With Robbie Hummel
missing the year after re-injuring his ACL in practice before the start of the season, senior JaJuan Johnson
-- along with fellow senior guard E'Twaun Moore
-- has had to pick up much of the scoring load for Purdue. Johnson has responded by leading the Big Ten in scoring while showing the incremental improvement we have come to expect from the lanky big man.
Sporting an improved frame, adding a good 10-15 pounds of much needed bulk, Johnson has slowly but surely expanded his offensive game each season he's been at Purdue, developing a very dependable right handed hook shot and turnaround fade away jumper over either shoulder in the post. The improvement has continued this year, as his 1.054 points per possession on post up situations is the highest of his four year career, a testament to the strength he's added. He has a very high release point on both shots, showing the ability to get the shot off over long defenders and the touch to make contested shots.
Johnson could stand to diversify his post-game, as he doesn't show much ability to use his left hand in these situations, nor much in the way of counter moves, although he has started showing signs of an up and under move he didn't have in years past. Despite solid touch and the ability to get his shot off against longer defenders, Johnson still lacks great lower body strength, which could hamper his ability to get good enough post position to consistently get quality shots at the next level. He also tends to struggle playing through contact at times and can be easily dislodged from the post.
Furthermore, there are question marks regarding whether a NBA team will be willing to run their entire half-court offense through him the way Purdue has elected to this season, as he'll likely have to transition into being much more a complimentary scorer than a go-to guy in the NBA.
Another area that has shown considerable improvement has been his perimeter jump shot. Johnson's range was primarily 15 feet and in during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Purdue, but he has extended that out to the collegiate three point line this year. Showing a high, consistent release point, this is an area of Johnson's game that could translate well to the pick and pop landscape of the NBA.
The extension of his range has manifested itself in a considerably more efficient jump shooter than last year, going from 0.804 points per shot last year on jump shots to 1.011 points per shot this year, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Besides extending his range, he's also making his jump shots at a considerably better clip, up to 46.8% this year, up nearly 7 points from last year's clip. His high release point allows him to convert on contested jump shots at a good rate, not showing the kind of drop off in efficiency many big men suffer from.
The fact that he's now a legitimate threat from beyond the college 3-point line and is converting nearly 80% of his free throws is perhaps the most notable improvement he's made this season as far as his NBA potential is concerned, as it will make his transition to the League that much smoother.
Johnson's improved range affords him increased driving lanes, and he's shown an improved ability to use one or two dribbles to setup a pull-up jump shot. However, Johnson could stand to continue improve his ball-handling, as he very little ability to utilize his left hand, and doesn't show the ability to create for himself and get to the rim, either off spot-up situations where the defender closes out too quickly or off isolations. As a whole, Johnson does very little off isolation situations outside of the post, which is something that NBA teams might be concerned about considering his lanky frame.
Defensively, Johnson is long and quick off his feet, allowing him to excel as a weak-side help defender at the college level. He does a fair job defending the pick and roll as well for a collegiate center, although at times he can be caught flat footed and slow to recover to his man.
His main issue defensively is defending the post. He does a good job of using his length to contest shots, but his lack of lower body strength really manifests itself in this aspect of his game, as he struggles to deny post position, and is easily backed down, allowing high percentage shots. Furthermore, he seems to lack a degree of toughness and aggressiveness here, as its not rare to see players pushing him around, and he doesn't always respond the way you would hope.
Johnson also struggles on the glass, averaging only 6.6 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes, pace adjusted, which places him well into the bottom half of our database. His lack of strength, toughness and inability to hold position is a clear problem here, and one that it's hard to envision him overcoming with great success.
Overall, Johnson's improving perimeter game and high release point on his finesse post moves should allow him to have a reasonable amount of success offensively at the next level playing for the right team, as long as they are willing to live with his deficiencies as a rebounder and post-defender.
His lack of strength and physical toughness looks to be his Achilles heel on both ends of the court, preventing him from being a legitimate post presence offensively and making him a liability as a defender and rebounder. These will likely be the main question marks he'll need to address moving forward, and could be the difference in whether he sticks in the NBA or not.
Despite being a college senior about to turn 22 years old, Johnson's continual, gradual improvement suggests he may continue to make incremental improvements in his game, especially if his frame continues to fill out.