2017-2018 Player Profile: Robert Johnson

  • 10/30/2017 11:49 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ve transitioned from our look at other Big Ten programs to our player-by-player previews of the 2017-18 Indiana roster. Today, our profiles continue with a look at Robert Johnson.

It’s a new era for Indiana basketball with the dismissal of Tom Crean and subsequent hiring of Archie Miller last spring. But the Hoosiers have a constant in the backcourt entering the 2017-18 season: Robert Johnson.

The 6-foot-4 Johnson, who committed and signed with Indiana in the fall of 2013, has been through a lot during his time in Bloomington.

He’s won a Big Ten championship, reached a Sweet Sixteen and also dealt with injury and disappointment. After going through the NBA pre-draft process last spring, Johnson opted to return to Bloomington for his senior season and enters his final collegiate season as the leader of IU’s backcourt for the first time in his career.

In his first three seasons, Johnson was often forced to defer offensively to Yogi Ferrell or James Blackmon Jr. That won’t be the case this season as the Richmond (Va.) native is IU’s leading returning scorer at 12.8 points per game.

In addition to taking on a bigger scoring load, NBA personnel told Johnson in the spring that they’d like to see how he handles the point guard position as well.

“They wanted to see if I could play point guard at a high level,” Johnson said last month. “They wanted to see how I will handle being one of the primary scorers this upcoming year. And I think, as far as Archie’s system, with some of the things that we’ve already went over, I think it will help me as far as getting in the open court and handling the ball more and pick-and-roll and things like that.”

A career 40 percent 3-point shooter, Johnson will surpass the 1,000 career point plateau early in his senior campaign.

In addition to bumping his scoring average up a few points in his final season, the Hoosiers will need Johnson to progress in two key areas: lowering his turnovers and getting to the foul line more often. In his first three seasons, Johnson has posted a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) under 20 percent and has also had a higher turnover percentage over 20.

Johnson will also be expected to be a leader on defense in a new system that is a significant departure from what he’s been used to in the past.

“I think we’re going to have a philosophy that we build and we stick to no matter what,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a big part of our identity, and that’s one thing that Coach Miller has made clear.”

Ultimately, Johnson hopes he’ll be remembered by IU fans as a player who gave everything possible to the program over his four years in Bloomington.

“I just want people to remember me as a guy who always tries to put his best foot forward and gave everything that I had,” he explained. “That’s basically how I’m looking at every day of this year. I’m just trying to give everything I have to my teammates to help reach our goals.”

Bottom Line: Johnson is being overlooked by the preseason watch lists, but it won’t be a surprise to see his name mentioned as being one of the best guards in the Big Ten by season’s end. He was up-and-down as a junior, but had a terrific offseason according to comments made by Miller on several occasions. If he’s able to draw more fouls and do a better job taking care of the ball, he’ll be one of Indiana’s leaders on both ends of the floor.

Quotable: “Through about four weeks, he’s probably been about as focused of a basketball player that I’ve been around. He’s all business right now. Really, really impressive kid. To watch him through about a four week summer period, he’s really impressive. He’s setting himself up to do what he wants to do which is have a great senior campaign for us.” – Miller on Johnson in late May.

PreviouslyJustin SmithClifton MooreAl Durham Jr., De’Ron Davis, Curtis JonesDevonte Green, Juwan Morgan, Zach McRoberts

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  • bball at nick’s

    RJ is probably our most underrated player. There’s a reason coaches keep him on the floor for so many minutes, even when his shots are not going down. He had zero turnovers against Marian, and all of his five rebounds were on defense. He just needs that extra visibility through point production. If two or three of his five 3-pt attempts had gone down, we’d have all been raving about his performance. I feel that there’s a “switch” that needs to be turned on for RJ to start getting his shots down with more consistency.

  • VegasHoosier

    I’ve noticed a lot of the players call him “Archie” instead of “Coach.” Is that a new thing with most players from most teams or just our team?

  • N71

    I noticed the exact same thing and immediately took it as a positive. The way the guys use his first name, in context and all, it seems somewhat a tribute to the way he relates and communicates with them. He’s in the foxhole with them so-to-speak and that’s one of the key benefits to his being both young (38?) and an ex-player/point guard. Opinion of one.

  • N71

    The Romeo and Darius watch has been quiet today…any new news out there?

  • Arch Puddington

    He has all the tools, including experience, to take the leading role on this team. I think the question simply is whether that suits him personally. It is credit to him that he is a soft-spoken, team-first guy, and that so much of his production is, if not invisible, at least not quite as obvious or flashy as others. But we have seen other really talented players not take the lead role when the opportunity presented itself, including RJ himself last year. It was clear that that team needed a leader, and RJ was unquestionably one of those whom CTC pushed to fill that role. I saw him early in the pre-season games last year, and he looked really ready to do just that. But it didn’t happen, and while I have no direct proof whatsoever, I have wondered if being pushed to play a role with which is not comfortable explains his slump over the last part of the years.

