Busting Brackets

Louisville Basketball: David Johnson will be a breakout star in 2020-21

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 19: David Johnson #13 of the Louisville Cardinals listens to head coach Chris Mack during a game against the Syracuse Orange at KFC YUM! Center on February 19, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville defeated Syracuse 90-66. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 19: David Johnson #13 of the Louisville Cardinals listens to head coach Chris Mack during a game against the Syracuse Orange at KFC YUM! Center on February 19, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville defeated Syracuse 90-66. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

David Johnson surprisingly burst onto the scene last season for Louisville Basketball as a freshman. He returns for his sophomore season in 2020-21, which will be his cementing breakout season.

Relative to the date, nobody really knew the name of David Johnson before January 18th, 2020; “you mean the football player?” they might have asked. Because that date marks the game (when Louisville Basketball took on the Duke Blue Devils) in which Johnson put his name on the map as a noteworthy combo guard on the rise.

In a 79-73 Louisville win, Johnson (who, for a combination of reasons, had a very slow start to his season) put up an efficient (8-12) 19 points to go along with seven assists, three steals, and four rebounds (oh, and also 2 blocks, for good measure). It was after that performance when David Johnson, the basketball player, became a household name within the college basketball world.

Now, Johnson would never quite match the tantalizing production he had on January 18th. With that being said, he did continue to show promise for the rest of the 2019-20 season. Whether if it was his 16 point performance against Georgia Tech or his 13-point, 4-assist performance against Florida State; Johnson would tease fans with his stardom for the remainder of the year.

The established presence of players like Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch really only allowed Johnson to do just that: “tease fans with his stardom.” But, for the 2020-21 season all that could change; Johnson should have free reign within Louisville‘s offense.

Nwora and Enoch are all on the way out; esteemed grad transfers Charles Minlend and Carlick Jones are on the way in, but they shouldn’t project to be above Johnson in the offensive pecking order. Fellow sophomore Sam Williamson should see an increase in his workload as well, but again, he also should sit below Johnson in Louisville’s offensive hierarchy.

Louisville’s table is set for Johnson to feast during the 2020-21 season. He has a “golden spoon” skill-set to help him capitalize on that opportunity. The following article will take a look at said skill-set, and how it will allow for Johnson to be a breakout star in 2020-21.

The first thing that sticks out with Johnson is his near-prototypical size and athleticism for a combo guard. He stands at a steady 6-foot-5 and weighs 210 pounds, which is rather ideal. But where he surpasses having just “ideal” size is with his 6-foot-9 (and a half) wingspan. Given his size, it should come to no surprise that Johnson is a player who thrives in transition and when intercepting passing lanes; as he does in the following clip:

His long strides help him in transition just like his long arms help in the passing lanes; he can get from point A to point B (even if it’s cross-court) with minimal steps, plus he’s excellent at swerving around on-the-run defenders. He’s a very strong finisher with great body control; that best shows when he’s in transition. But this all shouldn’t come to too much shock; given his frame/athleticism.

Where Johnson’s game gets really interesting is in his functional ability in the half-court as well. He’s labeled as a combo guard for a reason and that reason is his ability to run the pick-and-roll and act as a legitimate change-of-pace ball handler.

A player with Johnson’s frame being able to manipulate his defender off the drive like he is in the above video isn’t the most common thing. It is a common thing for Johnson, though (that shifty behind-the-back move is quite the staple of his). It’s the same story when discussing his ability, at his size, to man the offense in pick-and-roll scenarios (as was earlier hinted at).

Johnson has a trustworthy hesitation dribble in his bag that comes in handy when operating around screens on offense. He can always keep defenders guessing with it, especially considering that the threat of him actually committing on the drive is substantial. Again, this isn’t the most common thing for players with Johnson’s frame.

But there lies the intrigue with Johnson, and why he is primed to be a breakout star in 2020-21; he’s unique. He’s built like your prototypical wing player (and plays to that on defense and when in transition), but he also has the ability to function as the main initiator of an offense. He is best with the ball in his hands, and the ball should be in his hands a lot next year.

Now, Johnson does have some flaws to his game, especially for a player who should have the ball in his hands a majority of the time. For starters, he isn’t the most prolific pull-up/spot-up shooter. He only made 21.7 percent of his threes last season (and only shot about 1 per game). If he is, in fact, the focal point of Louisville’s attack next season; defenders could drastically shy away from him on the perimeter. This could somewhat forfeit his dominant presence as a driver.

The brief three-second clip above displays that. Johnson’s defender drastically faded away from the perimeter off the pick-and-roll, daring Johnson to shoot it. Now, Johnson’s initial shot, on the surface, looks fine. His feet were a little bit too wide, but they were set; and his release was smooth once he actually committed to shooting. That’s where the problem is: his hesitation towards actually committing to shooting.

That hints at a confidence issue in his jumper. Johnson will need to get over that hump next season, as he should expect to see similar coverages much more if he does get a larger role.

The other concern with his game – and this could be a major concern, due to his projected increased role as a ball-handler – is his ability to take care of the basketball. Johnson is relatively shifty and controlled off-the-bounce for a player of his size, as was earlier stated, but he still tends to lose grip of the ball off his usually-tantalizing drives.

As a passer, he is fine. He’s a good drive-and-kick creator and can make some pretty advanced reads when defenses commit to him off the dribble. But his 23.8 percent turnover rate, combined with his 25.4 percent usage rate, is not exactly the most-intriguing correlation. Learning to better protect the ball should be at the top of his “priorities list” heading into the 2020-21 season.

Because Johnson will be sitting at the top of Louisville Basketball’s pecking order next season. Chances are high that he will be their guy for the 2020-21 calendar year. Despite some of the flaws he has, Louisville should feel really good about that projection.

Those who saw what he did to the Duke Blue Devils on January 18th last season understand that. Those who saw that game understand that Johnson is of a unique breed. He’s a scoring point guard who is “trapped” in a scoring wing’s body (which is a good thing); he also seemingly brings his best when the lights shine the brightest (alas, his performance against Duke).

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His best performances last year (on offense), came when his usage rating was between the 23 percent to 33 percent range, per Barttorvik. He should fall in that range more often than not for the next season, which theoretically means that there are only more “best performances” to come. That is why he will be a breakout star; the table is set for him to do so, and evidentially, his skill set is “ready to eat.” The 2020-21 season will be the season where David Johnson feasts.