footwork and instincts, which allows him to craftily get open for high-percentage shot attempts in the lane. At the basket, Johnson, despite being a mostly below-the-rim player, is a good finisher by virtue of his creativity and body control, often going up and under the rim or adjusting around defenders to get angled lay-ups.
Johnson does a lot of work catching the ball on the move, already having a half-step on his man, or operating with a mid to high post game, where he shows good touch finishing on running hooks and turnaround jumpers. He isn't much of a threat in pure isolation situations, not having the advanced ball-handling or first step to consistently take his man to the hoop, and at the same time not having the shot-creation abilities to successfully pull-up for mid-range, contested jump shots. While he shows flashes of ability with both of the aforementioned skills, it is questionable how strong he could be in either of those areas if his team relied on him as more of an offensive focal point, something that should become clearer over the next three seasons.
The most intriguing aspect of Johnson's offensive game may be his spot-up shooting ability, something that was a complementary part of his game as a freshman, but an extremely efficient one on the small sample. Johnson shot a very impressive 43.9% from behind the arc on 1.7 attempts per game, mostly on spot-ups but with a few one-dribble pull-ups mixed in. Johnson boasts good form and has a very fluid motion in rhythm, looking comfortable and natural knocking down long-range shots. As effective as he was from behind the arc, he strangely shot just 56.1% from the free-throw line, so it will be interesting to see if either number changes dramatically this season.
On the defensive end, Johnson plays almost exclusively against opposing power forwards, which clearly isn't a natural fit for him given his skill set and physical profile. Johnson is a very poor post defender at this stage, being easily backed down and shot over by opposing players, even those who don't appear to have a significant size or strength advantage against him. He appears outmatched in these situations from both a toughness and fundamental standpoint. On the other hand, for as poor as he is defending the interior, Johnson is actually surprisingly good on the perimeter, showing much better fundamentals, solid lateral quickness, and good intensity moving his feet to stay in front of his man and contest shots. His matchups against 4's leave something to be desired in terms of the quickness of the players he's defending, but he appears to have the requisite lateral ability to defend NBA 3's, especially given his good feel for using his size and length to help smother his man.
Looking forward, Johnson's slashing ability, promising spot-up shooting potential, and perimeter defense give him a solid groundwork of skills for an NBA small forward prospect, but his just decent athleticism and how he will adjust to a bigger role are question marks at this time. Johnson could stand to make games in all areas of his offensive game, from creating to finishing to spot-up shooting, but maintaining his strong two-point and three-point shooting percentages while expanding his offensive role is likely the best thing he can do for his stock in the short term. Regardless, he appears to be a player who should remain in college for another two or three years, so he has plenty of time to add to his game and will certainly be someone to keep an eye on in that time.