    I love the guy, and I am certain we will not be all we can be without him at his best. But whether he remains as “merely” a really good player or emerges as the go-to guy is not clear. I have argued that DG looks like he is ready to be “that guy”, but RJ could still take some if it is the right thing for him.

  • Ivan Renko

    Romeo is expected to trim his list to 3 within the next few weeks. Assuming it’ll just be IU, Kansas, and prbly UNC or Vandy to keep the suspense alive haha.

    Haven’t heard anything about Darius following his visit to UCLA this past weekend.

  • sd chuck

    What a great kid! Turning point for him last year, imo, was when Crean threw him & JBJ under the bus, seemed to have the wrong effect, didn’t think he was ever the same after that, don’t think that will happen now. Hope he has a great senior season with good health!

  • IdahoHoosier

    You are exactly right if he hit 2 or 3 of 5 three-pointers we’d all be happy. Hitting 2/5 from long range is his career average (40%) and that is exactly what this team needs/expects from him. Any ideas what that “switch” is for RJ? Last season many blamed CTC for RJ’s slump, but if the “switch” isn’t thrown this season who do we blame? Obviously it is early so RJ could get going and be just fine.

  • sarge

    I love this guy, humble, quiet and productive. Ultimate team player and Hoosier. I hope for his sake and the team’s that he finds his groove again. He said he came to Indiana because of the fans, and this Hoosier fan will have his back no matter what all season long. Thank you RoJo!

  • millzy32

    If he ends up playing less this season I’m hoping that’s because others have improved and not because he has fallen off. I’m one of few that don’t expect a whole lot from him. I’d probably have him with the second team and know he’ll give good effort and hopefully be a spark off the bench.

  • Arch Puddington

    This is further than I would take it, but I will say this: he has to earn his playing time like everyone else. He isn’t entitled just because he has been around a while and is a good guy. A number of people have talked about his three-point misses, but he missed at least two layups/put backs, and I think three. There was a good bit of that at the end of last season as well. I think he’ll find himself again, and I would certainly give him time to do so, but in the end he should only get what he earns with his play on the court.

  • Arch Puddington

    This is further than I would take it, but I will say this: he has to earn his playing time like everyone else. He isn’t entitled just because he has been around a while and is a good guy. A number of people have talked about his three-point misses, but he missed at least two layups/put backs, and I think three. There was a good bit of that at the end of last season as well. I think he’ll find himself again, and I would certainly give him time to do so, but in the end he should only get what he earns with his play on the court.

  • MK

    To me, something has been off about RJ’s confidence over the last year. As a freshman, he was automatic. Hopefully he can find that groove again.

  • Outoftheloop

    I think that is what Archie wants. But there is no mistake that Archie is THE Coach!

  • VOXAC30

    I’ve noticed that as well but when you say “Coach Archie” it sounds like CoChachi rhythmically speaking it doesn’t work and isn’t easy to say. You could say just “Coach” but there are a bunch of coaches on the team which makes it little hard to distinguish who wo saying the last name. He is okay with it and noted it very early on and I am sure the kids call him coach as well when speaking to him directly.

  • bball at nick’s

    With all my respect Arch you make it sound like coaches are keeping him in games as a favor to him. The fact that he gets so much playing time puts it on us to understand why. I know you’re a numbers guy, but there’s much more to the game than the stat sheet.

  • RonMlarkey

    People seem to forget the first half of last season where newkirk played extremely poorly and rob johnson was a lights out shooter!

  • Outoftheloop

    Rob is a great team player who has all of the tools to be a great player. But he has to produce: 50% FG, 42% 3’s, 80% FT, 5 reb, 3/1 A/TO and solid defense. Go Rob, we love you!

  • RonMlarkey

    DG has reportedly pledged his commitment to Archie and Bruiser at their in home visit last week. He will not declare officially until the signing period though. Romeo seems to be leaning toward IU but Kansas still in the picture.

  • bball at nick’s

    For what it’s worth one Kansas expert changed his prediction for Romeo from Kansas to “Foggy” after his visit to KU this past weekend.

  • Ivan Renko

    that’s excellent news! where did you hear that?

  • Ivan Renko

    i see that now. Foggy is a cop-out for those guys IMO haha, their job is to make a prediction one way or the other and update accordingly if necessary

  • Arch Puddington

    What I said about RJ is true of all players. It is worth saying about him specifically in this case because he hasn’t been at his best for some time now. It’s not doing him a favor to give him time to show he has come back around, it’s good, sound management. However you took it, that is how I meant it.

