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Q&A with Rocky Top Talk on Keon Johnson

Let’s get to know the team’s first-round draft pick!

SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Alabama v Tennessee Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Clippers made their first big acquisition of the offseason by selecting Keon Johnson in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. Since we spend most of our time focused on NBA basketball, we solicited the help of Nick Carner of Rocky Top Talk, the SB Nation Tennessee Volunteers site, to learn more about Johnson and what he’ll bring to Los Angeles.

Here’s what Nick Carner had to say about Johnson.

Clips Nation: What is Keon Johnson’s standout skill?

Nick Carner: So, a guy breaks the 20-year old NBA Combine record for max vertical jump, and his standout skill just has to be his athleticism, doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s low-hanging fruit, but Clippers fans should be excited for more than just Keon jumping high, because he squeezes every ounce of value out of his athletic gifts. In addition to the record-breaking jumps, he also tied for the second-best three-quarter court sprint time which translates to his 1.38 PPP on his cuts. He’s got fantastic hands defensively at the point of attack and off-the-ball and showed flashes of a good weak-side shot blocker, too. Johnson’s jumps were good publicity, but there’s so much more his athleticism allows him to do on the court.

CN: Is this about the range you expected Johnson to go? If not, why did he move up/down?

NC: I expected Johnson to go a bit higher — reports came out a few days ago that had him sliding down from his earlier projections of being picked in the 8-to-12 range down into the late lottery, and he ended up falling a little farther than that. Shooting is so important in the modern NBA, and Keon looked a bit like a throw-back guard during his time at Tennessee — simply because he’s a guard who preferred to score in the paint.

CN: The Clippers have tons of ball handlers. How can Johnson be impactful off the ball

NC: Keon showed some ability to handle the ball, but Tennessee really needed a true PG last year to take on full-time ballhandling duties, and Johnson didn’t take the reins. I think it would be helpful, early, to scheme around his ability to find open space as a cutter and let him do his acrobat thing finishing around contact at the rim.

CN: Where does Johnson fit in positionally on defense? Can he switch?

NC: He can switch — but he struggled with ball-screen defense at times last season, too. If anybody’s interested, Tennessee’s first game against Florida last season was a baptism by fire for Johnson defensively. As Vols Head Coach Rick Barnes said after the game: “Keon got lit up defensively because he doesn’t understand ball-screen defense.” He got better as the season went on, but it took him time to adjust and figure it all out. There’s undoubtedly another learning curve ahead of him now.

CN: The Clippers really seem to value competitiveness and toughness as an organization. How does Johnson fit into that?

NC: Johnson’s an ideal fit for the Clippers here. He’s one of the more fiery players I’ve watched, and his mindset and approach is the engine that makes his game go. Lots of guys talk about how much they love the game and how much they love to compete, but you’ll see Johnson really means it when you watch him play.

Nick Carner is a staff writer for Rocky Top Talk. You can follow him on Twitter at @_nicosuave_, and make sure to check out his scouting report on Keon Johnson.