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Duke men's basketball 2020-21 player preview: Jalen Johnson

Jalen Johnson has the opportunity to play a really big role for this Duke team that is in search of an identity.
Jalen Johnson has the opportunity to play a really big role for this Duke team that is in search of an identity.

As the calendar shifts to November, it is becoming apparent  that basketball season is on the horizon. That means that it is time for our player previews of every member of Duke men's basketball. Read the previous previews: Mike Buckmire, Michael Savarino, Kennan Worthington, Jaemyn Brakefield, Henry Coleman III, DJ Steward, Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams.

Jalen Johnson

Year: Freshman

Height: 6-foot-9

Position: Forward

Last year’s statline: N/A

Game breakdown: Jalen Johnson enters is freshman season on the 2021 Julius Erving Watch List (for most outstanding small forward) with team member Wendell Moore. Johnson is also ranked No. 4 at his position and No. 12 overall in ESPN 100’s rankings for the class of 2020. The Milwaukee, WI native was also rated No. 1 player in the state of Wisconsin. Prior to Duke, Johnson started his education at Nicolet High School, but briefly transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, where he struggled to make his way off the bench. For his senior season, Johnson returned back home and averaged 24.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in the nine games he played. Johnson led his school to its first state championship and a 27-1 record during his junior season. 

Duke has a taller roster this season and at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Johnson will use his size as an advantage to attack the rim. Johnson will also serve as one of the more versatile players on the court, using his ability to switch between positions combined with his special passing game to be an essential part to the team. There’s still room for the five-star wing to grow, particularly in his half-court game, although he will be a player that can fit into many positions, it will take some time for him to find his base on the court. Johnson also may not be the most reliable shooter on the team, but he will make sure that the ball gets to the hot hand. Johnson’s midseason school change during his senior year cost a nine-point drop in his ranking from 2019 to 2020, but the freshman will prove to be one of the more underrated members coming into college basketball. 

Role on the team: The five-star recruit will most likely be a consistent starter at forward. Although he may not be the lead scorer by the end of the season, he will still likely be the most important player on the team due to his versatility. Johnson will also be dangerous at the rim, leaving little mercy for any defenders. Although Johnson and former point guard Tre Jones share very little in terms of how they play, Johnson will adopt Jones’ role on the team. The two can be compared with Johnson’s ability to pass and his high basketball IQ, as both of these factors will allow for smooth transitions and be crucial to the team’s momentum. 

NBA comparison: Jalen Johnson can best be compared to Jabari Parker, the former Duke standout and current small forward for the Sacramento Kings. Johnson and Parker are both big players in terms of size who can score both on the inside and outside. Both players are key ball-handlers and effective rebounders.

Projected stats: 13.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 27.4 MPG

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