After being relegated to minor roles coming off the bench in his first two seasons in Lawrence, Elijah Johnson
has finally gotten his opportunity this season, averaging 31.7 minutes per game and playing a key role on Kansas' #5 ranked squad.
Johnson's physical tools were his strongest asset coming into this season, and that hasn't changed with his expanded role. Johnson's most impressive moments are largely his explosive finishes at the rim and his excellent speed going to the basket, which still remain his biggest selling points in projecting his long term potential.
In terms of offensive production, Johnson hasn't had the smoothest road this season, as he's averaging just 10.9 points per-40 minutes (second lowest in our top-100 rankings) and sees his points totals fluctuate wildly from game to game (including zero points in 37 minutes in a victory over Baylor last week).
Johnson has only gotten to the free throw line 20 times all season (second worst amongst all players in our top-100 rankings), while nearly two thirds of his field goal attempts come from beyond the arc, which emphasizes the fairly minor role he plays on this Kansas squad.
While he is an immensely gifted player from a tools standpoint and shows flashes of excellent ability at times as well, Johnson is still inconsistent in most areas of his game and has struggled especially finding a consistent role in the half court offense.
Johnson plays primarily off the ball in the Jayhawks offense, deferring to teammate Tyshawn Taylor
to run the show, but still does some playmaking himself. He shows great ability throwing alley-oops to cutting bigs, making post entry passes, and operating on quick drive-and-kick passes, but doesn't get many opportunities to run the offense as a traditional point guard.
He's also shown excellent flashes running the pick-and-roll at times, showing good vision and taking advantage of his size and speed, but he isn't utilized very heavily in this aspect and isn't consistent knocking down the pull-up jumper when defenders go under the screen. While Johnson certainly has some intriguing assets as a shot creator and distributor, his lack of experience running the point full time and his still largely unpolished ball-handling leaves question marks about his ability to be a pure point at the next level, where he probably best fits as a combo guard similar to what he does now.
Johnson's still developing advanced ball-handling skills are probably the largest thing holding him back from excelling consistently in the half court, as it greatly limits the ways in which he can utilize his superb physical tools going to the basket. While showing a great first step and excellent rangy strides with the ball, Johnson struggles heavily in isolations where he isn't very confident taking his man one-on-one. The increased spacing at the next level, more frequent use of pick-and-rolls, and possibly being in a more up-tempo offense are all things that could enhance Johnson's abilities in this area, but he will still need to improve his basketball IQ and learn how to better use his tools offensively, as he really struggles to get to the basket and draw fouls or finish consistently.
Johnson's perimeter shot is another inconsistent aspect of his offense, as despite having solid mechanics and often looking pretty comfortable shooting the basketball, he's shooting under 30% from three-point range on 5.4 attempts per game despite seeing the vast majority of his shots in catch-and-shoot situations. Improving here would be very beneficial to his chances of carving out a niche in the NBA, and making significant strides either here or with his shot creation will likely be crucial to his long-term staying power.
On the defensive end, Johnson shows similar inconsistencies due to his still developing fundamentals and awareness, but a solid motor and his excellent physical tools due a much better job masking his shortcomings. His physical tools here are nothing short of elite at the point guard position and still very good for a combo or two guard, as he has all the strength and speed he'll ever need on this end of the court.
He struggles at times in isolations, either due to letting out of his stance early or overextending himself, but his tools allow him to recover so well that he often can make up for it, though that likely won't be true at the next level. Johnson is more consistently effective as a disruptive force in team defense and on pick-and-rolls, where his size and speed allow him to cover a lot of ground. His somewhat erratic tendencies are definitely helped by playing on a very well-coached, effective defense, though he'll likely have to tighten up his technique at the next level where he won't have a consistent tools advantage against his opponents.
Looking forward, Johnson is still a raw prospect who's just scratching the surface of his potential, but despite his increased minutes this season it's tough to say if he's markedly improved in any area from a skills standpoint. Really shoring up either his playmaking or perimeter shooting ability to give him more consistent production in the half court will be key to his success, and he could also help himself by really working towards his potential on the defensive end. Going to an up-tempo team that can best utilize his tools in transition, pick-and-roll potential, and strong passing ability would definitely help his chances of sticking, but he will likely still need to make some substantive improvements with his skills to find himself a long term niche.
With Tyshawn Taylor
graduating this spring and seemingly few options on the horizon to replace his significant role as Kansas' primary ball-handler, Johnson may opt to stay for his senior year, which could be his best bet from a development and exposure standpoint, as he doesn't look very close to being able to contribute to a NBA team right now, and doesn't have much of a resume to fall back on.