    As for numbers, the line that they don’t always tell the whole story is such a tired and self-congratulatory one. In my first post, I said of Rob “He has all the tools, including experience, to take the leading role on this team….It is credit to him that he is a soft-spoken, team-first guy, and that so much of his production is, if not invisible, at least not quite as obvious or flashy as others.” You’ll note those are references to non-statistical traits. I get it. I am certain Archie Miller does as well, and I am certain RJ will start for the foreseeable future even if his shots aren’t falling. But unless you are arguing that there is literally nothing at all that could change his status, then we agree that he has to earn his minutes. That is the sum of my point.

  • Arch Puddington

    Your last name does not inspire confidence, but I sure hope you’re right.

  • StudentHoosier

    People forget that.

  • StudentHoosier
  • RonMlarkey

    DG had an in home visit scheduled with Coach Drew the day after he met with Archie and Bruiser and did not want his commitment to get out before that and also plans on going to his last scheduled official visit at UCLA. Expect him to make his commitment to IU public early in the signing period.

  • IdahoHoosier

    How is it that you are privy to this information?

  • Fifer39

    I think too much time has been spent talking about and trying to turn Rob into something he’s not – a ‘leader’, a PG, etc. Archie’s narrative about taking a bigger scoring load, in my opinion, plays to his strengths as a 2/3 and suggests a role which I think he will be more comfortable with. I’m certainly going to enjoy watching what RJ is this season instead of worrying about what he’s not.

  • IUMIKE1

    Agree, plus I’m wondering if, at this early point, it’s not just a case of him still chiseling off the effects of last season. Also, when you have played in one type of system as long as had, he may very well need a little longer than some of the others for all the little things that are different, to become automatic.

    I agree on the, ” has to earn it ” topic though. I think Archie is going to give him every opportunity to get to where he needs to be, but like you said if he just can’t get to that point, for whatever reason, different options have to be explored. Think DG & CJ’s play going forward will be factoring into how long he gets to where we need him to be.

  • cbags05

    Yes but it’s easier to keep a trend on track than to reverse it. I’m very nervous for RJ. Really hope he can find his confidence again.

  • Seconded, particularly the points on underrated and the need for a “switch” to be hit. The latter happens, the former will be proven true in time.

  • bball at nick’s

    Explain to me what you mean by “leadership role”, especially that you were arguing against that very concept as an abstraction with very little purchase (as recently as last year I think). I don’t think Archie or any of the coaches ever talked about RJ as a leader. I’m starting to think it’s an idea we ourselves imagined, tried to fit it to RJ, and concluded he can’t live up to it. I know you’ve talked about Devonte, for example, as a sort of go to guy when we need spark to get us back in a game or have us pull ahead decisively. But that’s what it is, not leadership in the sense we seem to be holding RJ up to.

  • bball at nick’s

    What do you see as his “problem”? Because I don’t see a problem. Maybe his problem is fan perceptions. Maybe if we chill and let his coach figure it out with him and not add that extra external noise, maybe that’s what the kid needs.

  • bball at nick’s

    I think he turned 39 today, LOL.

  • bball at nick’s

    He must have seen/heard something to make him go from “Kansas” to “Foggy”.

  • Maybe a girl friend? Ha, Ha. Could a current student check out that possibility?

  • IU4me

    Lot’s of different possibilities, and a down year is one of them, but I’ll be very surprised if he is not top 3 in pts and minutes. A big challenge, like the rest of the team, is to decrease turnovers, but Rob over the past 3 years has overall been a steady , do a little bit of everything guy. I don’t expect he’ll be a vocal leader, but as a senior think he’ll have his best year.

  • sarge

    I don’t think any of the guys on the squad have to worry about those things. It might be something personal, but as steady as this guy has been his entire career I doubt it is anything other than a shooting slump. He will always give it ?

  • millzy32

    I’m hoping he does this as a sixth man this year. That means someone else has stepped up to the starting rotation and even if RJ is better than last year he could fill a great role coming in as that sixth man of the year type in the B1G.

  • N71
  • VAHoosier

    I combed google last night looking for updates on Romeo’s visit to Kansas. All I got was a quote from Tim Langford saying it “went well.” Certainly seemed a bit more tepid than the reaction to the IU visit. But the KU expert’s change is certainly good news!

  • VAHoosier

    And he has demonstrated in the past that he can be an excellent defender. Though I worry about him, I really hope and think he will do very well in Archie’s system.

  • Notice the ha, ha?

  • IUMIKE1

    Don’t think I used the word “problem” any where in my comment. However, around the middle of last season or so he started to really struggle for some reason, FG %, turnovers, assist to TO ratio, etc etc. For whatever reason he didn’t seem to be able to claw his way out of it. The RJ that we were watching towards the end of last season is for sure not the RJ that we had become accustomed to seeing. In a way too early in the season observation, I would have to say that with as good as the rest of our guards seem to be playing, he may have to start looking over his shoulder, so to speak, to keep his number of minutes where they are justifiably at right now.

    I’m not saying that his minutes should be strongly looked at right now or even in the near future, but it is something that he has got to get straightened out, sooner rather than later. FWIW I think he will and we really need for him to as well.