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Jalen Johnson On Jalen Johnson

And why he thinks he’ll do well in the draft and the league

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Pittsburgh
Jan 19, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jalen Johnson (middle) drives to the basket between Pittsburgh Panthers guard Xavier Johnson (1) and forward Justin Champagnie (rear) during the first half at the Petersen Events Center.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, we ran this article, saying that until he proved otherwise, Jalen Johnson’s middle name would be Risk, because he hasn’t established that he has the heart he’ll need to succeed in the NBA.

And if he thinks this is true, then his odds of succeeding may be less than a lot of people believe: “I think the NBA is going to be easier because there is more open space,” Johnson told the Charlotte Observer after working out for the Hornets, “and that’s where I thrive at. I think I showcased that pretty well.”

He’s right about that, but this is also true: he’s 19 and is stepping into the toughest position in basketball. He’ll be guarded by the likes of Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.

So it might seem to be more open, but when you have the Greek Freak between you and the basket, that may change quickly.

Look, no one doubts that Johnson is a talented player, but you could fill a medium-sized town with incredible talents that either washed out or never made it: Harold Miner, Lloyd Daniels, Roy Tarpley, the Helicopter and the Goat. Then there are guys like Draymond Green, Brook Lopez and Steven Adams, who are not as gifted but who have built enviable careers.

Talent is not what people are questioning about Johnson. He barely played in his senior year of high school and again at Duke. He says he can guard 1-5, but that’s been high school and a very limited college career. Can he guard Luca? Kawhi? Embiid? Zion? Who is he? How much heart does he have? What’s going to happen when 30-year-old men knock him on his ass and tell him they’re about to do it again?

You can guess and project, but your data sample is small and not very convincing. So he’s got a lot to prove.