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In-Depth Player Study: Carlos Johnson

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An analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of UW’s electric rising sophomore

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Johnson

This article is part of a series which will provide an in-depth examination into each of the men’s basketball players returning in 2017-18. They will include a mixture of statistics, film study, and analysis. The statistics will come via a mix of Basketball Reference, Kenpom, and Synergy Sports. There are a lot of unknowns for next season given that the Huskies lost both their primary ball handler/star and their head coach. We may not know exactly how every player will be deployed but we can look at how they played last season and determine relevant trends to inform decisions moving forward. Here are the existing profiles for Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, and the newcomers/bench players.

Background

Carlos Johnson was a pleasant surprise for Husky fans last season. The 3-star guard out of Findlay Prep was a late addition to the 2016 recruiting class as he didn’t sign until June 29th once Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss left for the NBA draft. The former-UNLV commit is an explosive athlete but struggled with weight problems. Johnson said he weighed 265 pounds while standing at just 6’3” when he got on campus. By midseason he had lost 30 pounds and you could tell he got more comfortable as the year went on. More than anyone else on the team he looked like he was having fun on the court and showed the type of energy that characterized Romar’s teams in his heyday.

Johnson only really showed one move on offense: he was going to try to dunk the ball every time he got it. This wasn’t a crazy strategy given his athleticism and inability to hit the outside shot. Johnson shot 44.8% on 2-point attempts but just 21.9% from 3-point range. He averaged 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per 40 minutes while playing in about 18 minutes per game.

The rebounding numbers were good but Johnson struggled with his ball handling as well. On the year, Johnson finished with almost twice as many turnovers as assists. That propensity for giving up the ball combined with the low shooting percentages led to an offensive efficiency rating of 92.6 where 100 is considered league average. On defense, Johnson showed effort but was prone to getting caught ball watching and looked like a true freshman who ran around with his hair on fire but with no idea where to go.

Offensive Strengths

Cutting to the Basket

As mentioned in the intro, Carlos Johnson wants to dunk it every time he touches the ball. The defense knows this too, so when he catches the ball on the perimeter there are usually several people in his way to the basket. But when he catches the ball with his momentum already headed towards the rim then he is much more successful. Many of the looks that Johnson got on his cuts this year came from Markelle Fultz so it remains to be seen if Crisp can find him as adeptly. Still, this is Johnson’s best attribute on offense.

Johnson’s 1.65 points per possession in this situation placed him 31st out of 877 players with at least as many cuts to the basket. Some of the players ahead of him included Lonzo Ball, Thomas Welsh, Caleb Swanigan, Jonathan Isaac, and Nigel Hayes. That is very elite company.

On this play Fultz drives towards the basket and Johnson backs away to the corner in order to give him space. However, as soon as Carlos sees that his guy is leaving him to guard the paint against Fultz’s drive he starts sneaking towards the basket. Fultz sneaks in a bounce pass and Johnson immediately elevates and dunks it securing the and-1.

Offensive Rebounding

Carlos put up an offensive rebounding percentage of 8.8% last year. That total was 4th on the team, predictably behind the bigs in Malik Dime, Noah Dickerson, and Sam Timmins. It was more than double the total of any other player on the team. He was also the only player in the conference under 6’5” to finish with an offensive rebounding percentage above 6.0% let alone 8.8%. Every player in the Pac-12 that finished above him was 6’8” or taller. That is impressive.

While this is the strengths column, it has to be noted that Johnson finished in the 5th percentile nationally in scoring on offensive rebounds for players with at least as many attempts. Johnson’s combination of strength, athleticism, and instincts allow him to get a high percentage of rebounds but his lack of height hurts him when he goes back up with it. It will be good for his game if he’s more willing this year to reset the offense after securing a rebound.

Offensive Weaknesses

Shooting

This one is fairly straight forward and the only thing that is going to make it better is a lot of time in the gym over the summer. Johnson is simply not a good shooter at this point in his career. He scored 0.6 points per possession on catch and shoot jumpers which ranked in the 4th percentile nationally among players with at least 20 attempts. That’s not a big sample size but even if he got unlucky on a couple of them, it means that he’d be merely bad rather than atrocious.

