Clippers’ First-Rounder Explosive in G League Debut

Keon Johnson LA Clippers

Getty LA Clippers guard Keon Johnson drives to the basket during a summer league bout with the Portland Trail Blazers.

For a team like the LA Clippers that has a large percentage of its salary cap committed to a pair of superstars, hitting on draft picks can be a major bonus. Getting useful, rotation-level players on rookie-scale deals really does wonders for filling a bench if you’re dealing with the luxury tax or the hard cap.

Case in point: Terance Mann, who is logging an 11-6-3 line as a former 48th overall pick on a meager $1.8 million salary in ’21-22. Elsewhere on the roster, the Clippers hope they’ve nabbed another steal in their pick at No. 21 overall from the 2021 NBA draft, Keon Johnson.

However, a non-Covid illness has limited the Tennessee product to just 41 seconds of action over the first three weeks of the campaign.

On Wednesday, though, Johnson took his first big step toward balling out with Los Angeles by making his debut with the team’s G League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers. In doing so, he gave the red and blue faithful plenty to get excited about it.

Johnson Goes Off

Keon Johnson with 24 Points vs. G League IgniteThe NBA G League is the NBA's official minor league. Fans can get a glimpse at the players, coaches and officials competing to ascend to the NBA's rank. With 40 percent of players on start-of-season NBA rosters boasting NBA G League experience when the 2018-19 season tipped off in October, the NBA G League YouTube…2021-11-11T05:18:04Z

Agua Caliente tipped off its ’21-22 campaign against the G League Ignite. And while the Ignite’s roster features multiple likely NBA draft picks for 2022, it was Johnson who ultimately snagged the spotlight for himself.

In 26 minutes of play, the 19-year-old put up 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting, with a three-point bucket to his credit. Johnson also added seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot in the game, which the Clippers won 115-101. They were plus-18 when he was on the floor.

What is perhaps more exciting than the number of points Johnson put up in the game was the myriad of ways in which he did so. At various junctures, he bullied his way to the hoop and finished through contact. He was also adept at pulling up off the dribble, and knocked down a couple catch-and-shoot Js as well.

Most of his damage was done in the mid-range, where he hit a number of pull-ups, free-throw line extended. Whether he’ll be able to get those shots off at the next level — or if the Clippers will even want him taking them — remains to be seen.

In any case, his activity level and raw production were both very encouraging for a first go.

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Johnson May Have Needed This One

While Johnson’s game was a big one just on its own, it feels even bigger given his struggles in the run-up to the regular season. His lone year with the Vols left many believing he had work to do as a shooter, and his performance in August and early October seemingly backed the notion.

During his time in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, he averaged 8.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest but still struggled mightily from the floor. Over a five-game sample, he connected on just 28.8% of his field-goal attempts and 20% from three-point range.

Things didn’t go much better during preseason play, either, as he averaged 4.7 PPG on shooting splits of 29-20-63.


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