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Alexander Johnson, NBA D-League Call-Up Candidate Breakdown

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Alexander Johnson is the most NBA-ready big man the NBA Development League has ever seen.  There, I said it.

What's that? You want me to blow your mind by backing that outlandish statement up? Okay, will do.

Alexander Johnson is 6-foot-9, 240 pounds and a relative beast in the D-League.  When I say beast, I mean he's averaging 23.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting better than 55% from the field.  The best thing is that this is production off of the bench, as he's started just four of 16 games since joining the Sioux Falls Skyforce at the end of January.  To put those numbers into perspective, he currently ranks fourth in the D-League in scoring and third in rebounding and efficiency.  Not bad, huh?

Typically the reason players have trouble getting called-up from the D-League, as far as I can tell, is due to a lack of an NBA resume.  Johnson was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in the second round  of the 2006 NBA Draft out of Florida State University (Beat the Zags!), but eventually ended up with the Memphis Grizzlies after a couple of draft day trades.

With Memphis, Johnson started 19 of 59 games as a rookie, averaging 12.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.  The following Summer, though, he was surprisingly released - though quickly signed a deal with the Miami Heat.  With the Heat, Johnson played in 43 games, starting six, and put up similar statistics to his first season.  Still, he again didn't get an NBA contract following the season (I have no idea why, but it doesn't seem to be due to on-court issues) and thus went to Germany to play last season.

This season, though, Johnson decided to give the NBA another shot by going to camp with the Utah Jazz.  Johnson played well enough for the Jazz this preseason, it seems, but the Jazz had a bevy of big men in camp, leaving Johnson on the outside looking in when the Jazz made their final cuts.

Now that you know what he does, you're probably wondering how he does it.

On offense, Johnson splits his work from just physicaling the ball into the basket from the low post (It's what he does, don't try to argue) and going into iso-mode from 17-feet on the baseline. 

His low post game isn't particularly refined, mostly consisting of counter moves followed by a dunk of some sort.  It's been very effective, however, because to make up for the occasions that he doesn't score, he gets to the line at a pretty alarming rate.  He's actually been to the charity stripe more often (202 times) than he's credited for field goal attempts (196).  That's astoundingly efficient.  When he gets the ball further out, he typically puts the ball on the floor and beats the (usually) slower defender to the basket.  I've actually been really impressed with this facet of his game.

On defense, he's what Synergy Sports considers "Excellent," ranking in the 96th percentile overall.  That percentage rank includes post-ups, isolations, spot-ups and defending the picker on the pick-and-roll, all of which he is, at worst, very good.  I hate to make an example of a guy I really like, but according to yesterday's box score, Johnson all but shut down Rob Kurz.  By shutting him down, I mean Kurz shot 3-of-13 from the field and had just four attempts from the free-throw line to finish with 11 points - six below his average.  Johnson picked up three blocks in the game, though only one came due via Kurz.  Since I'm talking about yesterday's game, Johnson also scored 25 points and grabbed 18 boards.

Now that we have all of the analytic stuff out of the way, let's get into the meat and potatoes part of my argument - Why does he deserve a call-up?

  • NBA size: While he's not going to be the tallest of NBA power forwards at 6-foot-9, there won't be many that will outmuscle his 240 pound frame.
  • NBA readiness: Whether it's for a playoff contender or a team just calling players up to get a better look at them for next season, Johnson's ready to contribute.  He's 27 years old, has played two seasons of meaningful NBA minutes and seems to have improved quite a bit since then.
  • Rebounding: This might be the facet of his game.  When he grabs an offensive board, he's almost always in a shot-ready position.  I don't know if that's a trainable skill or it's something he's born with, but he is typically able to go right back up with a shot/dunk every time he gets the offensive rebound.  He's explosive.
  • Game translates: I think his coming off of the bench in the D-League has actually helped his call-up possibilities.  Knowing he can produce, even when not starting, is exactly what he'll have to do in the NBA.  He'll also be counted on to rebound, something that typically translates alright to the NBA as well.
  • I know teams are looking at him.  It's a copy-cat league, so when one team is looking at him (I know of two that could make the move early this week if things fall into place and I'd like to add New Jersey even though I've not heard anything regarding the Nets), more teams are going to take notice.  And when they actually watch Johnson, they'll like what they see.
  • I said so.  Rather self-explanatory.

This is the second in a series of randomly occurring posts about players I think deserve a call-up.  The first was Mustafa Shakur.