Don’t Judge Yet: Why Miami Made the Right Move in Retaining Tyler Johnson

Tyler Johnson was supposed to be a Brooklyn Net this season. Miami’s awful salary cap situation, along with the dire need to resign Wade, made Johnson the odd man out in South Beach. Brooklyn offered the Fresno State product a four year, $50 million deal, with $38.5 million coming over the final two years. This made it very difficult for Miami because they do not want to jeopardize their ability to sign marquee free agents in the future. However, with Wade departing the Heat for the Bulls, Riley knew he had to retain the young, athletic shooter.

The NBA Dream:

Two years ago, no one would have ever guessed that Tyler Johnson would be in the NBA. He played his college ball at Fresno State, where the only truly known NBA alum is Paul George. Johnson wasn’t even that dominant in a mid tier conference.

During his four years playing at the collegiate level, he averaged a measly 10.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. He then went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft (a draft that I attended). So how exactly did Tyler Johnson go from an above average college player who went undrafted to a hot commodity in the Association?


(Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports)

When Pat Riley traded Mario Chalmers at the beginning of the season, the main reason was to open up more playing time for the emerging Johnson. The Miami backcourt was loaded with Wade, Dragic, and Chalmers, so there was never much of an opportunity for Johnson to prove his consistency on the world’s largest stage in the sport. With Chalmers sent out to Memphis, Johnson proved his worth before ending his regular season with a shoulder injury.

In the 36 games he played, he averaged 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.0 steal per 36 minutes. These numbers are very good for someone who has touched the court a mere 68 times in his NBA career.

Let’s take a look at why Johnson has been so efficient in his two seasons:


If you watch the NBA, the one thing you know about Tyler Johnson is how good of a shooter he is. The man is truly a fantastic shooter and will continue to improve this facet of his game as he becomes more comfortable with the style and pace of the NBA. The 24-year old shot 38.0% from beyond the arc last season and has an absolutely gorgeous shot.

Watch how perfect his shot looks in both of these clips.

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His form is flawless and his arc is perfect. I could argue that his release should be a little bit higher, but it’s tough to criticize a guy who has showed flashes of ability like Johnson has from behind the arc.

Versatility is Key:

The biggest misconception about Johnson is that he is just a shooter. What people do not realize about him is that he is an extremely versatile combo guard.

The lefty can effectively drive in the lane, is a high quality defender, can knock down pull up and spot up mid range jumpers and three pointers, and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. There are just those players that always seem to make the correct play at the perfect time, and that is Johnson.

With D-Wade’s isolation habit officially out of the window, the offense should provide plenty of pace and space, which is the perfect style for Johnson. He is a ball of energy that loves to run the floor and has a knack for taking advantage of transition opportunities, which can be seen here.

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He absolutely loves to stay moving on the court, which is seen through his defensive tenacity. Every once in a while his man will blow around him for an easy bucket, but that happens to just about everyone at one point or another. The way he recovers and bounces back is what every coach in the NBA loves to see.

Watch this fantastic defensive play. He got caught up in a tough screen and it looked like his man was past him. He caught up and put a ton of pressure on the offensive player by keeping his hands and body moving. His man then went up for what he thought would be a nice and easy jumper, and Johnson proceeded to block it.

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Johnson has very good instincts on defense. You can tell that he is a student of the game because he always seems to know his opponent’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. He also always knows how much time is left on the shot clock and what type of pressure to put on his defender.

Notice how Johnson was aware that the shot clock was running down and defended this play perfectly. He could have just contested the shot, but he didn’t even want the shot getting past him so he just swatted it the other way.

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Johnson will never be on an All-Defensive NBA Team, but his ability to defend will only help keep him on the court and prove his worth in the NBA.

Another very underappreciated aspect of Johnson’s game is his body control. When he goes up for a layup, he has supreme hang time which provides him with the ability to shoot the ball on his way down. This allows him to take contact and still get an uncontested shot off.

Watch here as he makes a nifty move past his defender, takes the contact and finishes the and-one on his way down.

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Clearly, he isn’t just a shooter. Shooters don’t have the skills to make these types of acrobatic plays. Johnson has been unlucky with his injury history so far in the NBA, but he has the perfect opportunity this season to show how versatile he really is.

Areas of Concern:

Unfortunately Johnson has a few noticeable weaknesses, which probably led to Heat fans’ concern when Johnson signed on such a large contract.

He relies way too much on his left hand. Johnson does not seem too comfortable driving to the right. He really needs to work on finishing strong with his weak hand because this could open up a whole other aspect of his game. He is an incredible finisher going to his left or down the middle, but does not have enough strength to take contact and score the bucket on his right side.  

Johnson also needs to work on his point guard skills. He can handle the ball pretty well and can play point guard if Spoelstra needs him to, but he is not a legitimate playmaker for others. He is an effective offensive creator for himself, but the offense seems to stall when he is running the point.

There aren’t any other glaring weaknesses with Johnson’s game. He needs to continue to improve and develop every single aspect of his game if he wants to be in the league for 10+ years.

The Skinny:

With only Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson ahead of Johnson on the depth chart, the opportunity will be there for him to shine. Johnson should be a major force for Miami’s second unit. He has all of the tools to become a standout player in this league as long as he focuses on improving his few weaknesses. Johnson almost got pried away from Brooklyn for an absolute steal, but Riley wouldn’t let it happen, and his desire to keep the young guard will pay off.


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