Name: Brice Johnson
Position: Power Forward
Weight: 209 pounds
School: North Carolina
Stats Per-Game: 17.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, 1.5 turnovers
Measurements: 7-foot wingspan, 33.5-inch no-step vertical, 38-inch max vertical
In the final moments at NRG Stadium on April 4th, in one of the greatest basketball games ever played, the North Carolina Tar Heels lost to the Villanova Wildcats on a game winning shot three-pointer from the wing by Kris Jenkins. Basketball history will remember that shot. Basketball history might even remember the previous play, a Marcus Paige contorted, double clutch, prayer shot that went in to tie the game. What Los Angeles Clipper fans should remember is that Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels to that game.
The Clippers selected Johnson 25th in one of the most chaotic NBA drafts of recent memory. Adrian Wojnarowski and The Vertical tweeted past the painfully lost ESPN coverage, announcing draft picks seemingly 30 minutes before Adam Silver ‘officially' did. Domantas Sabonis wore an Orlando Magic hat during an interview where he was the only one not aware of the fact that he got traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. With projected lottery picks like Deyonta Davis and Skal Labissiere still available to the Clippers when they were on the clock, head coach Doc Rivers didn't let the chaos affect the apparently pre-determined decision.
Doc- "We had a ranking, and we pretty much stuck to it. Brice was the guy."— Rowan Kavner (@RowanKavner) June 24, 2016
So what exactly are the Clippers getting?
Johnson earned first-team AP All-America honors in college basketball's toughest conference while scoring 17.4 points-per-game and grabbing 10.4 rebounds-per-game. Offensively, its easy to see how Johnson fits with the Clippers, at 6-foot-9, Johnson is a fluid athlete that is very cerebral of his abilities or lack of ability, and rarely forces actions and lets the game come to him. Because of his self-awareness, Johnson is a highly efficient offense player, and ranked eighth out of 257 in points-per-possession his last year in college, according to Synergy.
A third of his offense came from one-on-one post-up possessions on the block, in which he utilized a few moves to create open shots and shot 48-percent on such possessions. When he does get deep enough position in the paint on post-ups, which isn't often, his preferred move is a jump hook over the right shoulder with nice touch. To compensate for his lack of height, Johnson usually attacks quickly with only a 6-foot-11 wingspan. If Johnson does not get deep enough position but still has his back to the basket, he'll turn around and shoot a very quick face-up jumper with a high release point, but if he can get the shot off against NBA length and athleticism looms a concern.
If guarded well or he doesn't have a shot created for him Johnson has almost zero counter moves and occasionally forces up awkward shot.
When at his best, Johnson is striding in transition or having others create for him, as he is a fantastic finisher at the rim, a skill set that pairs well with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Johnson converted 83-percent of his shots and transition and constantly outran opposing big men guarding him.
He can jump well off of one foot or two feet and catches lobs very well, both in transition and in the half-court. After catching drop off passes, His ability to jump off of two feet is special, as he will rise quickly and strongly to the rim with great extension. Combined with his athleticism, his IQ helps him get a bunch of offensive rebounds, as he averaged nearly 3-per-game in college.
Outside of the paint, Johnson did not show much at North Carolina. His jumpshot isn't bad looking, but he showed remarkable hesitancy during games. Rivers and others say he can make the jumpshot, and in pre-draft workouts he must have done well, because he made only 36-percent of shots outside the paint. His 78-percent free throw percentage bodes well for fulfilling his potential, and when he steps in rhythm the ball rolls off his hand well, but shooting the midrange is normally not his first option.
Offensively on pick-and-rolls, Johnson does pretty well at forcing defenders to move, and he will roll to the basket strong, either drawing help defenders from shooters or will convert the wide open finish. But, if Johnson is forced to catch the ball on the short roll and make a play, either putting the ball on the ground or passing, the play won't end well. He has zero confidence putting the ball down and isn't the greatest passer, posting nearly a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio.
On defense, statistically Johnson played well, rebounding 10.4 per-game, averaging 2.6 blocks and steals combined, but he frequently relied on his athleticism to make up for poor position or late rotations.
Rebounding isn't much of a worry going forward for Johnson. He smartly positions himself, boxes out well and has good hands. It's the other aspects of defense that he struggled with in the past.
With his lack of length, Johnson won't block many shots one-on-one, but when rotating to the weak-side he has good timing.
Johnson's biggest concern is his size, not just his height and his wingspan, but his actual weight. At the combine he weighed 209 pounds. That is not a typo. Austin Rivers weighed in at 203 pounds at the combine, only 6 pounds less than the third big man on the depth chart right now. Johnson will get bullied in the post, and it is scary because its unsure how much more weight he can put on, as his frame doesn't look meant for much more weight. His lower body is skinny, and needs more strength.
Johnson has good lateral quickness for his size, and it appears he should be able to keep up with smaller ball handlers, but he couldn't guard them consistently, either aligning his feet wrong or getting caught unfocused as the pulled up in front of him uncontested or drive by him.
He has the potential to be a solid defender, but he hasn't figured it out, yet.
Johnson's NBA comparison on a lot of draft boards and forums is Taj Gibson. Johnson will never be a star, but he can be a star in his role, which is what the Clippers need from the 25th pick in the 2016-17 season.