Jimmy’s blog: NBA scouts evaluates Johnson, Springer

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee freshman guard Keon Johnson has been projected to be taken as high as the No. 7 pick in the NBA draft, according to one mock analysis.

That would tie him for the second-highest ever of any Vol player, behind only Tom Boerwinkle at No. 4.

Is that likely?

“That and a dollar will buy you a USA today,’’ said one long-time NBA scout. “A lot can be done between now and the draft.’’

While the scout isn’t ready to proclaim the 6-foot-5 Vol as a top 10 NBA pick, he does like Johnson’s game.

“He’s explosive,’’ the NBA scout said. “He’s off-the-chart athletically. He plays hard.

“What he needs to work on are his ball skills in traffic and shooting.’’

Johnson committed 23 turnovers in a recent five-game stretch. And he is shooting just 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s at 43.5 percent overall.

Tennessee’s other freshman guard, Jaden Springer, has been projected as a mid-20s NBA pick.

“I think he’s got a really good skill set,’’ the NBA scout said. “He shoots the ball very well. He’s athletic enough. He’s got a good body. He’s strong. But he also needs to work on his decision making. His ball skills are better than Johnson’s.’’

While Springer has the ability to create his own shots, “he’ll overdo it and get in trouble,’’ the scout said.

Springer is averaging 12.8 points while shooting a blistering 47.3 percent from 3-point range, 49 percent overall and 81.5 percent from the foul line.

The scout said Yves Pons could go late in the second round “if a team needs a defensive guy. He’s more of a bit player. He’ll likely get a two-way contract. His lack of offensive ability is glaring.’’

Pons considered turning pro after last season but knew he needed to work on his offensive game. He improved from a 28 percent 3-point shooter as a sophomore to 34.9 as a junior. But his outside accuracy has regressed markedly to where he is hitting only 28 percent thus far this season.

The scout thinks 6-foot-9 John Fulkerson might have a future in Europe.

“Even as much as he’s improved and he plays hard, he still gets knocked off balance way too easy,’’ the scout said. “I think he’s a good, solid college player.’’

Regarding this year’s version of the Tennessee Vols, who are 16-7 after getting off to a 10-1 start, the scout said the problems are simple.

“No low post, no true point guard,’’ the scout said, adding that UT struggles at half-court offense.

But, he cautioned, a lot can happen in college hoops over the next few weeks.

“Kansas is one of the hottest teams in basketball and a month ago, people were saying Kansas’ season is over,’’ the scout said. “Tennessee has got enough talent (to turn things around).’’

While the scout thinks UT could make noise down the stretch, he did caution: “It’s not like Pons and Fulkerson will become Bill Walton overnight. That’s not going to change. But if they get the right matchup and get their confidence back, a lot of things can happen.’’

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