The Houston Rockets Find the Perfect Piece in Nick Johnson

Did the Rockets take advantage of this high flyer who was flying under the radar?

Nick Johnson decided to forego his senior season at the University of Arizona in order to pursue a career in the NBA. And I don't think I can blame him. With running mate Aaron Gordon on the way out and now on his way to Orlando, it probably wasn't much of a decision.

Nick Johnson may not be the best basketball player who was drafted last night, though he may very well be the best athlete selected. Just ask his father, "Jumpin'" Joey Johnson, who received his nickname for his 52-inch vertical. Joey once held the record for dunking on the highest hoop at 11'7" high. However, this feat may be one that his own son could also accomplish. If not, it would be pretty darn close. Nick, at a not so lanky 6'3", 198-pounds, jumped a ridiculous 41.5" maximum vertical at the NBA Draft Combine. But, the high-flyer's skills aren't just limited to jumping.

Much More than Just an Athlete

Johnson didn't have an outstanding career in his three years in Tucson, but he did greatly improve as a basketball player. Improvement may be more crucial than consistency in cases such as this. For those who show promise, this gives NBA scouts the impression that the sky is the limit. It couldn't be more so in this case, figuratively and literally, with this high-flying rim rocker.

In his first year at Arizona, Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 28.1 minutes per contest. He also fell short of shooting 37% from the field while also shooting 32% from three and 68% from the free throw line. But in 2014, Johnson tallied some much improved statistics, posting 16.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 33.1 minutes per contest. His shot showed signs of consistency, as he shot 43% from the field, 36% from three and 78% from the charity stripe. As a focal point of the Arizona offense and after much hard work, Johnson seized his opportunity to show that he can shoot the rock.

But, there's much more to it than shooting:


With these statistics at hand, it is plain as day that Johnson has has become a much better player, a more efficient one, and a more valuable one. As his usage rate went up by 6% this year from the previous one, Johnson became more efficient as evidenced by his PER of 21.5 and his outstanding offensive rating of 117.0. These kind of numbers inevitably led to a spike in value. From his first to second year, Johnson added 1.8 offensive win shares, and from his second to third year, he added 1.0 win shares due to his offensive production. But, that's not even the greatest improvement Johnson's made over his three years in college.

Perfecting an Art

Johnson has improved drastically at the offensive end of the floor, but he has improved gradually on the defensive end too. When he started out at Arizona, Nick Johnson was a solid defender. And even though Johnson put up good defensive numbers in his freshman year, he found a way to improve upon those numbers greatly.

In his freshman season, Johnson earned a defensive rating of 98.3 on his way to contributing 1.5 defensive win shares. He took a step in the right direction his sophomore year as he earned a defensive rating of 93.8 while also adding an additional 0.6 defensive win shares. But, in his junior season, Johnson showed that he can consistently defend at an even higher level. He earned career-highs in both defensive rating (92.4) and defensive win shares (3.0). He may be unable to perfect the art of being a defender, but it seems like Johnson has perfected the art of being a hard worker and being the best defender and player that he can possibly be night in and night out.

Nick "Rocket" Johnson

The Houston Rockets selected the Arizona guard with the 42nd pick last night. This is a great fit for Johnson, and a job well done by the Rockets' front office. The pick definitely fills a need for the not-so-deep Rockets: defense. Johnson can defend both the point and shooting guard positions on the floor - something starter and superstar James Harden, with a defensive rating of 107, either can't do or won't do.

And after Harden, the Rockets don't have much to offer at the two spot. Yes, Troy Daniels made some big shots in the playoffs this past year, earning himself a brief spot in the limelight. But, in his 75 minutes of playing time, he posted a defensive rating of 114. Johnson's defensive rating of 92.4 last year would be a huge improvement coming off the bench. It will also allow the Rockets to make some other changes as well.

This steal of a pick would allow the Rockets to put Harden in for long stretches of time as the primary point guard and playmaker with Johnson on his wing. It's tough to say who could thrive in a lineup alongside these two guards when the Rockets are looking to make a splash in free agency with either Melo or Lebron, but it would surely be good on the offensive end but even better on the defensive end.

With the combinations involving Johnson, the always pesky Patrick Beverley and the rim-protecting Howard, the Rockets will have an option that they've never had at their disposal - a great defensive lineup. They might not benefit much defensively from having Harden out there, but such combinations would better hide the deficiencies in his defensive game.

Nick Johnson is a sneaky-good pick because he will allow the Rockets to make the necessary changes to take them to the next level. Oh, and he will probably make some highlight dunks and create some great posters when all is said and done.