NBA Draft: The Case for Johnny Davis at No. 5

Detroit Bad Boys

Now that the Pistons know they will be selecting fifth in the upcoming NBA Draft, it’s time to start homing in on prospects who will most likely be available. I believe there are six players in particular the team will be considering at this spot. Over the next few posts, I will be touching on who I think those six players are. Some of these prospects have already been written about already here at DBB, so I will point you in the direction of those posts in the final piece of this series. But, let’s get started on someone I will have to argue for MORE than any other of the six players in question.

Johnny Davis is someone I am much higher on than the consensus for a lot of reasons. His most recent measurements at the NBA Combine list him at 6-foot-5.75 inches tall in shoes with a 6-foot-8.5 inch wingspan, 8-foot-7.5 inch standing reach and weighing in at 196.4 pounds with 6.7% body fat. This past season at Wisconsin, he led the Badgers to a 25-8 record and a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament. Thought of mainly as a scorer, Davis does have an array of skills I think are going uncelebrated and will be part of the reason why I think he should be rated higher than he is.

Let’s take a look at his per-game stats from this past season before we take a deeper dive into his game on the court:

  • 19.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks
  • 46.6% from two-point distance, 30.6% from three-point range, and 79.1% from the Free Throw Line

Where Johnny Davis Excels on the Court

First and foremost, Davis is a shot creator. While, yes, he has a good handle and definitely creates for himself out of isolations and pick-and-rolls very well, I want to start this breakdown of his offense taking into account the context in which Davis’ offense was generated.

I would argue that Davis and Paolo Banchero had to do the heaviest lifting in terms of generating offense for their teams this past season—and I believe Davis is tops in that regard. While both Paolo and Davis had a 148-point difference between their team-leading points scored (671 for Paolo and 612 for Johnny) and the second-leading scorers on their teams, Paolo had the benefit of having three teammates in the regular rotation who shot better than 40% from three. Davis, on the other hand, had none. In fact, there was not a SINGLE player in Wisconsin’s regular rotation who shot 34.9% or better from long range this past season.

Wisconsin was not a good three-point shooting team and Davis had to continue to find ways to score despite there being a noticeable lack of spacing. One of the most BIZZARE things I have seen this draft cycle is Wisconsin’s de-emphasis of the corner three. I am NOT going to excuse Davis’ inefficiencies (as you will see a few paragraphs later), but it is also incredibly difficult to be efficient as a primary offensive option who likes to drive into the teeth of the defense and draw contact when your ENTIRE team takes 96 corner threes all season and only sinks 26 of them. That equals 27.1%. Contrast this with a team like Duke who took 195 corner threes and sunk 83 of them for a 42.6% clip, and you get a glimpse into why I think Davis gets the nod when it comes to creating the most offense for his team.

Three-point shooting is not everything when it comes to generating offense, but it is a big help for a primary creator as it gives them more space to operate within. So, the fact Davis did still generate so much offense, while also leading his team to the aforementioned 25-8 record and a No. 3 Seed in March Madness should be considered when looking at his stats. Davis also ended his year injured as he was on the receiving end of a nasty foul—one assessed the rare flagrant-2 level—March 6, 2022, against Nebraska. After that, Davis was continually dealing with an ankle issue. Pistons fans are all too familiar how that injury can impact your game.

I know this is a roundabout way to get to Davis’ actual skills as a shot creator, which to me is best summed up in one word: Attacking. Davis drove into double and triple teams on the regular, drawing 196 trips to the free-throw line on the way and going 71-of-99 on shots at the rim, which translates to 71.1%. He also is great along the baseline with a smooth turnaround jumper that helped him shoot 40.9% from both sides of the baseline. Davis looks to get to the hoop and is very physical getting into the bodies of his defenders to finish, draw the foul, or get the AND1.

The one aspect of his game I believe Davis does not get enough credit for is his defense. Just how good of a defender is Davis? Well, let me give you a list of opponents he faced this past season and give a statistical overview of these opposing players in their matchups against Wisconsin. And yes, before you ask, Davis WAS the primary defender on all these guys I am about to list: Malaki Branham, Jaden Ivey, Max Christie, and Bryce McGowens.

Branham was the first of these future NBA players and potential lottery guys he faced, and in their December 11, 2021, match Davis held him to ZERO points. In their second matchup on January 13, 2022, Branham faired better, scoring 10, going 5-of-8 from the field and missing his only three-point attempt.

Christie did a solid job on Davis in their first matchup on January 21, 2022, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and getting the win. Their second time around, however, Davis put Christie in check as the Spartan scored just 8 points on 3-of-8 shooting and Davis did not allow him to even take one three-point attempt. They even had a third match post-Davis injury and Christie points stayed at 8 on 2-of-5 shooting from the field, but Michigan State did knock Wisconsin out of the Big Ten Tournament in this game.

