Prospect Preview: Brice Johnson


Brice Johnson is coming off an incredible senior season, becoming the first consensus First-Team All-American at North Carolina since 2009.

Johnson’s list of accolades is too extensive to post so let’s just say, he broke a lot of records, and the everyone who follows college basketball knows who he is. He is young for having played four years in college, at only 21-years old, and referred to himself as “a young kid” in his interview. Unlike many other seniors he isn’t considered to have limited remaining growth, and still has room to add to an already athletic frame.

He’s an elite athlete, having starred in track and field as a two-time state champion high jumper. As a result of his leaping ability, he is able to make up for a lack of elite length and plays above the rim with ease. Brice is humble but has a chip on his shoulder. Possibly from his mom’s passing his freshman year of high school, saying it was the most difficult thing he’s ever had to deal with, and “she’s been my motivation the last eight years of my life.” Honestly, on paper, and in person, Brice Johnson seems like an elite prospect, which begs the question… Why is Brice Johnson projected as a late first-round pick? 

The only answer I could find is that he’s not a great shooter and doesn’t have elite length. Johnson has elite athleticism, but at around 6’10” with a 7-foot wingspan, his length is not a difference maker on either side of the ball. When compared to someone like Chieck Diallo with similar height, his wingspan lacks range, being Diallo’s is over 7’5″, there are less raw “measurables” with Johnson. Other elite PF prospects, Dragan Bender, Domantas Sabonis and Marquese Chriss are further along as shooters and have better length. Jaylen Brown has more versatility possibly being able to play the 3 or 4 at the NBA level. So, his competition is stiff.

Draft Express outlines his seriously under-developed jump shot, “he only made 36% of the 44 shots he took outside of 12 feet last season, he seems to have some potential as a mid-range weapon. Shooting 78% at the line and making spinning jump shots out of the post at a nice rate, Johnson’s form is a bit rigid at times, but his mechanics are fairly consistent and he looked comfortable from the midrange at times when spotting up, leaving some room for optimism that he may become a threat to space the floor a bit and do some damage away from the rim.”

Despite his lack of shooting in college, he was an extremely efficient scorer. Johnson claims his game will continue to expand when he plays in a different system, “I want to be able to expand my game, just because not only am I not really posting up as much, but  I do have to be able to step out and shoot threes sometimes. In college, I was a back to the basket type of player because that’s the system coach Williams had. Nowadays everyone just wants to see me shoot the ball.  They just want to know if I can shoot because they know I am very athletic, I can dunk the ball very well, I mean I think 85% of my shots were dunks this year.”

When asked how the work on three-point shooting is going, (Johnson attempted zero 3 pointers in four years of college) he replied, “It’s fun, I mean, I have great touch. It’s fairly good for me. I am able to shoot the ball from that deep, it’s just I got to do it consistently, that’s the only thing. I can definitely step behind the line and do it, it’s just not in college, that wasn’t my job, that’s what we

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had guards for. But I have been shooting a lot more jumpers nowadays and shooting a lot more 3-pointers since I am out of the college system and I have to be able to translate my game to the NBA.”

His efficiency around the basket comes from his father, Brice’s high school coach in his 31st year coaching. “My dad made me dunk the ball, and when I got to ninth-grade he’s like, “if you’re going to dunk the ball, you’re going to do it”, and every time I missed a dunk, he made me do like 50 push-ups,” Johnson said. “I had to dunk the ball every time. He said I can’t lay it up anymore. That’s why whenever I’m around the rim I try to dunk it, or I do dunk it, and dunk it hard.”

He discussed the specific need at power forward in Phoenix and how he could fit, “I can definitely fit in, in this system being able to go up and down, I am a very athletic big. And, I can go out there and I can space the floor as well, and I can block shots really well so that’s the biggest things…”

Johnson said his offensive style at UNC will translate well to the type of offense in Phoenix, “It would translate well here… We run up and down and we like to get out in the open court and run. We don’t like to hold the ball and play a slow tempo game. We like to get an up-tempo type game and just be able to run and post-up, if you don’t get it down low, kick it back out and shoot it, and that’s just the way I like to play.”

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Brice Johnson could be available to the Suns at pick #28. If he is, I could see the Suns adding him to the roster exactly for the reasons above. The Suns do like to run up and down the court, and in terms of pure athleticism and energy, Johnson is tough to beat.

Johnson could be the guy pushing more talented players out of a starting line-up someday. One reason he isn’t going higher is you don’t hear the word “versatility” a lot when people are discussing Johnson. Versatility is at a premium in the modern NBA.

If Johnson really can improve his mid-range shooting and add step out three-pointers to his arsenal, he could make end up being one of the steals of the draft.