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Opinion: Thunder Should Take a Hard Look at Keon Johnson With Sixth Pick

The former Tennessee star is an athletic phenom with great offensive upside and worthy of a look from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

While Scottie Barnes appears to have taken the mantle as the consensus No. 6-overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Tennessee’s Keon Johnson shouldn’t be overlooked.

The 6-foot-3 guard wowed at the combine, setting a record with his 48-inch vertical leap, putting on full display the elite athleticism which has made him such a dynamic playmaker on the ball.

Johnson proved he can get to the rim any time he wants, exploding through the lane while already showing he knows how to draw contact and get himself to the free throw line with ease.

He was able to score 11.2 points per game last season for the Volunteers despite struggling to shoot the ball from deep. Just a 26.1 percent shooting from 3-point range, there is hope that Johnson will be able to fix a hitch in his shooting motion to attain a more consistent release and become more of a shooting threat outside of the lane.

Johnson said getting more confident in his shot is a major focus he’s working on during his combine interview on ESPNU.

“I feel I can make shots,” he said. “But also being more consistent with my shot and being able to see different shots on the floor and being ready to take them.”

The Tennessee star still knocked down 44.9 percent of his field goal attempts last year, as he knew what spots on the floor he wanted to get too and had the athleticism to make it happen.

If he can continue to expand his range, his ability to get to those shots should translate as well seeing as he’s one of the most athletic members of the 2021 draft class.

Along with his shooting, Johnson said he is working diligently on his ball handling.

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“I know I’m a combo guard and I have to bring the ball up the court at different moments so just having my handle a lot tighter,” he said.

Johnson did turn the ball over 2.6 times per game last season, as he will need to continue to reign in his dribble to match pace with his explosiveness in the open floor.


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Even if the Thunder missed out on Barnes, they would still be adding a great on-ball defender in Johnson.

Swiping 1.1 steals per game last season, Johnson led with his defense as one of the great things a team would be getting from him if they drafted him.

“(They’d get) my defensive presence, I compete very hard on the defensive end,” he said. “Also being very versatile on the offensive end. Being able to get to different spots on the floor, being able to elevate and get my shot.”

Scoring comes at a premium in the NBA, and Johnson projects to have a much higher offensive upside while still bringing the stingy defense which has seen many fall in love with Barnes. 

Regardless of who falls to the Thunder at pick No. 6, Presti will have a difficult decision to make if Oklahoma City is unable to trade into the top five.