McGowens definitely had the best showing against Davis, scoring 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Wisconsin got the win in this matchup, however, and sadly we did not get the rematch as Bryce McGowens did not play in that game and the aforementioned flagrant-level 2 injury happened as well, so we would not have been able to see a full second game even if he did. As we saw with Max Christie that McGowens definitely brings something else in the rematch and it would be great to see how he was able to counter McGowens’ length.

And finally, the way we saw fighters Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder give us classic boxing matchups of the boxer versus the knockout artist, Davis and Ivey gave college basketball fans the matchup of the technician versus the athlete. Their first matchup is one of the single most impressive pieces of film by any prospect this draft season, in my opinion.

This was one of the first games you saw a team limit Ivey in transition and turn him into a jump shooter. Wisconsin definitely succeeds as Ivey scores 14 and goes 3-of-9 from the field—and Davis is the tip of the spear. Ivey manages to beat him twice in the halfcourt, but otherwise, Davis funnels him to his center, forces him into his uncomfortable floater, and fouls him when absolutely necessary instead of letting him get his game going trying to just outrun everybody. Oh, and Davis all did this while scoring his season-high 37 points on the other end playing Ivey like fiddle—drawing him into stupid foul after stupid foul.

The second matchup saw Ivey counterpunch back and catch Davis with some pump fakes to blow by him, but, again, Davis the technician forces Ivey into more jump shots than he wants to take and smells blood in the water once Ivey starts 0-of-4 from the free-throw line. This game also exemplifies Ivey’s lack of a midrange game as he is just trying to get to the hoop or shoot threes, and Davis plays him as such. STILL, Ivey had a fantastic final five minutes in this game that has an incredible ending. Seriously, if you go back and watch ANY game in its entirety from this past season, this is the one.

And remember, he did all this fantastic defensive work WHILE BEING THE PRIMARY OFFENSIVE OPTION every single game. This is one of the reasons I have been so high on Davis throughout the process. In my opinion, it is incredibly rare that your No. 1 offensive option has the desire, skills and SUCCESS to be the primary on-ball defender. It is not hyperbole to argue that Davis carried this Wisconsin team because of all that he contributed on both ends of the court.

The matchups against Ivey were particularly impressive as this kind of defensive ability to force a top-notch athlete and scorer out of their usual game and into a secondary set of skills is what the best defenders do. When you face this level of competition, you cannot always stop them, but you have to at least force them into being uncomfortable from the minute they step out of the locker room.

Areas Johnny Davis Needs to Improve

Davis absolutely has to become more efficient with his offense as soon as possible to continue to develop as even a secondary scorer. I mean, just look at Davis’ shot chart and you will see two areas, in particular, he will need immediate improvement. While his midrange jumper is lauded by many, he’s got to stop taking so many from the elbows.

2021-22 Season Shot Chart for Wisconsin Guard Johnny Davis courtesy of CBBAnalytics.com
https://cbbanalytics.com/stats/30629/players/1605684/shooting

You want the three-point shot to improve also, but as noted before, Davis had almost no help in that department from his teammates. Also, per Coach Spins at The Box-and-One YouTube Channel, Davis was 21-of-54 on catch-and-shoot threes for 38.9% so there are some positive indicators that with teammates who can help take pressure off him, this can improve.

The one area for me that is most worrisome is in the paint, where you see a below-average 39.8%. To me this screams, “I need a runner or a floater.” This is next to impossible to predict, and I am one who will not say about any prospect, “I feel really confident they’ll easily develop X shot,” no matter how much I love them because developing basketball skills is incredibly hard. My thought is Kawhi Leonard jump shots are the exception and not the rule. Davis obviously has a ton of offensive tricks in the bag, so I wouldn’t rule out the development of said runner/floater, but what I see on this shot chart and film is one missing piece in the complete offensive puzzle that makes Davis an even better scorer.

His ability to create for others also needs improvement, but I also think it is not as bad as many have argued. Having 66 assists and 71 turnovers objectively is not great from your primary offensive option. This, more than anything, is what many wished we saw more from Davis when it comes to his skillset. With his ability to attack through double and triple-teams, he SHOULD be leveraging that as a passer to find his wide open teammates.

BUT, another thing I think has not been talked about enough with Davis is that he RARELY turns the ball over despite having it so much. When you dive into the advanced stats, you will see a below-average 14.8% assist percentage, but the 10.8% turnover ratio is absolutely fantastic for someone with a 32.5% usage. Davis fits a profile of college players with 27% or higher usage rates and incredibly low turnover rates.

