The review sessions keeps on rolling with Durand Johnson up next. Obviously, Johnson missed this season with a year-long suspension and he missed a good portion of last year with an ACL injury. Through it all, Johnson stuck around this year and looks poised to rejoin the team for one last ride in 2016. I have Anson here with me to discuss all things Durand Johnson. Obviously, he is the man in charge around here and he manages the site's twitter, but you can follow him here as well.
Final 2014 Stat Line - 8.8 Points 3 rebounds 1.4 assists 40% Field Goal 33% Three-point 85% Free Throw
Best 2014 Game - 17 points 3 rebounds 3 assists in 79-59 win over Maryland in Pitt's inaugural ACC home game.
Worst 2014 Game - 0 points in Pitt's 74-62 win over NC State in Pitt's first ever ACC game.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Durand Johnson was suspended this season moments before the season opener. What do you make of the late announcement on that suspension?
Pitt has made some announcements before at seemingly unusual times (i.e. late on Fridays) to do their best to mute the media reaction. I get that and don't really have any qualms with it. But even if the decision to suspend him that late was legitimately made then, it's hard to really believe it was a last-minute decision just because how they've treated breaking news in the past.
Because of that (and again, we're speculating here), it was something that could have been in the works for a while but just not officially announced just before the first game. We may never know exactly when the decision was actually made. The focus was already going to be on the new season and the opener. By announcing it then instead of a week or so beforehand (if it was indeed known earlier), the hope was that the reaction would be suppressed a little.
At the end of the day, it was something that was going to be discussed all year long, anyway. Still, I can appreciate waiting to break the news simply because you don't want it to become a distraction among the other players. And if the announcement comes out beforehand, it's definitely going to be something that they're asked about, etc.
Do you think Pitt is a better team with Durand Johnson this past season? Do they maybe sneak into the NCAA Tournament if he is playing?
Better? Absolutely, but I'm not sure of how much better they could have been. Part of Pitt's problems were on defense and Johnson doesn't have a great reputation as a defender. Where he helps, of course, is in the perimeter game on offense and forcing defenders to respect his three-point shot. While he's inconsistent back there, he also has the capability of getting hot and knocking down several in a row. He's one of those guys you always have to defend because of that.
A lot of people will say that the team would have gotten into the tourney with him. But while that's true, I'm not sure he prevents them from utterly falling off of the cliff as they did at the end of the year. Heck, I'm not sure anyone could have stopped that. You look at a game like the Hawaii one and perhaps him playing is enough to get Pitt a win. But what also has to be taken into account is his ability to shoot the team out of games, too. And on a team where Pitt lacked true scoring options, the thought of Johnson chucking up too many shots isn't an unrealistic one. He's only a 41% shooter during his time at Pitt and a 1-6 or 1-7 performance can easily cost a team a game they may have otherwise won. Really, it could go either way.
Pitt would have ultimately been helped by having Johnson for the argument I used in the comments section of a post this year. The Panthers didn't have a great deal of consistency from their perimeter players this year so having another player to throw into the mix would have been nice just to present Jamie Dixon with another option to replace a struggling guy. And if the team didn't completely fall apart at the end of the year, I might be inclined to have guaranteed a tournament performance with him. But that last five-game stretch was a difficult one to watch and I'm not sure that having him would have ultimately resulted in getting into the Big Dance.
Durand Johnson's last official game was on January 11, 2014, do you think there will be a long layoff factor for him when the season kicks off in November?
To be honest, I doubt it. There will be an adjustment period of getting back into actual game situations. But he'll probably play in the summer league this year, has been in practices, etc. Overall, I think he'll be fine. A bigger question mark would have been returning this past year with the ACL injury because he was limited in what he could do. But having been healthy and just not eligible to play, I think he should be pretty comfortable early on - especially if he's afforded the opportunity of playing off the bench again.
Is Durand Johnson a legitimate candidate to start for the team in 2016? What are reasonable expectations for a guy that has missed so many games?
Yeah, it's going to be interesting. Pitt has just about everyone coming back and barring a transfer or something, you can go ahead and pencil in Young, Artis, and James Robinson as starters to kick off the season. Chris Jones and Sheldon Jeter are also candidates to start, and a big factor will be how center plays out. The Panthers are still pursuing five-star recruit Cheick Diallo and have Rozelle Nix coming in. If Nix pans out or Diallo comes aboard, suddenly Young and Artis can slide down to power forward and small forward, respectively. With the loss of Derrick Randall and the rumored departures of Tyrone Haughton and Joseph Uchebo, Pitt may still need Young to man minutes at center if they don't bring in another big man next year. But if Nix is capable and can start, that really leaves it down to Johnson, Jones, Josh Newkirk, or (less likely, in my opinion) newcomer Damon Wilson at shooting guard.
Johnson could easily beat those guys out but coming off of a suspension, I'm curious to know if that plays into the decision as well. You had a kid in Jones that really started to prove himself this season. And as I've said before, Johnson as a sixth man is really a nice luxury to have when Pitt needs to bring someone in to provide instant offense. Does all that give Jones an edge over Johnson? We'll have to see.
It's also worth pointing out that while Newkirk took a step back this year, it's possible he bounces back and gets into the mix. We've got a long way to go, but Johnson has to at the very least be considered a candidate.
Lastly, remembering back to that 2014 season and what kind of player he was, what are some elements of his game do you think he needs to improve on going into next season?
I'd like to see him become a little more than a three-point shooter. About 60% of his shots have been beyond the arc at Pitt and while that's certainly a weapon in his game, taking too many deep balls was one thing I think the team really did wrong this year when he wasn't around. When you add him to the mix, the chances are that things could get even more perimeter heavy - and with talented frontcourt players like Young and Artis, I don't think that's the direction the team should take. The thought process of chucking up shots instead of working the ball around to get a high-percentage attempt (particularly, inside or on a player cutting to the basket) is really something Pitt needs to do more of next year.
And for Johnson, it's all about consistency. That 41% he's shot has been near the bottom of the team in terms of efficiency. Taking fewer shots on nights he doesn't have it wouldn't be a bad thing and overall, he has to become more accurate if he's going to be a real weapon for the team. Lastly, as I mentioned, he hasn't been a great defender. He may not have to be a lockdown guy, but that's an area for improvement as well.