Why is he opting out now?
Brendan Marks, Duke beat writer: Johnson’s playing time has decreased of late and Duke has just been better with him on the bench. Despite all of Johnson’s physical tools and his court vision, opponents didn’t respect his jump shot. That made things extremely difficult for him — and Duke — in the half court. Johnson will now have time to prepare for the upcoming NBA Draft, where he is still expected to become a first-rounder. But front offices will have serious questions about his work ethic, commitment to winning, and overall maturity.
What this means for Duke
Marks: Johnson’s struggles aren’t the sole reason Duke find itself at 8-8 and fighting to make the NCAA Tournament. But fitting him into the greater team picture has been a battle all season. His departure opens up more minutes for fellow freshmen Mark Williams, Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman, all of whom have impressed in limited time lately. Those three are vital to Duke’s future, so getting them more playing time now should help build back up the experienced talent the best Blue Devils teams have always had.
Johnson’s draft evaluation
Sam Vecenie, NBA draft analyst: I’ve been a bit lower on Johnson throughout the pre-draft process than most. I had him outside of the lottery in the preseason and he never entered the top 10 for me. I buy the intersection of size, skill and vision that Johnson has. He’s a terrific passer at 6-foot-9 and does a great job out on the break in transition. But he’s not good on defense, doesn’t have the threat of a jump shot right now and isn’t a good athlete in the halfcourt. He gets out on the break well, but doesn’t have nearly the handle he thinks he does and his first step isn’t elite. It’s a Ben Simmons-like player without Simmons’ elite-level athleticism. That’s a tough fit in today’s NBA.
Additionally, NBA front offices had some questions surrounding his departure from IMG Academy last season even entering the 2020-21 season. His journey this year hasn’t exactly assuaged any of their concerns. It’s exacerbated them. His choice to opt-out with three weeks left in the year is not going to do him any favors in the eyes of the NBA. I have him outside of the lottery right now and his floor is outside of the first round at this point if things go poorly in the pre-draft process.
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