Markell Johnson is a dynamic lead guard and the engine that fuels the N.C. State offense. The Ohio-native originally stepped in as a backup guard to Dennis Smith Jr. and, over the past few years, Johnson has blossomed into one of the premier guards in the ACC. After testing the 2019 NBA Draft waters, Johnson has returned for his senior season in Raleigh and is poised to shine as one of the best playmakers in the nation. While he may not currently be found ranked particularly highly in early season draft boards, Johnson has the potential to rise throughout the season and make a push toward realizing his NBA aspirations.
Tale of the Tape
The most prominent translatable offensive attribute that stands out for Markell Johnson is his ability to create for himself or his teammates. Johnson is a shifty guard with a tight handle that can get to the spots he wants. He uses a multitude of size-up crossovers and hesitation dribbles to get his defender leaning the way he wants, then attacks with a quick first step or a soft jumper. During his junior year, he placed a larger emphasis on the three point shot, raising his attempts from 2.5 per game to nearly 5 per game. Such drastic increases in volume are typically accompanied by a decrease in efficiency, however, Johnson actually increased his three-point percentage from 40.9% to 42.2% on nearly double the attempts, with many of them taken off-the-dribble in isolation possessions. While Johnson was an elite catch-and-shoot threat last season (1.382 PPP, 98th percentile), his elite effectiveness as a shooter off-the-dribble (1.094 PPP, 92nd percentile) is even more appealing as it pertains to his projectability to an NBA lead guard.
In the clip below, we highlight Johnson’s ability to create his own shot in multiple ways.
At Johnson’s size, he knows how to create separation and gets great lift under his jump shot to limit the effectiveness of the defender’s close-out. With Johnson’s quickness to get into his lethal shooting ability, it forces the defense to play him honestly and opens up lanes to the rim.
He could stand to add a runner/floater package to his offensive arsenal as a means to combat more prominent help side rim-protection at the next level. Johnson only took 12 runners last season (to his credit this is inherently not the most efficient shot selection), so the jury is still out on his effectiveness and touch on these types of attempts. Having the ability to counter defenses with a soft floater would go a long way to rounding out the projectability of his offensive game as a pro.
Athleticism & Agility
At 6’1” in shoes and listed at 175 pounds, Markell Johnson isn’t a physically imposing player with his measurables, but what makes him dangerous is his functional application of quick-twitch athleticism, which necessitates opponents to constantly account for him on both ends of the court. On offense, Johnson has a wiry strong frame that he isn’t afraid to use to draw contact on his drives to the rim. If he has a crease through the lane, he's very capable at finishing above the rim for a player his size. On defense, he is a pesky defender that finds a way to get under opponents' skin and lure them into poor decisions and turnovers. Johnson takes pride in his defense and shows he’s not just offensive minded.
In the clip below, we highlight some moments of Johnson using his athleticism on the defensive end.
Despite being a bit smaller than the prototypical NBA lead guard, Johnson is a quite a good athlete and has a chance of hanging with the bigger, faster, stronger athletes he'd potentially face at the next level. He’ll need to add some strength to his frame and continue to push the pace and apply pressure on both ends of the floor to add value as a pro.
Markell Johnson had a valid case for testing the 2019 NBA Draft waters. He has proven himself capable of being an efficient, dynamic go-to playmaker and shot-creator in one of college basketball's most talent-loaded conferences. While he may not have been ready to turn pro in the summer of 2019, the experience and the feedback will certainly be beneficial to his development.
Johnson currently projects to receive an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April. He’ll warrant a good handful of NBA team pre-draft workouts and be firmly in the mix for a Summer League roster spot and an Exhibit 10 Contract.
While there has historically been apprehension among scouts as it pertains to the “undersized scoring guard” archetype, Johnson has shown himself to be a high-level passer and creator for others. If Johnson can take the reigns as a senior leader following the departure of Torin Dorn, increase his assist rate to levels consistent with his sophomore season as the team's offensive engine, and will the Wolfpack to exceed expectations, he could very well boost his stock enough to warrant two-way contract and/or late 2nd Round consideration.
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