Of all the new prospects that the Toronto Raptors brought this season, David Johnson was the least utilized by the main club. He played a grand total of 1:59 minutes with the Raptors, as timing and the playoff chase prevented the team from giving him a decent look with the Raptors.
Perhaps the closest opportunity Johnson would have gotten was when COVID-19 ravaged the Raptors in late December. I’m sure we would see his number called up before the “replacements” got extended minutes. However, as fate would have it, Johnson was not available during that time, as he suffered a calf injury almost two weeks prior, and that injury sidelined him for almost five weeks.
Johnson started great in the Showcase Cup, despite being overshadowed by the performances of Dalano Banton, Isaac Bonga, and Reggie Perry. However, he struggled with perimeter shooting, especially when the team needed him to be the floor spacer whenever the Raptors assigned Banton/Champagnie/Flynn, thus dropping his production late in the Showcase Cup. As mentioned above, Johnson suffered a calf injury, which ended his Showcase Cup stint.
Johnson missed the start of the regular season as he continued to rehab his injured calf, and the roster underwent some changes — from players getting healthy and trades that affected his role with the team. He returned in the second half against the Capital City GoGo but had to sit out the first half while waiting to be cleared from COVID protocols. Johnson looked rusty, and he would carry this over to the next game; however, his value on the floor as a well-rounded two-way role player would be on display from here on.
Johnson settled in as the third, sometimes the fourth option, on the floor while getting reps as a secondary facilitator at times. His scoring numbers looked slow, but that’s partly to his role (and him getting reps) as a floor spacer and not having a lot of success with it (Hello, Malachi Flynn). However, Johnson was a big part of the improbable runs that the #1 team had throughout the season, where they displayed stingy defense while going for a quick pick-six.
Johnson’s play peaked against the Greensboro Swarm (back-to-back) last February, where his potential was on full display. He hit a game-winner in the first game and came back for more the next, dropping 27 points on 5-for-10 perimeter shooting, going toe-to-toe with the Hornets lottery pick James Bouknight. However, Johnson would miss time again due to knee inflammation. As expected, he looked rusty after missing a week but got it going again later in the season.
Offensively, Johnson was a little disappointing in the playoffs. With Banton, Champagnie, and Kevon Harris taking turns as the primary option, Johnson was relegated as a floor spacer — something that he’s not good at. He shot 4-for-15, but he was a solid two-way player on the floor for coach Mutombo; he was part of the lineups that either made runs or kept them afloat.
After watching Johnson extensively, his rookie season reminds me of Delon Wright. Wright had to share point duties with either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet, and when that happened, he was a mediocre floor spacer. Another similarity to Wright is his apparent timid approach offensively, often willing to defer or look to make the “right” play or playmake for others first. Only, Wright was doing it with the main club, and Johnson was doing it with the farm team when he should be looking to push his limits.
If anything, Johnson got plenty of reps as a floor spacer, and that experiment showed him what’s keeping him from getting a good look at the majors. However, it wasn’t a failed experiment — look at the following segments and have shown some improvement:
David Johnson’s Three-Point Shooting Breakdown
|Regular Season (Pre All-Star Break)||23||86||27.90%|
|Regular Season (Post All-Star Break)||24||59||40.70%|
Johnson should have had enough to get by inside the arc based on his handle, athleticism, strength, and touch, but he struggled outside the paint. He was subpar, shooting 39.4 around the floater range.
Speaking of athleticism, just look at this old Lowry->Demar playbook:
Despite Johnson’s poor shooting, I like the ball with Johnson in crunch time. In crunch time, he’s a different person - he will not hesitate to call his number and trust his shot, even though advanced stats say we shouldn’t. Time and again, Johnson will hit the dagger — whether it’s a middy, a floater, heck, even a three-pointer.
I wish the Raptors 905 gave Johnson enough reps as the ball handler, he’s got a good knack at creating angles, making passes that led his teammates to the shot. Just look at the spin on this pass:
Or how about this pass:
Johnson is a decent multi-positional defender. His counting numbers won’t stand out defensively, but he would often do a good job either staying in front of his man, forcing a contested shot, or making the right and timely rotation. It’s not surprising that when coach Mutombo’s down by double digits, Johnson would be on the floor when the team had to dig deep defensively as they force a comeback attempt.
The Raptors 905’s lack of rim protection and defensive system also meant that the guards and the wings had to consider what was happening towards the basket. Johnson’s sneaky hops had blocked or altered shots around the rim with his rotations around the basket, often while coming from the perimeter.
Positive On-Court Impact
Unlike Banton or Champagnie, Johnson’s game didn’t “pop” that much, except for a handful of games. However, whenever the Raptors 905 won or made a huge comeback, he was in the middle of it, often doing the small things.
The best way to describe Johnson’s G League rookie season is that he’s shown plenty of flashes, but he gets injured every time he looks like he’s about to take off. There’s a lot to like in what he’s shown us, and it’s evident that he’s capable of doing more. The best way to put Johnson’s profile right now is that he can potentially do many things on both ends of the floor, which is ideal for the direction of the main club. Except for shooting, he doesn’t have a lot of terrible holes in his game, but unfortunately, nothing in his game has consistently stood out so far where you can say, “the Raptors can use that skillset.”
I think it’s worth giving Johnson another look, but that means he’ll spend another season with the Raptors 905, unless he comes into the training camp shooting like Klay Thompson. An assignment with the Raptors 905 should be tailored towards the same development plan as Jordan Loyd, by giving Johnson the primary ball-handling duties. The Raptors 905’s roster construct didn’t give him consistent playmaking opportunities nor the opportunity to cook. The video below captures everything to like about Johnson’s game and why, despite an inconsistent season, I’m still high on him.
Johnson is a restricted free agent next season, and roster spots might be tight. However, he just turned 21 years old, and there are around 20+ draftable prospects in this coming draft that are either older or around the same age as Johnson. I think there are a few levels to Johnson’s game that can be easily unlocked, and if that happens, we could be looking at a first-round level of talent.
Overall grade: Incomplete