Other guys that fit this profile are: Anthony Edwards 12.9% TO, Kawhi Leonard 12.3% TO, Kevin Durant 11.4% TO, Michael Beasley 11.8% TO, and Carmelo Anthony 9.6% TO.

BUT, return to the film, and you will see the ball stick to Davis’ hands more often than it should. Davis posted only five games all season where he was able to record more than three assists. This lack of playmaking was especially concerning in the second half of the season, where Davis’ blinders were even more apparent as he recorded just 5 games with more than 2 assists in the final 16 games of the season.

While I don’t want to handwave this off and say, “who is he supposed to pass the ball to?” now seeing his teammates themselves struggled to fill their roles and help Davis out more, what I do want to suggest is that there were assists left out there on the floor.

Return to that first Ohio State game, and you will see two great passes Davis makes to get his teammates a wide-open shot, and they miss it. This happened in almost every single Davis game this season. If I were a GM, this would be something I would immediately task someone on my staff to watch as it does tell the complete story of Davis as a passer and definitely would be what I would quiz him on, ESPECIALLY in those moments where he just put his head down and had the blinders on to score.

Again, I am not saying his playmaking is not an issue because even in the positive indicators, it is below average. There were a good amount of assists left out there, however, and the list of aforementioned guys with heavy usage and low turnovers at least give precedent of a player type like Davis being able to develop more as a passer in the NBA.

Does Johnny Davis Have an NBA Player Comparison?

Davis’ ability to create for himself out of isolation off the dribble and being a defensive difference-maker at the shooting guard position, I am reminded most of Latrell Sprewell.

While not quite the explosive athlete Spree was in his prime, Davis’ 6-foot-5.75 inches and 196 pounds is very close to the 6-foot-5-inch height and 190-pound weight listed for Spree on his basketball reference page. What I see most when I look at both guys is the ability to attack on both ends of the court. And, as I mentioned, while Spree was a more explosive athlete in his prime, watching Davis jump passing lanes, rise up into his jump shot in the midrange, and draw fouls driving to the hoop made me think of Spree—especially as I remember him in the 1999 Finals on the Knicks against the Spurs.

Among other career high- and (low)lights, Sprewell was one of the best two-way wings of his time, however, and had career per-game averages of 18.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.4 blocks with shooting splits of 45.1% from two-point range, 33.7% from three-point distance, and 80.4% from the free-throw line. He also averaged 4.7 trips to the free-throw line in his 13 year career.

While Spree put up over 20 points per game in four of his first six seasons, he became more well known for becoming a secondary offensive option on the Knicks from 1998 to 2003 who could still take over when necessary. And even in those early years, Spree learned to play alongside guys like Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, CWebb, and Jim Jackson (another guy I’ve seen Davis compared to) so he always used his scoring and defense to help complement his teammates. I see Davis doing similar work in the Association.

While he might not reach the Golden State days Sprewell, I think he could easily be the secondary scorer and high-level defender Knicks version of Sprewell for 13 years.

What Does Johnny Davis Look Like on the Pistons?

So long Cory Joseph! Davis could immediately step in and be the point guard defender alongside Cade many of us are clamoring for. Not only would he have his 6-foot-5.75 inches and 196-pound frame to cause mismatch problems, but his 6-foot-8.5-inch wingspan, 8-foot-7.5 standing reach pose a major issue for many NBA point guards.

Davis’ physicality on both ends would also benefit the Pistons greatly. On offense, the team would finally have someone other than Jerami Grant who seeks contact and knows how to use his frame to get into the body of defenders to draw fouls. On defense, the Pistons would have a guard who wants to take the toughest assignment away from Cade and knows how to use his broad chest to stand up the opposition and has the basketball IQ to continually funnel guys to his center when they get a step on him. Bonus being, he has the strength to guard up to the 3 in small-ball lineups and the pick-and-roll ability to give Cade and Saddiq some easier three-point shots. These two things, for me, separate Davis from someone like Ivey whose size (he didn’t measure at the combine) and lack of focus on the defensive side of the ball could keep him from being a two-way mismatch the way Davis already is.

The shooting will have to come around, but that is one concern that to me is not as big since Davis was able to keep an entire team afloat without great spacing, and himself flashed good off-the-catch ability. The ball sticking to his hand, however, could be an issue and something that may take time to adjust to since he got used to having to be THE man.

Still, Davis would be a needed addition to a lineup of Cade, Saddiq, Jerami, and Beef Stew as there is another scorer and attacker who knows how to use screens and get after it on defense with wing size and the desire to do everything he can to keep his team in the win column.

Thank you for continuing to read and support all of us here at Detroit Bad Boys! Tell us what you think of Johnny Davis in the comments and who else the team should consider at number 5. Look out for the next article in this series where I will keep it on the wing…

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