UVA lands Nigel Johnson: What does it mean for Cavs?

nigel johnson uvaNigel Johnson is on his way to UVA, and because the 6’1” guard is on track to graduate from Rutgers in May, he would be eligible to play for the Cavs next season.

The question: what does the arrival of Johnson mean for Virginia basketball?

Johnson will compete for time in the backcourt with Devon Hall, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, the projected starters, and DeAndre Hunter, a four-star recruit who redshirted in 2016-2017.

UVA loses four-year starting point guard London Perrantes and two rising seniors, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson, both of whom decided to transfer out for their final year of eligibility.

How does Johnson stack up against the soon-to-be-departed?

Johnson averaged 11.3 points per game for Rutgers in 2016-2017, shooting 37.7 percent from the field – 39.2 percent on two-point shots and 35.0 percent on threes.

He scored in double-digits 21 times in 32 games last season, including 21 points in back-to-back games against Ohio State and Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament in March.

Johnson got to the line at a decent clip – his 100 free-throw attempts were third on the team, and would have led the Cavs, who had Perrantes at 91 attempts leading the way in 2016-2017.

His 10.4 shot attempts per game would have tied him for the team lead with Perrantes.

The shots will be less plentiful in Tony Bennett’s slower-tempo offense (Virginia averaged 59.1 possessions per game, last in D1; Rutgers averaged 66.2), but Johnson’s ability to get into the lane and get to the rim (and to the line) will be valuable for a team that will still lack anything resembling post presence.

The question with Johnson isn’t about his offense: it’s about his defense. He had a 101.0 defensive rating, according to sports-reference.com, which had him ranked just sixth-best on the Scarlet Knights roster in 2016-2017 (according to KenPom.com, Rutgers was ranked 69th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is to say, pretty good).

No one on the Virginia roster had even a 100 defensive rating per sports-reference.com. Guy had trouble getting on the floor with a 97.3 rating, which would have had him the second-best defender at Rutgers last season, for comparison.

Perrantes, at least according to the metrics, wasn’t a defensive stalwart, with a 97.1 defensive rating, a tick ahead of Guy, who was the worst defender of the regulars for Bennett last season.

Shayok (92.2) and Thompson (93.8) were among the best backcourt defenders in the ACC last season whose issues came on offense (Shayok averaged 8.9 points per game on 44.5 percent shooting; Thompson averaged 6.2 points a game on 44.4 percent shooting).

There is no reason to question whether Johnson, who played at Kansas State for two seasons before transferring to Rutgers, can be an immediate contributor in the ACC on the offensive end.

The concern would come on defense. The Pack-Line is famously hard for newcomers (see Kyle Guy, see Anthony Gill) to pick up right away.

The drawback is that Johnson won’t get any advance time to work on the Pack-Line before the start of practice in October, so aside from breaking down tape on his own over the summer, there’s not going to be a lot of opportunity to develop muscle memory until the fall.

Bottom line is that you can expect Johnson to be a spark plug off the bench whose minutes will increase as he demonstrates the ability to keep opponents out of the lane.

Which is to say, still need a big.

Column by Chris Graham

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