Before I get you overexcited about the prospect that is Kevin Johnson, let me begin with a touch of reality. KJ shot just 39.8% (41-103) from the field last year and 31.3% (15-48) from three. Somewhere in the last year, Johnson has been pegged as a great shooter. I suspect the fact that he hit some big profile shots last year inflated everyone's opinions of his shooting ability - including mine. I have to say, when I first looked at those FG percentages, I expected each of them to be about 3-5 percentage points higher.
That being said, apparently Kevin Johnson being synonymous with winning has existed for some time. Indeed, in his debut season as a Bearcat he continued his knack for finding ways to win. He knocked down two free throws to finally put away Houston (61-60), cashed a three with 36 seconds left to close the door on UCF in the AAC tournament semi-finals, and hit two big late threes against Rutgers. His clutch factor (if that even exists), coupled with his 86.7% free throw shooting gives Cincinnati a solid option late in games. Last year SK made a living late, especially at the free throw line. I cannot express how critical it is to have guards that can shoot free throws. When we are up late and the opposing team starts fouling the guy bringing the ball up the court, we need our ball handlers to make his free throws. Kevin Johnson can be that guy.
Name: Kevin Johnson
Weight: 175 lbs
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Jersey Number: 25
When you spend a year learning from a player like SK and guarding him in practice, you tend to get better. In March, he had this to say to Cincinnati.com:
"I would just come to practice every day and guard SK and continue to get better so when my name was called I would be able to step up and help my team," Johnson said. "It was a tough period but it pays off now."
If KJ truly took an apprenticeship role to Kilpatrick this could be a fun year. I don't mean necessarily in terms of just with shooting, but with work ethic too. Many coaches will tell you that learning is not typically a linear process. Freshmen go through ups and downs throughout the season as they adapt to the various changes from high school to major college ball. Kevin was different. His non-conference to conference shooting comparison is ridiculous. From non-conference to conference games his FG percentage went from 40-46%, three point FG percentage from 31-47%, and free throw shooting percentage went from 87-100%.
The point is that he is improving, drastically. if he shoots like he did in conference play... well let's not get too excited... yet.
So what can we expect this year?
In the Bahamas, Johnson started right where he left off in conference play. He dropped 17 points on 6-8 shooting, including 5-6 from three. He did post four turnovers, but turnovers weren't an issue last year, so there shouldn't be any need for concern in that department.
I expect Johnson to see a lot of the floor this year, especially compared to last year. However, if Cronin decides to play Caupain and Guyn at the same time that will limit KJ's playing time. Let's hope Mick doesn't do that. If the Bahamas are any indication, Cronin has decided to make KJ a knock down three point shooter, which is a fantastic idea. Here is why...
The Bearcats are currently made up primarily of slashers (e.g. Guyn, Clark, and Caupain) and low post players (e.g. Ellis and DeBerry). Both of those player types are susceptible to double-teams and help defense. Having a shooter like KJ will give the other Bearcats a player to kick the ball out to for a punishing three. Then double-teams and help side defense gets a little less supportive in fear of the wrath of KJ's, opening up the game for non-KJ Bearcats. Basketball is a complicated game with a lot of moving parts. Simplifying the game into little subsystems such as this makes a team much more focused and efficient.
I expect KJ to get somewhere in the low-twenties of playing time this year. He will play similar minutes to what Jermaine Sanders did last year. I suspect that Johnson will put more points on the board though. Not only do I see Johnson having a quicker trigger than Sanders, but I also expect his shooting percentages to increase greatly from his own percentages last season. Let's just say I don't want to be yelling at him to shoot from the student section like I did all last year at Sanders, but at the same time I don't want to be yelling at him to not shoot like I did during the SK and Cash 30-foot jumper competitions of the past.
The biggest improvement on the team should come from Kevin Johnson this year. He has the opportunity to do something special in the next three years for his hometown. Between Johnson, Cobb, Sanders, Thomas, and Clark; this team could be labeled as a good shooting team and that would take some serious getting used to.
-Daniele "Da" Bologna