Jalen Johnson Opts Out. What Does This Say About the Top Prospects Coming Out of High School Today?

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Well guy, I guess your just gonna make some big generalization and your gonna say all 5 star recruits are selfish and blah blah blah. Not quite. Although I do agree that it is odd timing to say the least, the writing seemed to be on the wall well before Monday.  From the foot injury in December to being coming off the bench in the last three games, Johnson has not had the best time in Durham North Carolina. With this most recent display of a star high schooler struggling to connect to the college game, what could this mean for the future of basketball recruiting?

There seemed to be issues from the very beginning with the marriage of Jalen Johnson and Duke University.  Jeff Goodman came out in December when Johnson was reported to have a foot injury and he called bogus on this report. He only played over 30 mins in two games all year, and only one of those was a conference game. His last 3 games, he played a total of 46 minutes off then bench including 8 minutes in his final game as a Blue Devil against NC State.

I dont look too heavily at the actual stats, but he did average 11.2 points and 6.1 boards per game. The numbers I love to see are 52% from the field and 44% from behind the arc. Both of these are great numbers coming from a guy who looks like more of an athlete than a complete basketball player at this point. It is apparent that at 6’9″ 220lbs, he has the perfect frame for a three in the NBA.  But what is his draft stock currently and where might it go?

From all of the mock drafts that I have looked at (thank you to everyone that does these), Johnson appears to be sitting firmly as a high lottery pick. He has the size and athletic ability as mentioned earlier, but he is not a complete prospect yet. He will need to put on a touch of weight so he doesn’t get moved by guys that are 40 to 50 pounds heavier than him. He had a poor free throw shooting percentage at 63%. Now, he is gonna get the question of why did you quit on your team with 3 games to go, and its a fair question. Most of these 5 star basketball players do not lose a lot. There is a reason they are rated as high as they are and that’s because they can be game changers. But guys like Brandon Boston at Kentucky and Josh Christopher at Arizona State are having the worst seasons they have ever had playing the game.

If you are a top 13 pick in the draft, you are going to a team that probably had a losing record last year. You are not going to the Lakers or Nets. Its not a good look for Jalen at all to see he is not starting and get mad and just quit, if that is the true story behind it. Coach after coach, owner after owner will ask every scout they have why they want to have a guy that will run when times get tough. This action, in my opinion will hurt Johnson’s draft stock, but how will this affect other 5 star recruits that are considering going to the G League instead of college.

Ignite played their first 4 games at the time this is written to a ton of success. 4-0 with the stars Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga leading the team in points. Both players have managed to transfer their success in high school to the NBA developmental league with almost flawless results. Should Jalen Johnson have made his way along this route? You could argue either way. Maybe Duke wasn’t the right fit to begin with, but at least he would be earning a paycheck.

The NBA has always been the most progressive league in US sports, so I am not totally surprised they were the first to come up with a system to get high school players ready for pros. Its also much easier to do it in basketball compared to any other major sport in the country, but they still had to create a system to make it work. Very few can say up to this point in time (yes it is in its infancy) that this project will not pay dividends in the end, but could also cause problems with guys that have too much confidence in their ability.

We think of guys like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Garnett that made an immediate impact after going from college to the NBA. We should also think about guys like Sebastian Telfair and Kwame Brown who flopped after attempting to make the leap. What happens if you have more than 12 guys want to play G-League ball? You cannot split them onto other teams affiliated with an NBA franchise or it diminishes the point of the G League route. I love this idea in principle and love the immediate success it is proving to have, but will it get too big in the end to be a viable option for recruits? Only time will tell, but it is off to a promising start so far.

To wind this longer blog up, do I feel that Jalen Johnson made the correct decision to go to Duke? No. Do I feel that he should have gone to another collegiate institution? Probably. Do I think he should have left his team with 3 games remaining in the regular season? Absolutely not. Jalen Johnson made a decision that will follow him around for a while as a small but noticeable stench on his basketball resume. This will be forgotten in a year if Johnson comes out and lights it up in the NBA, but will also lead to more recruits looking to go the G League route. The time of scholarships being seen as a form of payment is about is one foot out the door with the other leg in the air. Johnson did not make a huge statement on the court, but his decision may have made a bigger impact off the court.

If you enjoyed this read, feel free to leave a comment and a like on the post. If you want me to do a deeper dive into the G League or into the effect its going to have on college basketball in the future, let me know. I am always looking for new ideas and topics to write about.

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