Last season, the Lakeland Magic stood out as one of the best teams in the G League as they finished the year with a 32-18 record, which placed them as the 2nd season a competitive Eastern Conference. When you take a look back at that team, you can point to multiple factors to determine his success. For one, then two-way forward Amile Jefferson stood out as one of the best front-court players in the league through averaging an efficient 18 points and 11 rebounds per game. In addition to that excellent front-court play, Lakeland also featured a strong backcourt duo of Gabe York and Troy Caupain, who both were able to shine as well-rounded offensive weapons.
Although those three players made a significant impact on that success, there was one player that started to shine during the later stages of the prior year. That man was 6’7 forward B.J. Johnson, who put up 17.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.4 assists on 47% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc on 5.2 attempts per game. That tremendous play came in 21 of the team’s 30 games as the rookie forward spent a few weeks with the Atlanta Hawks after receiving a 10-day contract on March 1st
As is the case for most players on 10-day deals, his time with Atlanta was brief as he got waived on March 21st. However, he did show some flashes during that time, like putting up 11 points and a steal on 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from 3 during a March 3rd game against the Chicago Bulls.
Seven months after that impressive performance with Atlanta, Johnson made his way back to the G League with the Lakeland Magic. However, he wouldn’t be on a standard minor league contract as Orlando signed the forward to a two-way deal on November 4th, just three days before the G League’s regular season was to begin.
In the almost two months since Orlando offered him that deal, the 6’7 forward has stood out as one of the best offensive weapons in the G League. In 17 games, he’s averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.9 assists on 45% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc on 5.5 attempts per game. Those averages have allowed him to maintain a 60% True Shooting Percentage.
As evident from those numbers, his work on the offensive end is headlined by work as a perimeter shooter. One glance at the young forward, and you see someone that seems to be at the same level of relaxation throwing up 24-foot jumpers with grown men flying at him that you or I might be when we’re relaxing on the couch watching Netflix.
Most of those shot attempts come via the catch-and-shoot, where he’s shown an ability to launch up smooth shots whether he’s positioned in an area or maneuvering around a screen before capturing the pass.
Due to his status as one of the most feared shooters in the G League, defenders tend to play tight when they’re guarding Johnson. That hasn’t been able to deter him this season. He uses that perimeter pressure to his advantage through using pump fakes to begin his journey towards driving to the rim. Although he isn’t the most explosive player in the world, that move is usually enough to give him an advantage and allow a clearer path towards the rim.
An example of that is seen in the play below as the Magic two-way player uses a pump fake to make his perimeter defender off-balanced. Although the Go-Go wing was able to quickly recover and get back to being on BJ’s hip, the 6’7 wing was still ready to fight his way towards the rim before finishing with a strong reverse layup.
Although he’s shown himself to be reliable as an on-ball driver, the forward will need to work on becoming more efficient in this area. Currently, he’s shooting 57% from within the restricted area, a significant eight percent drop from the 65% that he maintained back in his rookie year. That drop in efficiency might have to do with how he can force drives to the rim, which can lead to him trying to score in traffic. While that can lead to trips to occasional trips to the free-throw line, most of those attempts just become unsuccessful.
Speaking of areas where the 24-year-old wing will need to continue to grow, let’s talk about his work as a facilitator. Currently, he’s averaging a career-high 1.9 assists per game, an example of slow growth that has been taking place since he was with La Salle. That progression has led to him making some pretty slick pass when he’s on the perimeter as a ball-handler. The play below is an excellent example of that, as he throws a pretty pocket pass to the cutting Michale Kyser.
Although his numbers are improving and Johnson has shown a knack for making great reads and passes, the efficiency isn’t there as he’s maintaining a .5 Ast/TO ratio. That lower percentage is due to him averaging 3.9 turnovers, a sharp increase from the 1.7 per game that he averaged last year.
Despite the negatives that have been addressed in this piece, Johnson still stands as one of the best offensive players in the G League. So far this year, he’s shined as an efficient perimeter threat that can also regularly drive to the rim and create his shot from mid-range. In addition to that, the Magic two-way player has been a positive part of Lakeland’s elite defense through an ability to guard the rim and penchant for getting into the passing lanes.
That stance as an efficient 3-and-D wing allows BJ Johnson to be a player that Magic fans should keep their eyes on for the rest of the season.