Duke product Johnson presents Warriors plenty of risk, reward


He’s 19 years old, stands 6-foot-9, weighs 220 pounds, twice changed high schools, left Duke at midseason and cites Ben Simmons as one of his NBA influences.

Are the Warriors willing to use one of their NBA draft lottery picks, No. 7 or No. 14, to select Jalen Johnson?

They might. Johnson was among four probable lottery picks that had dinner with team officials Wednesday night in San Francisco and then go through an organized workout Thursday afternoon at Chase Center.

“I think I showed my shot as best as I possibly could, to say the least,” Johnson said of his workout. “That’s one of the main things I’ve been working on these last four months. The work has paid off. Every aspect of my game, I’m trying to touch up on, but consistent shooting is one of the main things that has been a priority.”

In 13 college games, Johnson averaged 11.2 points, on 52.3 percent shooting from the field and 44.4 percent (on 18 attempts) from deep, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks. His shot looks clunky, which is why he is working to tighten it.

And, at 19, Johnson is just as much of a project. He definitely knows what he wants.

“I’ve only watched four players really hard: Penny Hardaway, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Ben Simmons,” he said. “Those are the guys I watch religiously. Big guards handling the ball.”

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A Milwaukee native, like current Warriors Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole, Johnson is not particularly quick but somewhat offsets that with his knack for anticipation. He’s not especially athletic and moves like a power forward, handles like a guard, sees the floor well and is a willing and savvy passer.

It’s quite the rare set of skills, which is why Johnson has piqued the curiosity of NBA teams holding slots in the top half of the first round.

Among the NBA comparisons linked to Johnson are R.J. Barrett, Paul Pierce and popular former Warriors forward Stephen Jackson.

Among the four players evaluated on Thursday – Kai Jones (Texas), Davion Mitchell (Baylor) and Moses Moody (Arkansas) are the other three – Johnson is the biggest mystery. His talent is evident, but substantive evaluation is tricky. His path to the draft, with multiple high schools and an abbreviated college stop, is reminiscent of that which preceded James Wiseman in the 2020 draft.

The Warriors couldn’t resist putting him under their personnel department microscope. He’s versatile at both ends, adept at scoring and passing and also has the size and agility to defend at least three positions – all while being a point guard, or at least a primary ball-handler.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, I’m going to do whatever the team needs me to do because I do want to win.

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