Keldon Johnson: An Important Piece for Spurs’ Future

The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most successful franchises in recent history. Since Gregg Popovich’s first complete season in San Antonio (97-98), the Spurs have only missed the playoffs once (last season). In that span, the Spurs have won 5 NBA championships with many all-time great players in their rosters. In 7 seasons with the Spurs, Leonard won several individual honors a championship, including Finals MVP. On July 18th, 2018, he was traded to the Toronto Raptors in a package that included Danny Green and some cash. In return, the Spurs received DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Pöltl, and a 2019 1st round draft pick. Consequently, the Raptors won their first NBA trophy, led by Leonard. The Spurs got a much tougher draw, losing in the 1st round of the playoffs that year and missing the playoffs the year after.

How has Keldon Johnson looked so far?

The bright side for the Spurs is what that 2019 first-round pick became: Keldon Johnson. The 21-year-old SF out of Kentucky didn’t look amazing in his first season as a Spur, but he has looked much better this season. Johnson has very interesting features and attributes that help him excel on the court. At the moment, Johnson is averaging 14.5 points, 7.0 boards, and 2.3 assists per game. Those numbers may not seem that attractive, especially considering his importance in the Spurs’ future. Johnson hasn’t been a scoring machine, although he can be streaky in some games to help the Spurs to go in a run.

Johnson has shown some interesting flashes this season. He has been active sprinting throughout the court and grabbing boards at both ends of the floor, and ranks well in certain stats. Johnson is first in contested rebounds amongst players 6’6 or shorter (competing primarily with Russell Westbrook). Given the same filter, he ranks 4th in shots defended at the rim.

After being dominant for a huge part of the last decade, San Antonio seems to be out of the main talk in the West. However, their rebuilt roster with several young players and a great coach signifies a very bright future, a future that may be closer than it appears. As of now, the Spurs are 16-11, 6th place in the Western Conference, which would mean a trip to the playoffs if they can keep it up. The emergence of Keldon Johnson is an under the radar occurrence to take note of, especially if the Spurs sneak into the playoffs this season.