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Stock report: Can Duke men’s basketball’s Jalen Johnson be a No. 1 draft pick?

Jalen Johnson has been up and down so far, but his talent makes him extremely attractive to NBA front offices.
Jalen Johnson has been up and down so far, but his talent makes him extremely attractive to NBA front offices.

After propelling himself onto the national stage with his 19 points and 19 rebounds in his debut, Jalen Johnson’s name is starting to creep higher and higher on draft boards. ESPN analyst Jonathan Givony even stated Johnson is a “dark horse candidate for the No. 1 pick,” so let’s dive into what makes the freshman’s draft stock so attractive:

The headliner of Duke’s 2020 recruiting class was forward Jalen Johnson and even with the difficult start to the season, many analysts are considering Johnson’s potential to land him in the first round, with some even saying he could go No. 1 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. 

In the first game of the season, Johnson shined as the apparent team leader for the season. With 19 shots, 19 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots, he showed off what analysts admire most about him: his versatility. 

His ability to see the floor allows him to make smart drives and good passes and, as we saw against Coppin State, he has no problem letting others shine. 

His athleticism allows him to thrive on both ends of the court and like many recent number one draft picks, Johnson is a natural playmaker. If the NBA front offices can imagine him surrounded by players who can support him where he lacks, it is possible that Johnson becomes the number one pick. 

Johnson’s strongest qualities are his ability to make good decisions on the court, create team offense and to rebound and score in the paint.

These skills lay the foundation for Johnson to develop and potentially become the strongest draft prospect as the season continues. It is important to acknowledge, as experts and analysts have been careful to do, that it is still early in this season and there is plenty of time for fellow potential No. 1 picks to pull ahead.

Johnson has shown his potential to be the first draft pick in glimpses, but only playing at that level in spurts is not going to be enough. Undeniably, when he’s hot, he’s a nightmare for opponents on both sides of the court. But in the past three games he has shown that he is not always hot. Analysts all agree that if he works on his consistency, his draft stock will certainly rise. 

A few problems analysts see potentially stopping Johnson from being the first pick in the NBA draft are mostly skills that can be perfected throughout the season. One that conflicts with his general versatility is his inability to shoot from the perimeter. 

Of nine 3-point shot attempts, Johnson has only made three. He also lacks a lethal jump shot, and is currently 5-for-10 from the free throw line, including three critical misses against Michigan State. However, as ESPN’s Jonathan Givony acknowledges, shaky jumpers are not “deal-breakers for players with elite levels of creativity and versatility,” which Johnson has proved he has. 

Bleacher Report likened Johnson to recent Duke wings and forwards that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has sent to the draft in recent years such as RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson, both of whom were top three draft selections in their respective years. 

As such, Johnson being selected with the number one pick in the 2021 NBA Draft is not outside the realm of possibility but there is still a ways to go. With more time working under Krzyzewski, Johnson really has a legitimate opportunity at being Duke’s second No. 1 overall pick in three years.

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