In college basketball, one of the biggest things (literally) that can put you over the competition as a team is having a legitimate big man. In the NBA, most teams will have a guy standing close to 6″10 or higher which forces big men in the pros to really work on developing their game. In college, having a big man around that height with coordination can be the difference between missing the NCAA tournament and going a few rounds into the tournament.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why people are going crazy over Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson who will be attending the school in 2014. This giant man child shows a lot of signs of being the next great big man and with an already stacked 2013 draft class, Johnson makes Kentucky big time favorites for the 2014 NCAA crown.
Johnson was born in New York and was already gaining attention in middle school as he was dominating competition all around him. Blessed with amazing size, he was shipped off to Montverde prep school in order to fully utilize his talents and allow him to develop his game to its maximum potential.
In January of 2013, Johnson officially committed to Kentucky joining five other McDonald’s All-Americans on a roster that promises to be exciting to watch.
Here is a quick highlight video that shows Johnson’s type of game.
At 6″11 and nearly 275 pounds, the obvious advantage that Johnson carries is his sheer size and length. In high school, he towers over most opponents and truly looks like a man among boys out on the court. It helps that he is not built thick for a big man so he stands less chance of quickly gaining weight and becoming overweight, he is more chiseled than he is large.
Size is not the only thing Johnson has going for him though. He is a legitimate basketball talent who has shown tangible skills on the court. In the post, he has developed a great spinning hook that he can use even when double teamed. His shooting stroke for a player his size is also impressive, he can step out past the paint and hit the open mid range jumper which is great for floor spacing. A lot of big men will pack the paint and close down the lanes for their point guards because they can’t step out and shoot the ball, Johnson won’t have that problem.
An unexpected bonus for Johnson is that he has shown flashes of being a great passer out of double teams which will be important at Kentucky. If he becomes the target of many double teams, Johnson will be able to pass it out to the perimeter where he will be surrounded by a lot of talented shooters ready to shoot easy threes at any opportunity.
As would be expected, Johnson is a great rebounder. He makes his presence known and if he has his defender boxed out, there is nothing his man can do to get the rebound. This is especially useful on the offensive end where he can establish his position down low before a shot is released and easily gather the loose ball with two hands. Once he has that ball, he is smart with it and generally keeps it up high to avoid having it swiped away by pesky defenders trying to recover.
Johnson’s large frame also allows him to set himself up anywhere he wants in the post at any time, defenders may attempt to wrestle him out of position but he is simply too strong for a single defender. That means a lot of teams will resort to trying to front him in the post, which means placing his defender in front of him to deny the entry pass into the post. The problem with that is that Johnson has tremendous hands and if his point guard is talented enough to place the lob pass where it needs to go, Johnson will be gifted a lot of open dunks in the post.
As is the case for a lot of guys his size, Johnson is not particularly athletic or explosive. He carries a lot of weight around and getting that weight off the floor is exhausting and difficult. That lack of explosion means he is also not as quick as a lot of his opponents which leaves him open to being attacked off the dribble.
Most big men tend to be really raw offensively and Johnson is not an exception. In the post, he needs to develop a more complete game and he needs to stop shying away from contact. His go-to move is his fading hook which he has become quite adept at using but he never initiates contact with his defender with it. He needs to be told to attack the rim with up and unders and simply just jumping towards the rim.
Part of the reason that Johnson might be unwilling to really attack the rim in the post is that he is not a very good free throw shooter. Because of that he probably wants to avoid getting to the line as much as possible but he will need to improve that. Not only are they easy points, he will find himself nailed to the bench in late key situations if he is not able to convert on a high percentage of his free throws.
Another aspect of his offensive game which will need to be worked on also relates to his athleticism. Because he can’t elevate too high off the court, he struggles to finish at the rim when there is a lot of traffic around him. The Wildcats would be wise to put him on a program that will help him shed a few pounds and elevate his vertical. The higher he can get off the court, the easier he can create a shot at the rim for himself and the higher his field goal percentage will be.
Defensively, while he is imposing, he is average at best. He is good at blocking shots but he needs to get better at controlling possessions. He also needs to learn when not to go for the show stopping block and just attempt to alter the shot. I suspect that his biggest struggle will be defending the pick and roll where he will be faced with really fast guards attacking him directly and trying to get him on his heels. Early on, this will probably lead to a lot of dumb fouls on Johnson’s part in an attempt to stop his defender from scoring on him with a layup but with practice and good coaching, he will get a hang of it.
What to expect at Kentucky:
No doubt that Johnson will have some growing pains with the Wildcats. He is used to being simply bigger and stronger than his opponents but in college, that won’t be enough on a lot of nights. He will definitely have some games where he will get in some early foul trouble and feel quite frustrated with himself.
That being said, he has a world class coach that will work with him extensively on those struggles. With game tape, practice and repetition, Johnson should be getting better with every minute he spends at Kentucky.
Ultimately, he should put up good numbers. He will be the main big man for the Wildcats and will get a good number of possessions in the post to pad his numbers. The same will go for his rebounding numbers on offensive possessions which should also translate to easy points. Johnson should be a double-double guy over the course of the season and his defense will improve in time.
The odds are high that if Johnson puts up good numbers, he will be highly ranked for the 2014 NBA draft and in that case, he would be crazy to miss out on it. As a big man, he is always more at risk for injuries, particularly to the knees, and if he is guaranteed a high lottery spot and guaranteed money, he should jump at that chance.
For his year at Kentucky though, he should help the Wildcats go quite deep in the NCAA tournament if not all the way to the championship.