In most mock drafts, Orlando Johnson is available for the Bulls to select at #29 in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. I have the Bulls selecting him at that spot because Johnson has the length, elite shooting ability, and maybe even the character to not only be a productive late draft pick but -- more importantly -- be unlikely to be an NBA bum.
Johnson, 23, transferred to the University of California-Santa Barbara after his freshman year at Loyola Marymount and was the star of that team in his three seasons with the Gauchos of the mid-major Big West Conference. And he did perform like a relative star to the extent of which he was asked:
|2009-10||California-Santa Barbara||Big West||30||31.3||5.9||12.2||.481||1.5||3.9||.397||4.7||6.7||.703||5.4||2.3||0.7||0.6||2.7||2.4||18.0|
|2010-11||California-Santa Barbara||Big West||32||33.3||6.9||14.6||.475||2.1||5.1||.405||5.1||6.4||.804||6.2||2.9||1.2||0.5||2.7||2.1||21.1|
|2011-12||California-Santa Barbara||Big West||31||34.4||6.7||14.8||.451||2.3||5.3||.427||4.1||5.9||.698||5.8||2.9||1.1||0.7||2.5||1.8||19.7|
|2009-10||California-Santa Barbara||Big West||23.3||.584||.544||7.3||12.9||10.2||19.8||1.3||2.3||14.9||30.1|
|2010-11||California-Santa Barbara||Big West||28.8||.598||.546||6.1||16.2||11.5||24.2||2.2||1.8||13.4||33.2|
|2011-12||California-Santa Barbara||Big West||26.0||.560||.527||5.8||12.9||9.5||19.0||2.0||2.4||12.2||30.5|
Right away, one can usually roll their eyes and see him as too old to improve or mold and be infinitely skeptical of his production against, well, bums. I tossed his offensive and defensive ratings out (114.3 and 100.5 in his UCSB career) because of that heavy bum factor of his opponents.
Disputing his attributes
What Johnson has to translate into being a strong NBA player is the ability to shoot you out of the gym, as shown by his 3-point percentages, despite the volume and attention he received. There have been a ton of players to come out of the NCAA with high 3-percentages to amount to one-trick ponies at best. Most just haven't been big or athletic enough to stay in their teams' rotations -- especially from mid-major schools.
Johnson's physique and attributes at this time just doesn't show that he's likely to carry that knock. He's slightly over 6'5" in shoes with a 6'11" wingspan and a 39" vertical leap.
Another eyebrow commonly raised regarding Johnson was that he's too slow and will have problems defending shooting guards in the NBA.
"It will be important for him to showcase some speed and defense at workouts over the next month to allay these fears," Benjamin Miraski wrote before June at SB Nation's Mid-Major Madness.
Johnson did just that by losing weight after his senior season and performed shocking 3.25 and 10.98 point guard-esque 3/4-court sprint and cone agility times. Add the improved speed and agility to the long frame and leaping ability, and you have a player who can cover more than enough space on the defensive end. With the right coach, he'll learn how to maximize those attributes and he will become a guy who can frustrate opposing offenses:
I asked Johnson of what sort of defense he played at UCSB, and he said: "We played a lot of man and zone last year, doing a lot of switches. I covered everybody, man, because we ran three- and four-guard lineups a lot year."
That sounds a lot like experience with help defense schemes, with which he says he's comfortable, adding: "I like being active instead of staying in a spot. Keeps me going."
Johnson said he's working on be "a lock-down defender". He's definitely strong and long enough to do just that at multiple positions.
Johnson's per game production is deceiving, especially for someone from a mid-major program. His 31% usage rate isn't only other-wordly for the NCAA (21st since 1998-99), but it's also the highest for a player in the Big West since 1998-99. He was fatter and slower in college, so he used his shooting ability to create the scare that he took a lot of difficult shots -- a warning sign for players from any program because finding good shots only gets tougher in the NBA.
Johnson's shooting ability made him a zone killer, but being so much more skilled than his teammates, he became a trap magnet.
I asked Johnson at the Combine what he disliked most about the NCAA game and he replied: "Being at a mid-major, you have two or three guys running at you every time you touch the ball."
In his senior year, he played more de facto point guard, as the primary ball-handler, and later told me: "I look forward to being able to move more away from the ball, have more ways to create good shots."
And long players with quick feet usually don't problems translating .400+ NCAA 3-point shooting to the NBA.
"A great jump shot is like a good woman," Kenny Smith always says, "It never leaves you. Leaping ability and high flying is like the girl you meet at the club; it's fun when it's there, but it's always temporary."
The Bulls want a long player who can shoot and be an asset tot he team defense, but also handle the ball well. Johnson did a lot more ball handling in his senior year, but still didn't have high assist numbers. But it's interesting that his assist rate was so high, despite not having many assists.
Only having watched Johnson's reels and not having watched much UCSB basketball, the conclusion has to be that UCSB just didn't move the ball well, and Johnson was the least of that problem.
I don't really understand the turnover concern Miraki has with Johnson. His per game turnovers are deceiving in the other direction. For a guy with such an outlandish usage rate, his turnover rate was pretty acceptable for a primary ball handler, even at a mid-major.
The very real concern is his ability to create shots and penetrate with the ball. His improved agility and conditioning with help that, but he's never had to create with such speed. It's difficult, especially at 23 with all of the patterns he's developed, to assimilate to that inability with his new body. He filled box scores against bums, but his .464 2P% was not impressive against that lesser competition in his first year as a primary ball handler (after going .520 and .513 in his previous two seasons), but his usage rate actually went down a bit in his senior year, so he is a willing ball mover.
His sub-.700 FT% of last season is mind-boggling with his long range shooting ability, especially dropping off from .804 from the season before.
This is a good pick for the Bulls
I fail to see, yet, how Johnson would not fit with the Bulls. He has great shooting ability and every physical attribute to become a strong defender.
Johnson's endured about the worst adversity one could imagine with poise and admirable support from what's remained of his family, despite a childhood full of recurring tragedy. He's had every excuse to fall from grace, but instead has displayed an inspiring work ethic and tenacity of a humble, extraordinarily mature man.
Every sign of being highly coachable stands out to not eliminate his weaknesses, but become enough of a magician to cover them up with his strengths.
I'd put his ceiling at being a strong enough third scoring option on a bad team because he can shoot the lights out. With great coaching, he can be a dangerous sniper hidden in an already strong starting lineup or perennial rotation player for 20 MPG who crashes the boards and runs the open floor with aggression. He won't make a bad defense good, but he can make a great defense a lot better. He also has to have a relatively high basement for a low pick, as he can be 'just a guy' used to throw his long body at opponents off the bench and camp out in the corner for a few minutes per game.
At 23, his rookie contract would expire as he's in his prime and his team will know exactly what he is -- not being faced with the dilemma of banking on a hope he gets better with the risk of him being a richer bum.
Unless the Bulls have the opportunity to steal a Quincy Miller type of talent at #29, Tyshawn Taylor and Will Barton may be Johnson's best competition at that spot in the draft. He could even be a better fit than John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor, should they still be available.
It's tough, but I lean toward Johnson, who said he expects to work out with the Bulls on either the 15th or 20th of this month.
The 2012 NBA Draft will take place June 28.