Team 103

Brandon Johns gives Michigan a weapon with room to grow

When assistant coach Saddi Washington thinks about freshman forward Brandon Johns, memories of a Michigan player from the not so distant past come to his mind too.

Johns, by all means, is a prototypical, jack-of-all-trades stretch four — the 6-8 forward can run the floor and step out and hit catch-and-shoot three-pointers. But more than anything, Johns brings eye-popping, albeit unrefined athleticism to a Wolverines team that often lacked that down low last year.

“He has a lot of DJ Wilson characteristics,” Washington said, comparing Johns to the former Michigan forward and 17th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. “Just that he’s a big, strong, athletic kid and he’s still growing in his game, and just embracing the physicality of the game.”

Haven’t subscribed yet? Join the community at UM Hoops today and get access to exclusive content all season long. Sign up with the promo code PRESEASON to get an annual membership for less than $3/month.

Seemingly, there’s a checklist for the classic John Beilein four. Like his teammates and predecessors, Johns will be relied upon to provide energy, be an adequate screener, hit the corner three, be mobile enough to contest perimeter shots and hold his own positionally in the post.

At 225 pounds, Johns has a lot of time in the weight room ahead of him if he’s going to be able to hold his own against the likes of Indiana’s Juwan Morgan and Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy. He’ll also have to fight off last year’s starter in sophomore Isaiah Livers, and a more fluid yet even stronger freshman in Ignas Brazdeikis for time at the four spot.

“I think I bring athleticism and power to that position,” Johns said. “Isaiah brings a lot of that and Iggy does too but I think we can all collaborate and really bring a dominant power forward position [to Michigan].”

With Livers back in the fold after nursing an ankle injury, and Brazdeikis flashing and spending much of practice running with the starters in practice, Johns has a long way to go before carving a significant role in Beilein’s rotation. Johns also mentioned though, that Beilein has played him at center in small-ball lineups when center Jon Teske rests.

More than anything else, that lineup flexibility could be key to unlocking Michigan’s ceiling 2018-19. The Wolverines hope that Teske can space the floor at times, but Johns is the best chance for Michigan to run a true five-out offense as it did with Moritz Wagner last season.

It will take him time to learn Beilein’s offensive sets, and adjust to defending faster, quicker players. Eliminating that “tape delay” to start reading and reacting to the game rather than thinking about his next move will be the key to reaching his potential as a freshman. It is tough for any freshman to adjust to Division I college basketball, but learning Beilein’s offense and Luke Yaklich’s defense is an honors-level assignment.

“The sky is the limit,” Washington said. “I think that’s the beauty of what he brings to the table because physically he is gifted in that standpoint, but like any freshman, they don’t know what they don’t know. Things that came easy and natural to them, when you step up another level it gets a little bit more challenging.”

The path to playing time for a freshman in the frontcourt can be difficult. Moritz Wagner flashed moments of brilliance in the first month of his career, but never played regular minutes as a freshman. It took two months for Isaiah Liver sand two years for DJ Wilson to crack the rotation.

Johns has the athleticism — and profile — to be next. The only question is when.

Notable Replies

  1. MrLG

    Hey Rian, nice job on your first two articles. Welcome to the gang!

  2. Inmycourt

    You seem to be assuming that Livers is locked in as the starter at the 4, which is what most people are probably hoping for, but it’s by no means certain. He will probably start the season there, if for no other reason than experience and familiarity with the system, but he may eventually be passed by Bradzeikas, and possibly even by Johns. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that’s likely, but I don’t think it’s crazy either.

  3. umhoops

    Not saying Livers will necessarily start at the four. Hit on the fact that he was with the twos in my takeaways post.

    My point is that I’m comfortable with splitting 120 minutes between Poole, Matthews, Iggy and Livers. Right now it will be hard to crack into that pool of minutes for Johns.

    Also, I would worry a lot about Iggy/Johns as a 4/5 than Livers/Johns, I think Livers provides that extra defensive flexibility.

  4. umhoops

    As I wrote here, Iggy was running with the 1st in practice on Monday. Not sure what you mean by not saying who I think will start?

    I’m not really concerned with who starts (i.e. Livers technically started last year, but Duncan was the more important player who played more minutes).

    If you look at it as 4 guys at the 2/3/4, I would rank their minutes volume like this: Matthews, Poole, Iggy, Livers. I think you could make a case that it might be easier to get to that minutes distro if Livers actually starts.

  5. Champions

    Starters: Simpson, Poole, Matthews, Livers, Teske. Rotation players: Brooks, Iggy, Davis. Flip-flop Livers and Iggy if you like, but this is the guys that we will be going with for the first 2 or 3 months. We aren’t going to need much from the freshmen early on and that is a good thing.

Discuss the Article

24 more replies

To Top