Keldon Johnson: Defense

Our scouting grades represent the composite opinion of at least three different scouts. Each category is graded based on how we view a player’s current ability level relative to NBA players at the same position (guard, wing, forward or big). A grade of 1 indicates replacement level, a grade of 5 indicates NBA average, and a grade of 10 indicates historically elite. Our composite scouting notes help provide context for our grades.


 
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On-ball defense

Johnson is an adequate on-ball defender, no more and no less. He gets into a low stance and moves his feet well, but his hands aren’t very active and he often doesn’t leverage his length effectively. His initial reaction time is poor, and he has a difficult time fighting through ball screens. He doesn't have the quickness or explosiveness to recover when beaten. When he is able to mirror an opponent’s first step his length typically allows him to contain. He does a solid job using his upper body strength in order to bother shots without fouling. He picks up touch fouls at a higher rate than most because of poor technique, positioning, and angling.


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Off-ball defense

Johnson tends not to react quickly enough off the ball. He positions himself well to deny passing angles to his man, but struggles when matched up on more dynamic off-ball movers. He gets caught on screens often, and doesn’t communicate very well with his teammates when navigating these actions. He also has trouble navigating the chaos in scenarios where the half court defense breaks down. His issues are rooted more in recognition and reaction than motor.


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Help defense

Johnson does a solid job at making simple rotations, though he misses a few here and there. He positions himself well as a helpside defender, and has the recovery speed, length and closeout technique to drift a step farther from his man than the average wing. Although his positioning is solid, his lack of explosiveness either vertically or horizontally prevents him from making high impact plays on the ball.


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Switching

Although he has a frame that should enable more positional flexibility, Johnson’s subpar athletic tools prevent this from being a true strength. He is more capable of switching up than down, able to handle some bigger wings or smaller forwards for brief periods. However, his ability to switch down (or even contain his own natural position) is quite limited.


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High impact plays

Johnson is not an anticipatory defender, but rather a conservative and reactionary one. Although the Kentucky scheme isn’t aggressive in the passing lanes, with a preference for ball-denial rather than gambling for steals, nothing in his mindset or toolset indicates that this will become a strength or even an average attribute down the road. He just rarely makes high impact plays, limited even in the variety that don’t show up in the box score.