Dec 3, 2018; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Troy Trojans forward Javan Johnson (1) moves the ball abasing Florida State Seminoles guard Anthony Polite (13) at Donald L. Tucker Center during the first half. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Beil-USA
He’s long, lean and athletic.
But playing mostly point guard on Iowa State’s scout team while sitting out last season helped Troy transfer Javan Johnson expand his skill set.
Translation: He’s a much more complete player — and that shows as he’s slotted to play a lot at the 4-spot this season for Steve Prohm’s somewhat new-look Cyclones.
“Coming in from Troy I was mainly just a scorer,” Johnson said during media day via Zoom last Thursday. “But in my sit-out year, coach Prohm kind of put me at the point guard and it kind of elevated my game. It helped me become a more all-around player, coming off ball screens and making good reads. It really helped me out a lot. I feel like it will be good for my career in the long run.”
It’s hoped that Johnson’s versatility will allow the Cyclones — who were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 by league coaches — to thrive offensively in half-court and “small ball” situations alike.
The 6-6, 205-pound redshirt junior averaged 10.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and drilled 3-pointers at a 35.3 percent clip in his final season with the Trojans.
Johnson’s ability to both facilitate and finish — along with improved defense both on and off the ball — could give ISU an intriguing wild-card wrinkle on both ends of the floor particularly when the Cyclones go small.
“I think that’s our mindset right now,” Prohm said of wanting to play more ‘small ball’ lineups this season rather than two-bigs sets. “I just think when you look at the prototypical team and really just going back a year was really the 18-19 team. Everyone is 6-5, your 1 through 4. You’re interchangeable. You can spread people out. Anybody can handle the ball. You don’t have to worry about putting A here and B here because it doesn’t fit. You can just let the guys go play. Going into February, those guys were top 25 in the country both offensive and defensively, and there were only seven teams (ranked that way) at that time. Obviously we got a little bit funky for about two and a half weeks defensively, really probably on both ends of the floor. That took us back a little statistically on the defensive end, but that’s what we’d want to look like from that standpoint. … It’s about spacing, it’s spreading people out. These teams are getting so good defensively, (so) you’re gonna have to have great spacing.”
Rasir Bolton — the Cyclones’ top returning scorer and point guard — said Johnson can offer significant help in the spacing department.
“Offensively we might have a different look this year,” said Bolton, who averaged 14.7 points and scored in double figures in 12 of his last 13 games last season. “Instead of having Mike (Jacobson) at the 4, we have Javan Johnson. So just having kind of a fourth guard out there — Mike was kind of more of a post player throughout his career, so just having a fourth guard out there to space the floor, the offense kind of flows a little better. Just another decision-maker out there who can come off a ball screen and space the floor and knock down 3-pointers, that helps a lot with the flow of the offense.”
That flow is essential to Prohm’s offense when it’s at its freewheeling best — and it certainly wasn’t often in that rollicking realm last season.
Johnson can help reestablish it, but it’s not dependent on him alone.
“I’m throwing guys around a lot of different positions, trying to figure out which guy fits best from that standpoint,” Prohm said. “But at the end of the day it’s going to come down to we need to get back to where we’re really, really efficient offensively — assist-to-turnover ratio, offensive field goal percentage. And then obviously if you’re good on the defensive end, that helps. That helps all that.”
Indeed it does. And if ISU’s going to begin to look more like the 2018-19 team Prohm referenced instead of last season’s injury-plagued group, Johnson’s wide-ranging abilities will be a key component in that return to form.
“Just to be an energy guy and create for my teammates and make open shots,” Johnson said of his potentially expansive role. “Coach Prohm’s got me running 1 through 4, so I guess my role isn’t really, ‘This is it.’ Because I’ll be all around on the floor. So for me, it’s just playing hard and defending at a high level and doing whatever Coach needs me to do. Whatever role he sees fit.”
Even occasionally at point guard, which helped Johnson add another dimension to his game when he couldn’t do anything but practice.
“I kind of got comfortable with it, now I’m really comfortable at all positions on the floor,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel like I have too many weaknesses within our offense.”