In Durand Johnson, St. John's has landed a player with talent, some experience at the highest levels of basketball - and perhaps, an air of mystery around him.
Johnson, formerly a starter for the Pittsburgh Panthers, committed to play his final season for St. John's yesterday, after visiting the school on the same day as 6'6" high school senior wing Malik Ellison. Johnson's commitment gives Chris Mullin's Red Storm a pair of immediately-eligible transfers who can play as shooting guards or wings.
The Johnnies went 21-12 this past season, but face the loss of three-quarters of their scoring and minutes, even with Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa returning for St. John's - so transfers are necessary to field a potentially solid Big East team, especially with the late start to recruiting that the new coaching staff had.
Recruited by assistant coach Barry Rohrssen when the current St. John's assistant was pulling in talent at Pittsburgh, the staff obviously has some knowledge of Johnson's personality and game, which likely helped Johnson make a quick decision on where he wanted to continue his graduate schooling (and basketball career).
Finding immediately available transfers in the active transfer market is necessary. But what is St. John's getting in the Durand Johnson transfer?
Injury and suspension marred Durand Johnson's last two seasons
Johnson, a 6'6" wing from Baltimore, played two years for the Pittsburgh Panthers and has a year of eligibility left after tearing up his knee in 2013 and being suspended for the entire 2014 for an undisclosed violation of school policy. He also redshirted his first season in 2011-12.
Note that Johnson was able to practice with the team, and his head coach, Jamie Dixon's language made it seem like the decision wasn't his, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"It is time to move on," said Dixon, who recently learned that Johnson would not be reinstated. "It is time to look for another guy to look for the opportunity to step up. We are now going to help Durand in any way that we can find a good situation to finish his college career. I can't, obviously, speak to the specifics of the situation, but it should be said that we have had no other issues with Durand."
"It is obviously not ideal to have a guy you looked at as being a major contributor lose most of his last three seasons, but it didn't work out for him for a number of reasons," Dixon said. "This isn't what we planned, it isn't what Durand planned, but now we must look to give the opportunity to someone else."
Will it "work out" for Johnson at St. John's? He was obviously able to attend classes, but unable to play basketball games, so the issue may not have been academic.
Consistency and scoring talent
When he was healthy, Johnson was going to be a centerpiece of the Pitt offensive attack.
He averaged 8.8 points per game in a truncated sophomore season, taking nearly 59% of his shots from outside the arc. He shot 34% on those shots, but 38% from the three as a freshman. Note that Pitt plays a slower-paced game (305th in terms of possessions per game in Johnson's sophomore year), so his per-game numbers may downplay his ability per-possession.
Johnson took 26% of available shots while on the floor, so he provides another player who will look for his shot. And like Darien Williams [on Williams] and Ron Mvouika [on Mvouika], he can stretch the floor from the perimeter.
For a player who takes that many shots, however, he doesn't draw fouls at a great rate. And his career-high of 17 points against Maryland - in the game before he tore his ACL - followed a string of games where Johnson scored 6, 12, 6, 3, 12, 2 and 0 points against mostly-middling competition.
In those seven games, he had eight defensive rebounds and six offensive rebounds. And three games where he shot 0/4 from beyond the arc.
He played with very good rebounders like Talib Zanna, and he did have four games with two or more assists, but Johnson's scoring had ebbs and flows.
More on Johnson from Cardiac Hill
Our friends at Cardiac Hill were quick with the response when we asked about Durand Johnson's game.
Anson Whaley writes:
Durand's biggest asset is his threat of shooting three-pointers. I say 'threat' because while he can get hot, he's actually ranked near the bottom in terms of field goal percentage for Pitt when he's been on the court. He's one of those players that can keep teams in games or shoot them out of them. He's capable of having big games and a few times, he was the only player on the court giving Pitt much of anything when the offense got a little stagnant.
The biggest issue I always had with his game was that if he's not hitting three-pointers, it gets really hard for him to stay on the court in close games. I'd only rate him as a subpar or, at best, average ball handler and defender. He's a decent rebounder, but not great. He just doesn't stand out in any thing else. He's not the worst in the world, but those certainly aren't areas you'd consider a strength by any means.
And in terms of the suspension/ chemistry risk?
The one thing that looks apparent is that it doesn't appear to be a grades issue since he was suspended before the season began and it was announced as a full-year suspension. If it were grades, you'd think it would have lasted a semester to give himself a chance to clean them up for the Winter.
...for a guy coming off of an ACL injury, the suspension was just a terrible blow to a team that needed upperclassmen to step up this year....if you're suspended for an entire year without a chance to even come back for the second half, you obviously didn't lead by example, shall we say.
It should be noted that, beyond the suspension, I didn't hear any grumblings about him not fitting in, etc. He seemed to do just fine there.
More on Durand Johnson
Here's what Pittsburgh writes, on the school's official site, about Durand Johnson in his player biography.
Johnson is a terrific shooter with NBA range who can make big shots and score at a high level. He has a great shot fake, range on his jumper and quick trigger with the ability to pull off the catch or step back. Johnson has also added a dribble drive to his game, can get to the basket and rebounds well for his position. At 6-6, he has great size for his position, plays with strength and is an above-the-rim finisher.
And of note: Johnson played at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire with Jakarr Sampson, Max Hooper, Eli Carter, Mitch McGary, Naadir Tharpe and Markus Kennedy. Before his prep year at Brewster, he played at Baltimore's Lake Clifton High School.
And he is the cousin of former DePaul forward Cleveland Melvin.
What are your thoughts? Acceptable "risk"? A player St. John's fans should be excited about? What are you feeling about the roster for next year?