Jalen Johnson made a briliant return to the court Tuesday night against Pitt. Technically, he returned against Virginia Tech in the previous game, but he only played four minutes and didn’t contribute much since his conditioning was still under what it needed to be so effectively, this was his return.
What we saw against Pitt is a guy who is both talented and deeply instinctive. He had a tremendous stat line, arguably better than Pitt’s Justin Champagnie, who had 31 points, 14 points and five blocks.
Johnson had 24 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks. Champagnie could get the edge based on his 12-15 shooting but Johnson wasn’t far off of a triple double.
Look at these highlights. You’ll see a guy who can block shots, shoot, rebound and also make amazing passes.
Take for instance this pass to Goldwire. This is Larry Birdesque. Check out this Bird pass. Or this one. We’re not comparing Johnson to Bird, but he’s got the basic idea of this no-look pass. And not many people can do that.
And if you watch it, not only is he capable of making it, but Goldwire fully expected him to make this pass. And that’s really important.
Because when you have a great passer and his teammates buy in, a couple of things happen. First, they get easy baskets like this. And second, they start passing better too.
Because great passing is infectious.
Let’s look at some more stuff. We didn’t really catch this during the game but look what he does here: he leaves his feet, looking as if he’ll pass left to an open DJ Steward for a three. Instead, he turns to his right and passes to Wendell Moore in the right corner for a wide-open three which he missed, but it was still an amazing pass. Coaches will (correctly) tell you not to leave your feet like this. Coaches will also look at a guy who can do things like this and say “you know that thing about not leaving your feet? That doesn’t apply to you.”
On this play, he knows that Champagnie is the target on the break and at half-court he picks up his pace subtly and then steps in to pick the pass off. Then he hits Moore for a wide open three which he does hit.
And check this out: he picks up a loose ball on Pitt’s end and takes off. Xavier Johnson, who screwed the play up, tries to swipe it back but Johnson goes behind his back and takes off, ultimately hitting Moore on a simple but correct pass for a layup.
Then look at this one. After Pitt’s Au’Diese Toney shoots a wounded duck of an airball, Johnson gets the rebound and heads upcourt, where he finds an open Matthew Hurt beneath the basket. There’s nothing fancy here but the second that Ithiel Horton moves out to guard Goldwire, Hurt moves inside and Johnson is already on it.
We’re not saying that he’s a can’t miss star or anything like that. We’re just saying that he has a tremendous instinct for the game and that his passing makes everyone around him that much more deadly. And as Goldwire demonstrated, his teammates know full well that he’ll find them if they get open. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching him operate this season.
One more small thing to check out here, this time from Moore: look at him tap this rebound back. Look familiar? It’s very much like his play against UNC last year.