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Player Preview: David Johnson’s Road To The Six

David Johnson’s rookie campaign will go through Mississauga, where he’ll have a chance to work on his game and perhaps parlay that improvement into an opportunity to earn a standard contract in the near future.

Houston Rockets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors selected Louisville sophomore guard David Johnson with the 47th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. That selection was the latter part of the Raptors’ back-to-back picks, giving the Raptors a couple of stabs at mining diamonds in the rough mid-second round.

At the time, the Raptors had already picked a couple of multi-positional playmakers in Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton (46th Overall). The pressing need at the time was rim protection and scoring punch. With Sharife Cooper, Luka Garza, BJ Boston, and Sandro Maukelashvili still available, Masai and Bobby “zigged” with their 47th overall pick by selecting Johnson, when everyone else expected them to “zag.”

Johnson brings size, playmaking, and defense at his position. However, his shooting and overall scoring are still suspect. Part of the scoring woes is his inability to create separation due to his lack of explosiveness, and the handles to create a pseudo-first step advantage for himself. While big guards of his prototype have found success in the past (Mark Jackson and Andre Miller), the game was much different back then. It’s not like coach Nick Nurse will let Johnson post-up his man to create scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates — orrrr, will he?

Good news for Johnson, the Raptors don’t see his limitations as a deterrent. Instead, they see a prospect that they could turn into something if they can get him on their developmental system.

For Johnson, that journey will take him to Mississauga, Ontario, where he’ll get plenty of time with the Raptors 905. It remains to be seen whether Johnson will be the starting point guard for coach Patrick Mutombo. It won’t be a surprise to see Malachi Flynn and Dalano Banton make trips, if not stay longer with the development club.

With the Raptors 905, Johnson can find himself in a similar situation to Jordan Loyd a few years ago. Loyd pretty much played shooting guard until he took over the point guard spot when Kay Felder was removed from the team. Whether he plays the point or not, Johnson will have plenty of things he needs to work on.

Johnson was betting on himself and the Raptors’ developmental system when he signed a 1-year two-way contract. He’ll have to show significant improvements to prove that he’s either worth investing another year or good enough to fight for a roster spot next season. It’ll be an interesting experiment for both parties, as the Raptors are shifting away from having a traditional point guard who would manage the ball for most of the game. Meanwhile, Johnson is much more effective with the ball than off-the-ball.

If there’s such thing as a checklist for a two-way contract player like him, it would have to be something like this:

  • Be at least an above-average G League player;
  • Show competence as a point guard/floor general and playmaker;
  • Develop a solid grasp of the Raptors’ defensive scheme;
  • Demonstrate shot creation capabilities; and
  • Improve the perimeter shooting, both catch-and-shoot and off-the-bounce.

As simple as that list may be, that seems to be a tall order given Johnson’s ho-hum summer league stint that was cut short by a shoulder injury. His limited cameos off the bench this preseason were also underwhelming. When Johnson did get a chance to play, he showed flashes of passing and court vision, and unfortunately, his weaknesses as well.

While Johnson had a couple of good clutch possessions against the Celtics during the preseason, I fully expect to see more from Johnson with the 905. I’ll be keeping a close eye on his progress with the Raptors 905 Prospect Report this season.