At any level, the start of any postseason basketball tournament guarantees two things: for one team, it means that the amalgamation of all of their hard work will yield unparalleled glory and recognition. For everyone else, it means that the grim reaper of basketball is coming to end their season.
While the San Antonio Spurs’ up-and-down season met an early end last night at the Smoothie King Center at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, there is no reason for Gregg Popovich’s young group to hang their heads and try to reflect on why their postseason ended in the play-in tournament.
There are many positives to take away from this season for the team from Southwest Texas.
Firstly, Dejounte Murray became a bonafide all-star, and one of the faces of the franchise that the Spurs have been searching for since Tim Duncan retired and Kawhi Leonard left like a tumbleweed in a dust storm with a mindset on returning home for some California Dreamin’.
Several role players also showed a ton of improvement this season.
Lonnie Walker became a much better passer as well as moving from the 31st to the 50th percentile as a rim scorer, per Cleaning the Glass. Devin Vassell expanded his three-point range from shooting just 32% on non-corner three-pointers to shooting 37% on 239 attempts this season.
However, one player whose overall offensive game exploded this season that deserves to get his recognition, as well as real attention as a most improved player of the year candidate, is the former North Carolina Tar Heel, Keldon Johnson.
Keldon Johnson’s notoriety quickly rose amongst fans and media alike during his first two seasons for his brash style of attacking much larger players on offense.
However, Johnson’s Achilles heel quickly revealed itself, as Johnson shot just 34% from three-point range overall last season, including 29% on corner three-pointers (13/45).
Q: Did Keldon Johnson's three-pointer touch the rim?
A: No, no it did not.#GoSpursGo | @spurs pic.twitter.com/9sfRmarEqf
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) August 1, 2020
This year in his third season, Johnson finally leaped across the San Antonio River Walk from a situational three-pointer shooter to a legitimate threat from outside the arc.
Per Cleaning The Glass, Johnson elevated himself from a 29% corner three-point shooter last season, to a 49% corner three-point shooter this season.
Based on the chart above, that takes Johnson from the 16th percentile amongst all NBA players to the 94th percentile.
Keldon Johnson's three pointer was so pure it hardly touched the net going down. #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/j8q6TJq3Ug
— Joe Garcia (@twoshotspodcast) January 2, 2021
The three-point shot has always been there for Johnson, but it’s now become a consistent staple in Johnson’s overall offensive diet.
Last season, the Spurs were -7.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Johnson on the floor. In 2021/2022, the Spurs are now +5.5 points per 100 possessions better on offense with Johnson, per Cleaning the Glass. The drastic change numbers are no coincidence.
The next step attainable step for Johnson will be to become a 50/40/90 shooter.
Johnson did manage to hit marks of 51/40/75 shooting this season, so that mark might not be out of reach for the 22-year-old, especially if he can improve on his 23% free-throw rate.
There’s no reason to doubt though that Johnson can continue to improve though, especially when you consider the fact that we saw Johnson’s three-point rate improve by 14%, all the way up to 39% in 2022.
It is undeniable that there is a new sheriff in San Antonio who is here to stay, and his name is Keldon Johnson.