Welcome Aboard, Nigel Johnson
One of Tony Bennett’s four open scholarships filled this weekend when former Rutgers guard Nigel Johnson signed on the dotted line during his visit to Charlottesville.
Johnson is transferring for the second time. He spent two years at Kansas State before joining a mass exodus after the 2015 season, sitting out 2016, and playing out this past season for the Scarlet Knights (where he’ll get his degree this spring).
We can use what he’s bringing. He’s a 6'1,’’ 186 pound combo guard that brings two big pluses to the table: the ability to pressure opposing point guards by himself on defense and the off-the-dribble wiggliness to get into the lane and create for himself on offense. He scored 11.3 points per game for Rutgers this past season, going over 20 five times (including in three of Rutgers’s last seven games, a stretch where he made a ridiculous and out of character 59 percent of his 3’s). I love that he used 23.3% of available possessions this season, shot on a nearly-Shayokian 26.7% of those, and managed to be that aggressive without getting sloppy — his turnover rate was a mere 13.4 percent. He hung 21 points on both Northwestern and Ohio State and 23 on Purdue during that end of season run, so he wasn’t just padding his stats on Rutgers’s weak non-conference schedule either.
It’s not all sunshine and ice cream with Johnson. His jumper has been maligned by some, and he purportedly tends to freelance on both ends of the floor. I’m not sweating any of it too much. The jumper isn’t great, but it’s fine, and fine is good enough when we have a roster stocked with knockdown shooters. What this team has needed is someone with the quickness to beat their man into the lane to create daylight for those shooters and maybe some offense for himself, and Johnson fits the profile of someone that can do that. We’ve got a lot of wings — Devon returns, Kyle and Ty will hopefully warrant more minutes, DeAndre is entering the picture and hopefully making a big splash — so I’m not asking for Johnson to show up and star. I just want a productive piece of the puzzle and someone who can match up with the quicker point guards on the slate. I spent much of this season wishing that we had someone like this, so I’m not going to spend too much time nitpicking a guy whose worst case scenario is keeping a scholarship warm for a season, but whose best is significantly higher.