To say that Keldon Johnson has been in a slump would be an understatement. In the five games since sitting out against the Clippers, the young forward is averaging a shade under 14 points in 19 shots, shooting 28 percent from the floor, 16 percent from beyond the arc, and 64 percent from the line.
It’s been ugly and Johnson knows it, but he seems to be keeping a positive mindset and is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I feel like every player goes through rough patches,” Johnson said in the post-game interview after the loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, in which he had a disastrous first half but came alive in the second. “It’s hard to shoot the ball at however percentage I was shooting at the beginning of the season, started really hot, and then a little setback came and I adjusted and I came back here ready to go. I can’t thank my teammates and my coaches enough. They continued to believe in me through all the rough patches, telling me to continue shooting the ball and things like that.”
Johnson did seem to turn a corner in that second half. After going 2-for-12 in the first two quarters, he went 8-for-16 the rest of the way. Not everything was good, as there were some wild drives into traffic and some buckets he only got thanks to the Lakers’ atrocious transition defense, but there were also signs of the hustle and fearlessness that Johnson needs to be a volume scorer. He’s not someone who will get past a lot of defenders, so he has to go through them on drives, and he needs to not hesitate to shoot threes even if his not fully open. In other words, he needs to force things at times when he’s creating for himself because that’s just his game.
Ideally, Johnson should be able to supplement his sometimes shaky half-court creation with easy transition points and assisted threes, but those have been hard to come by recently for San Antonio. What could be more open than in recent games for Johnson is the paint. Not having Jakob Poeltl and Jeremy Sochan available will lead the Spurs to go small and use stretch bigs almost exclusively when they go with a traditional center. For Johnson, no shot-blockers near the rim could mean being able to just bully his way to the paint without having to worry about a help defender altering his shot after he absorbs contact, which could really help him get going.
Whatever happens next, it’s good to at least see that Keldon is remaining focused and confident. The worst thing that could happen to his development would be for him to suddenly get gunshy during a year in which he’s supposed to be trying to test his limits. He clearly has the green light, and it’s good that he intends to continue to use it to try to get himself out of his slump.