Weight: 216 lbs.
School: Missouri St.
Season stats: 31 minutes, 15 points, 2.8 assists, 11.6 rebounds, 43% FG, 28.1% 3PT, 75.9% FT
DraftExpress Rank: 65
Julius Randle. We all love him. We’d like to have more players just like him. Well, it just so happens that in this draft, there is one player that resembles his game.
Small forward-like skills in a power forward body? Check.
A wingspan that’s debatable? Check.
A guy that gets a lot of rebounds and likes to push the ball up-court? Check.
A guy with a tremendous motor? Check.
A guy that hints some ability to switch onto wings at the NCAA level? Check.
That’s a lot of checks.
His name is Alize Johnson.
So, why isn’t he getting as much hype into the first round? A quick look at his measurements may give ideas of a guy that’s closer to Kevin Huerter’s size than Julius Randle. His wingspan is great, for a guard. At 216 lbs., it seems that he should play a perimeter position more than a paint position, but he plays with a motor and strength that belies his weight.
Attacking the basket – He’s a straight-line driver, and that’s pretty standard for a forward position. However, he is very comfortable with getting defensive rebounds and pushing the pace. This was very clearly exhibited at the Pre-Draft Combine.
Shooting – The good news is, he upped his free throw percentage to 75.9 percent. The bad news is, his 3-point percentage dropped to 28.1 percent on 4.4 attempts per game. However, during his freshman year, he did shoot 38.8 percent on just over three attempts per game while shooting 67.7 percent at the free throw line.
While that is a peculiar change, I think down the line it would be fair to expect low 70% free throw shooting on roughly 30 percent 3-point shooting. While these percentages aren’t great, they may be enough to draw gravity against other power forwards, which is all that matters when trying to open up the lanes for the franchise players for the team. However, at the combine, he did display some shot diversity mid-range off the dribble too.
While no, he didn’t shoot from 3-point land, he did look very comfortable shooting from mid-range, even when he pulled out of the post to face up and shoot the jumper. He was decisive about his shot and was more of a shot creator than being a “finisher” with catch-and-shoot type shots. He does have some issues with maintaining a good base into a jump shot and the same release point at the free throw line, but these are correctable fixes.
Playmaking – Alize’s most underrated aspect of his game is his passing ability. He’s trustworthy in transition while making subtle passes that don’t always pop out live but show well when the game is slowed down. The touch pass at the end of the first gif is telling.
But, just look how he looks-off a defender while making a decisive swing pass right into the shooters hands:
Or how he gets to the center of the floor in transition, keeps his head up, before deciding to find Jevon Carter for the three:
Or, just look how he reads the defense while Martin fakes a screen and cuts right to the basket. Johnson passes right into his hands for a quick shot.
For a power forward, he sees the floor like a high-level wing player. This is a major advantage when it comes to playing versatile lineups in the halfcourt.
Like Randle, he won’t be confused with a guy with outrageously high steal rate or block rate. He doesn’t blip highly in these categories, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t try defensively.
Just look how he squares up to the guard and defends the perimeter. He stays light on his feet, gives some space for a drive, and is still able to contest the shot:
He’s a physically strong player with a tremendous base and has decent awareness in terms of defending pick and rolls. Contesting as a weakside defender at the rim is a different issue, as he doesn’t have the wingspan or tremendous verticality to block shots at the hoop. He’ll be a player that defends by position, like P.J. Tucker.
While he may not be a stand-out defender, what he does do is end possessions. He’s exactly the kind of guy that can deny offensive rebounds to the opponent because he has a nose for the ball and is incredibly reactive to it when the shot goes up.
How good of a rebounder is he? He’s ranked 10th of the entire NCAA in total rebounding percentage at 21 percent, higher than Bagley, Jackson, Carter Jr.; on par with physical specimen DeAndre Ayton. He’s ranked 6th in defensive rebounding percentage at 30.4 percent, higher than DeAndre Ayton (28.2) and Mo Bamba (28.2). He makes the best of his near 6’9″ (editor’s note: nice) wingspan. In comparison to P.J. Tucker, he’s has more than a 5% better total rebounding rate.
Fit with Lakers
At the #47 pick, the rebounding and grab-and-go ability fit right in with what the Lakers want to do with versatile lineups. It’s not just about wing players being able to switch onto bigs and play effective post-defense, but also bigs trying to do guard-like things in terms of pushing the pace and finding the open man through passing.
Question marks? Of course there are. It’s tough to find NBA level skills this deep in the draft. Finding wing skills in a power forward body is rare this rare in the draft. Why power forward? I don’t think he has the natural perimeter touch or light-footedness to adequately play a wing position. The shot does need refinement, and frankly, he’s comfortable playing in the paint. He rebounds effectively there. He dives right into the post in the half-court as his primary form of shot creation. But I think there’s enough of a shot to eventually create space down the line.
Besides, isn’t he the perfect kind of guy you want at the end of your bench? When a team is down big, sometimes you need someone that comes in with motor, changes the pace of the game, and gets possessions through rebounding. Well, Alize Johnson can do all of that. If he figures out that 3-point shot and learns how to effectively defend switches, we’ll have to add the Spiderman meme between him and Julius Randle.
(Much thanks to Cody Wright of @NBAdraftwire for the film work, and Hoop-math.com for the data.)