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2022-23 Player Reviews: Keldon Johnson

The former 29th overall pick was forced into a role he wasn’t built for, but he handled it about as well as possible.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Pounding the Rock’s 2022-23 player reviews! The series took a look at all 16 players that finished the season with the Spurs (minus Khem Birch since he never suited up). In the final edition, we will be taking a look at Keldon Johnson’s performance and his outlook for the future.

Keldon Johnson

2022-23 Stats: 63 games, 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 32.9% 3P

2022-23 Salary: $3.87 million

Contract Status: 4 years, $70 million remaining

Age: 23

It’s not very often a 23-year-old, former 29th overall pick enters just his fourth season as the team’s longest-tenured player and is expected to be the leader of the club, but that’s exactly where Keldon Johnson found himself last season, and he hardly could have handled it any better. He was the emotional leader and motivator of the Spurs during possibly the most trying season in franchise history.

On a team with three rookies that had just traded away it’s two best players, everyone was asked to grow and play their best, all while not being put into a position to win. (Which paid off, in case you didn’t already know!) For a lot of young teams, this can lead to sinking morale and attitude issues, but that was not the case for the Spurs in large part thanks to Johnson and his ability keeping things light-hearted and fun in a leadership role even during the lowest of lows, such as couple of massive double-digit losing streaks.

As a player, Johnson continued to grow, posting career highs in points and assists. He used his big body to bully his way to the rim, where he was his most efficient as a scorer. However, the one area he took a step back last season was a glaring one: three-point shooting. After shooting nearly 40% in 2021-22, he regressed way back to 33 percent on a career-high 6.5 attempts per game last season. His “moon ball” shot — sometimes the ball trajectory was so high it left the camera frame before coming back down — is unpredictable, so hopefully the Spurs work with him this summer to improve his form.

Like the rest of the team, Johnson also showed plenty of room for improvement on the defensive end. While he finally got to guard more appropriately sized wings for a change after a couple of seasons playing out of position at power forward, he still readily admits he can be better, especially off the ball where he sometimes failed to keep track of his man. The whole team has committed itself to improving on that end next season, and there’s no reason to believe Johnson won’t do the same.

Looking Forward

As will be the case for all of the Spurs starters from last season, it will be interesting to see how things shake out for Johnson with the (presumed) addition of Victor Wembanyama to the roster, who will surely start from day one. Gregg Popovich has already said Zach Collins will start at center (granted this was before the lottery, but it would still make sense considering Wemby doesn’t have the frame to bang with NBA centers, for now), so someone else is going to have to accept a bench role next season, and who that will be is currently a mystery.

Tre Jones, should he return, would seem like a logical candidate when considering who seemingly has the lowest ceiling of the remaining four, but are Johnson, Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan ready for some kind of point-guard-by-committee role, or should one of them be ready to embrace a sixth man role? Vassell and Sochan both appear to have higher ceilings than Johnson, but it would also be hard to bench the team captain and leading scorer who has started all but three games he has played in over the last three seasons. Not to mention, he will be just entering a new contract extension (albeit a very team-friendly one with pay descending each season).

It’s hard to imagine any of those three players being moved to the second unit, but Johnson does seem like the type of player who would accept the role without complaining and would be quite the sparkplug off the bench. (I’m by no means advocating for his benching, just trying to think through all the scenarios. Also note that if anyone needs help accepting such a role, Special Adviser Manu Ginobili is around to help.)

However the rotation shakes out next season, KJ has far exceeded expectations from when he was drafted and has turned out to be the Spurs’ biggest asset from the Kawhi Leonard trade. If he can just fix his three-point shot, he and the rest of the Spurs’ young core have the potential to create something special going forward.

Top Performance

October 28 vs. Chicago Bulls: 33 points, 4 assists, 2 steals, 6-12 from three

Final Grade: B+

And that is the end of our Player Reviews for the 2022-23 season! Thanks a ton to all of our readers, and especially to Jesus Gomez and Jacob Douglas for some amazing teamwork and collaboration on this project. If you missed any reviews, click on a player below to check it out. The future is as bright as ever with the Spurs having just won the lottery, so be sure to stick around all offseason for more coverage of Wemby, the draft, free agency, Summer League, the Hall of Fame, and much more.

Previous Reviews

Julian Champagnie

Dominick Barlow

Gorgui Dieng

Sandro Mamukelashvili

Charles Bassey

Devonte’ Graham

Blake Wesley

Romeo Langford

Devin Vassell

Doug McDermott

Zach Collins

Keita Bates-Diop

Jeremy Sochan

Malaki Branham

Tre Jones