Keyontae Johnson is figuring things out in the NBA G League

The OKC Thunder are hoping Keyontae Johnson can follow a path set by others on their roster.
Oct 9, 2023; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Keyontae Johnson (18)
Oct 9, 2023; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Keyontae Johnson (18) / Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City is one of the best organizations in the NBA at utilizing their G League affiliate. Players, coaches, and even team executives have used the OKC Blue to climb the ranks to the OKC Thunder.

With that, one of the best uses for the NBA G League has been the Thunder's two-way contracts, with countless success stories headlined by undrafted defensive ace Lu Dort, who remains a pillar of Mark Daigneault's starting lineup to this day.

Now, with an additional two-way slot available, and the Thunder building a roster that should see high-end talent become more expensive quickly, it is more important than ever to find the value in the margins.

A way to do that the most efficiently is through the NBA Draft, where Sam Presti has more than his fair share of hits. This year, the Thunder picked up Cason Wallace with the 10th overall pick before coming back around in the second-round to nab Keyontae Johnson with the 50th pick.

Cason Wallace has been a microwave success story, making a massive impact on Mark Daigneault's rotation and even representing the team's swing starter when one of the regulars go down.

Keyontae Johnson, on the other hand, has only played in one NBA game and has yet to score his first bucket. The majority of his opportunities have been in the NBA G League, as planned.

Keyontae Johnson had a breakout season at Kansas State, but playing in Oklahoma City's system is a whole new ball game. That has been a point of emphasis from both Blue head man Kameron Woods and OKC Thunder bench boss Mark Daigneault.

Johnson is never going to be accused of being a dazzling playmaker, but the swingman has truly improved his decision-making at the rack, which has allowed his rim-finishing numbers to hit a jaw-dropping 65 percent clip.

Given his ability to attack downhill, it is easy to see him create advantages for others as the defense collapses. Without the additional attention from the defense, Johnson is liable for an easy bucket at the rim.

Complimenting his high-end rim finishing is his ability to thrive in transition, an area he posts 1.3 points per possession, ranking in the 92nd percentile in the NBA G League.

His three-point shot has not suffered much; in fact, the rookie has matched his college three-point outbreak. Johnson is again shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc, including a jaw-dropping 44 percent on catch-and-shoot chances.

From his transition buckets, relentless downhill attacks, and floor spacing ability, it is easy to see why Johnson (17 points per game) is a catalyst to Wood's offense. Of players who have played in at least three games for the Blue, Johnson leads the way in points per game.

Perhaps the most encouraging part for OKC Thunder fans, at least for this iteration of the team, is Johnson's rebounding ability. With his sturdy frame and leaping ability, he is able to clean the glass better than expected, hauling in nearly seven rebounds per contest for the OKC Blue.

Keyontae Johnson is getting it done on both ends of the floor; while the G League is home to high-powered and downright wacky offensive numbers, Johnson still ranks in the 62nd percentile as a defender.

That says a lot, given his responsibility on that end for Woods' squad. The Oklahoma City organization could have another diamond in the rough on their hands, and while spots are going to be a premium to come by, eventually, things will swing Johnson's way.

When that time comes, his body of work in the NBA G League suggests he will be ready and might just prove that the Thunder have yet again struck gold in the second round of the NBA Draft.

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