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Stiffs NBA Draft Series: Brice Johnson

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Brice Johnson improved in each of his four years at North Carolina, but did he improve enough to make an impact in the NBA?

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The Denver Stiffs will be covering all of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft in our Stiffs NBA draft series. Check back daily for video, stats, and analysis of all the projected first round prospects.

Stiffs Draft Series

Thon Maker Denzel Valentine Marquese Chriss Jaylen Brown
Dragan Bender Cheick Dialo Furkan Korkmaz Skal Labissiere
DeAndre Bembry Jamal Murray Tyler Ulis Buddy Hield
Malachi Richardson Domantas Sabonis

Brice Johnson

Stats
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three Point % Free Throw %
17.0 10.4 1.5 1.1 1.5 1.8 61.4 N/A 78.3
Strengths

Athleticism - The conversation with Johnson really starts with his athleticism. He is a high flying dunk machine who can live above the rim and will get the bulk of his points in the NBA on putbacks and dunks. A player like Johnson is ideal for a run and gun system like George Karl used to run here in Denver but he’s also got the quickness to be able to beat defenders in the post and create easy shots for himself. While Johnson doesn’t have exceptional height or length for his position, his leaping ability compensates for that on defense making him a decent shot blocker.

Offensive rebounding - Johnson’s athleticism also helps him tremendously on the glass, especially on the offensive side. He elevates from the floor quickly, allowing him to secure rebounds even when he is not necessarily in the best position. However that is fairly rare. Johnson has good rebounding instincts and puts forth the effort to box out his opponent. With his high flying ability he secures rebounds and throws down vicious put back dunks in one fluid motion.

Free throws - With Johnson operating almost exclusively in the paint, he tends to have a lot of plays around the rim. When he’s not converting dunks (and he finishes at an incredibly efficient rate) he’s drawing fouls. He averages just under five free throws a game and where he was once a dismal free throw shooter (57.7% his freshman season) he’s now shooting a very solid 78.3%

Weaknesses

Shooting - Outside of shooting out of the post Johnson doesn’t really offer much in the way of spacing. His offensive production is almost exclusively happening at the rim. He never once attempted a three pointer in college either. However, he has shown the ability to get his mid range game going and his shot isn't broken like Kenyon Martin’s (a player whom Johnson has been compared to in the past). With more practice Johnson could at least turn this weakness into a passable skill.

Consistency - Without a reliable jumpshot to turn to when his team isn’t feeding him the basketball at the rim, Johnson becomes susceptible to long cold streaks and can spend some games as a complete no show. Take for example this past January. He managed just three points against Clemson, but then exploded two games later for 39 against Florida State...only to score just 6 points two games after that against North Carolina State. Johnson has been subject of criticisms in the past for his laid back nature and less than business like approach to the game.

Defense - Johnson doesn’t boast great height or an impressive wingspan and while he’s put in a lot of work to add bulk to his frame, he still isn't a big body by any means. His quickness and athleticism help mitigate these issues and give him the tools necessary to be a good defender on the perimeter and to effectively hedge pick and rolls but his overall defensive game needs work. Like many aspects of Johnson’s game, he’s got the potential, but his fundamentals and instincts need to improve in order to make this weakness a strength.

Pro comparisons (best to worst):

Taj Gibson - If Johnson can learn to be a better defender and can expand his range to where he is knocking down mid-range shots with some consistency then he projects to have a very similar career to Gibson. Each player has a game that is based off of their athletic ability, but Gibson put in the work to make himself a far more complete player than where Johnson is at right now. With the right situation though Johnson could have a fine career like Gibson’s.

Kenneth Faried - Even if he can’t fully round out his skill set, Johnson has enough athleticism to be a solid NBA pro like Faried. He isn’t quite the rebounder that the Manimal is but he’s certainly no slouch either. Each player’s offense is predicated on getting put backs and finishing fast breaks and each player struggles to produce consistently when they’re not being fed the ball near the basket. Like Johnson, Faried has the physical tools to be a good defender, but has yet to show the ability to be a positive on that end of the court.

Derrick Williams - Unlike Johnson, Williams did show an ability to convert with a jump shot, which is what helped catapult him to the #2 overall pick in 2011. However, he took a less than serious approach to developing his game and once he made it to the pros athleticism alone was not able to give Williams the advantages he enjoyed in college. Johnson could be subject to the same fate if his laid-back approach becomes a problem in the NBA.

Fit with the Nuggets

Not great in all honesty. As noted in the player comparisons, Faried provides a similar skill set as Johnson and the Nuggets really can’t afford to take on anymore players who almost always have to operate inside the paint on offense. Johnson also doesn’t really provide much help on defense, save for the occasional block. If the Nuggets were to make a draft day deal that sent Faried packing, then definitely Johnson could be a target.

While he’s by no means a star player, Johnson is a highlight reel player which tends to capture the interest of a common fan a lot easier than say a fundamentally sound big man with wicked good hands and passing skills like Nikola Jokic. No doubt the Manimal is THE fan favorite in Denver when it comes to the Nuggets so if he’s dealt, Johnson could become a quick replacement in the fans hearts with his ability to finish alley-oops and chase down would be layups on the fast break.

Projected draft spot

SB Nation - 20 (Pacers)

Draft Express - 31 (Celtics)

CBS Sports (Vecenie) - 22 (Hornets)

NBADraft.net - 15 (Nuggets)

Final thoughts

Normally I’m all about my Tarheels but I’m not very high on Johnson at all. He’s a player who doesn’t do anything at an elite level beyond his ability to dunk. While sometimes that’s not such a bad thing for an 18 year old, it’s an entirely different story for a college senior like Johnson. His ceiling seems incredibly low and he projects to be a solid role player at best. Too many guys go the way of Williams or Anthony Randolph when they rely so heavily on their athleticism.

Beyond just the low ceiling, Johnson just doesn’t fit with the Nuggets as long as Faried is on the roster. While he could suffice as the Manimal’s replacement long term, short term there’s going to be a drop off in production and it’s unlikely Johnson ever becomes much better than what Faried already gives you, if he becomes better than Faried at all. The Nuggets should pass on the UNC star and look for players with better fit and better upside.