Keldon Johnson is confident questioners are wrong
Keldon Johnson was fashionably late at the NBA Combine Thursday. He arrived 61 minutes after the scheduled time for an interview session. A weight-lifting session kept reporters waiting.
By contrast, Johnson was noticeably quick in deciding to place his basketball fate in the hands of the NBA this year. After UK lost to Auburn in the Elite Eight, he announced that he would enter his name in this year’s draft but keep open the option of returning to Kentucky for a sophomore season. Then a week or so later, he said he had closed the back-to-UK option.
“I just felt like I know what my dream is,” Johnson said Thursday in explaining the reversal. “I know where I plan to be in the draft. As long as everything goes well, and I work hard, it will be fine.”
Johnson denied that a lucrative autograph tour that departing UK players annually go on influenced his decision to go all-in on the NBA.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” he said. “I just learned what’s best for me, honestly. I thought the decision I made was best for me.”
Mike Schmitz, ESPN’s draft analyst, said on a teleconference earlier Thursday that Johnson figured to be a first-round pick in the June 20 draft.
“Keldon could sneak into the mid-teens because of his physicality (and) his toughness,” Schmitz said. “I think he’s going to impress in the interview process.”
Johnson, whose outgoing personality often brought a smile to the faces of his teammates, said he had been interviewed by Portland, Minnesota, Indiana, Detroit, Denver and others. “It’s a long list,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of interviews these last two days.”
Being light on his feet verbally is not what NBA teams need to learn about Johnson, Schmitz said.
“For him, it’s all about shooting the ball well in workouts,” the ESPN analyst said. “That’s going to be the key for him. It’s one of the bigger question marks about his game. He shot a good percentage (46.1 overall, 38.1 from three-point range). But he just needs to show consistent confidence from three.”
Johnson mentioned shooting when asked what skills he wanted to improve during the spring and summer.
“Just staying in shape, and just keep shooting the ball,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”
But Johnson stopped well short of saying shooting was a part of his game in need of an upgrade.
“I feel like I’m a great shooter,” he said with a smile. “If you watched this year, I shot the ball pretty well. I’m just going to continue to perfect my craft.”
Johnson cited another part of his game that had been perceived as in need of improvement.
“A lot of people say I can’t create my own shot,” he said. “And, of course, I’m going to disagree with it. Hopefully, I go into the workouts, and I show the teams.”
Johnson also said that he is a better play-maker than UK’s season suggested.
“Once I get in the workouts and show them my game, I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “I don’t really think I have to go an extra mile to sell myself. I did a great job this year. Once they get me in for a workout, I think my game will speak for itself.”
Johnson saluted how John Calipari and his UK coaching staff prepared him for the NBA.
“He recruited me in a different way than all of the other schools,” Johnson said of Calipari. “And I think it really paid off. And I’m glad I went there.”