As referenced in the cutting section above, Johnson’s inability to shoot also causes problems for him when he tries to get to the basket after being left wide open from three. Johnson has a decent pump fake move but usually the defender will know it’s coming and still be in position to contest a drive. Every coach is going to tell their center to be ready to rotate and help the weak side if Johnson gets it in the corner. Either he’s going to try to drive headlong into the double team or he’ll shoot the ball; and both outcomes are good for the opponent.

Johnson finished in the 27th percentile nationally with 0.882 points per possession when driving to the basket on a catch and shoot opportunity. That total is better than if he actually shot the ball but still isn’t a quality look at that percentage.

Carlos Johnson gets the ball on the perimeter here and has enough space that if he wanted to shoot an open 3 he could. Instead, he makes the decision that he is going to drive to the basket and dunk it no matter what. Here’s a freeze frame of Johnson part way through that drive. Do you think he makes it?

Result:

Johnson has to be willing to take that shot when it’s available and if he’s not willing to take that shot then he has to expand his court vision to notice that as he drove there that Dominic Green was open for a 3 on his left. The easiest way though for Johnson’s offensive game to improve is he proves a credible threat as a shooter which will open things up.

Defensive Strengths

One-on-One Man Defense

Johnson didn’t find himself in this position very often but if you add up the number of possessions he guarded in isolation, post-ups, and hand-offs they come out to a meaningful sample size. And he fared at least above average in all three areas. Opponents scored between 0.583 and 0.667 points per possession against Johnson in those three categories which ranked between the 68th and 87th percentile nationally.

Johnson was particularly effective in the post where he was able to use his strength and wide body to hold position against other guards. Carlos forced a turnover on a quarter of these possessions and the offense scored on only a third of them.

Defensive Weaknesses

Staying with his Man Off the Ball

Carlos Johnson has a wandering eye on defense. He likes to know where the ball is, which is good. He doesn’t usually know where his man is, which is bad. Johnson’s assignments scored 1.33 points per possession on catch and shoot jumpers which puts Johnson in the 9th percentile nationally among defenders with at least 30 such possessions. If you’ve been reading all of these entries then you’ll notice that this is a bit of theme with last season’s Huskies. You don’t get to be one of the worst defensive teams in the country unless you have a group of players who either don’t get or willingly ignore team defensive concepts.

Next Steps

There should be some trepidation on the part of Huskies fans that one of the most similar statistical profiles on kenpom.com to Carlos Johnson’s freshman season was former-UW player Darin Johnson’s. Darin Johnson shot 24.1% from deep his freshman year then sunk to an appallingly bad 18.6% in year 2 before transferring. It should offer some encouragement that now at Cal State Northridge he shot 32% as a junior albeit against worse competition.

If Carlos Johnson can avoid taking the step backward and improve to 32% from deep this year it would be a huge boost for the offense. Shooting at only a slightly below average clip from beyond the arc would greatly improve UW’s spacing and give more room both for Dickerson to work in the post as well as for Johnson himself to drive off a pump fake.

I’m quite bullish on Johnson’s prospects moving forward despite the numerous flaws in his game. The areas where he needs to improve are mostly mental so whether he becomes a late bloomer like Andrew Andrews or a flame out and transfer like Darin Johnson depends on his mindset. The fact that he lost the 30 pounds during the year shows that he has the potential to enact large changes in his behavior if he sets his mind to it which is encouraging. He also has said that he is down an additional 20 pounds this off-season which theoretically will only add to his explosiveness. Although hopefully not at the expense of his strength.

Playing in a potentially more rigorous system under Coach Hopkins will likely also help. The Romar playground style helped attract players to UW and was often fun to watch but it became a problem when Johnson would pass over the correct play in order to attempt the potentially really sweet play. If Johnson really focuses then he has the potential to be a fantastic energy guard off the bench this season. Whether he becomes anything more than that long term will depend on how much he buys in on defense.

2017/18 Predictions:

19 minutes per game, 5.7 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, 43%/28.2%/63.4% FG%/3pt%/FT%

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