Monday, March 2, 2015

Senior Spotlight 2014-15 (1st Installment)

In "Senior Spotlight", I explore some of the top seniors across college basketball and assess their potential from a professional standpoint. In today's segment, the first of the year, I take a look at South Carolina's Tyrone Johnson.

After being relegated to the bench with a foot injury towards the end of his junior season, the Gamecock's Tyrone Johnson is back this year and bringing senior leadership to his South Carolina  squad under head coach Frank Martin. Johnson is a combo guard with lead guard potential at the next level. Hailing from Plainfield, New Jersey, Johnson has made noticeable strides converting to the point guard slot, but still has some work to do before he can become an impact player at a higher level of basketball.

When noting his current strengths, one would be remiss if failing to mention Johnson's gifts on the defensive end of the floor. It should first be noted that Johnson has made significant strides in this area since his first season with the Villanova Wildcats, and especially since his high school playing days. While Johnson's output does not jump out as far as defensive statistics are concerned, posting a modest 2.12% steals % (40th in the SEC) - which happens to be in-line with fellow defensive stalwart Tyler Ulis, he possesses strong fundamentals on this end of the floor. For instance, he rarely bites on pump fakes, and has strong lateral quickness. His quickness enables him to double down on the post at times, and recover to his man on the perimeter if a kick out pass is made. Johnson is particularly effective on close outs and does a nice job disrupting without fouling out on the perimeter (2.84 fouls per 40 minutes, good for 25th in the SEC). In his matchup with standout Vanderbilt freshman Riley LaChance, Johnson was incredibly active fighting through screens and getting enough pressure to disturb LaChance's shooting rhythm. It should be noted that as soon as South Carolina shifted to the 1-2-2 zone and Johnson no longer had the sole responsibility of covering him, LaChance broke out, scoring the majority of his 19 points during this juncture.

Johnson brings senior leadership to the table and boasts a strong basketball IQ on defensive rotations, shifting inside when necessary and acting the part of a savant in anticipating ball movement. And while he does possess good size for a next level point guard at 6'3, he does tend to struggle defending bigger players. For instance, in his matchup with Aaron and Andrew Harrison, he struggled with their superior size and length, particularly when recovering to defend the rim. With that said, he did a nice job closing out on the perimeter and it should also be noted that he will not always have to contend with players that have comparable size to the Harrison twins at the next level. Overall, Johnson possesses strong defensive awareness and the ability to actively contest shots without fouling.  

On the opposite end, Johnson is an adequate playmaker who finds open shooters, but has struggled to find his shot at times this season. While Johnson was able to keep defenses honest a season ago by connecting at a 42.1% clip from three on a limited number of attempts, Johnson has been on a cold streak for much of this year, choosing to pass the ball back outside rather than squaring up for an open jumper - much to Frank Martin's chagrin. When he does opt to shoot, Johnson's stroke possesses decent mechanics with solid fluidity, but Johnson could stand to work on the consistency of his motion (elevation/elbows in particular). With that said, he could be turning things around from a shooting perspective, given his 28 point breakout performance (on 7-10 shooting, 1-2 from three) against Mississippi State most recently. In terms of his playmaking ability, Johnson is a strong slasher with a solid crossover dribble who can take a defender off his spot in a hurry. While he could stand to develop a Euro step maneuver when getting all the way to the rim to avoid charges, Johnson does have the requisite hangtime and strength to finish at the hoop.

That said, he will have to improve upon his finishing ability/ overall shooting (connecting on a paltry 41.2% of his two point attempts) if he hopes to receive any minutes at a higher level of play. Importantly, Johnson is very unselfish with the ball in his hands. While he tends to swing the ball far too often instead of getting into the teeth of the defense, particularly against the 2-3 zone, Johnson does hit open shooters on drive and kick plays. He also has good vision out in transition and is very underrated as a post entry passer, with a strong ability to lob over the top of the defense and find his open big man. That said, he has often been too passive at times to attack the basket (3.9 fouls drawn per 40 mins vs. 6.2 last year in a shortened season), instead settling for simplistic kick out passes. This is likely due to his lack of confidence hitting his perimeter stroke, as defenses can now back off of him a bit. Importantly, it remains to be seen (as far as I have seen) how he would function on a nightly basis in a high pick and roll offense, where his big man does not opt to flare out for the open three pointer.

All in all, Tyrone Johnson is an experienced talent with the requisite skillset to become a solid role player at a higher level of basketball. He must continue to perfect his shooting stroke and refine his court awareness, but he should receives some looks when his college career is finally over.

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