2016-2017 Player Profile: Robert Johnson

  • 10/26/2016 6:47 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’re taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster this month. Today, we continue our look at Indiana’s roster with Robert Johnson.

If Indiana is going to overcome the significant loss of Yogi Ferrell in its backcourt, junior guard Robert Johnson will be a major reason why.

As the Hoosiers are discussed and written about nationally in the preseason, the three names that come up most often are Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr.

In a way, Johnson is the forgotten man. He’s not on any preseason award lists, but he’s an essential piece on the roster because of his ability, experience and leadership.

Last season as a sophomore, the Richmond (Va.) native started 22 of the 30 games he appeared in, but missed five of the team’s final seven games. Johnson injured his ankle in a 77-73 win over Purdue on Feb. 20 and then re-injured himself in Indiana’s NCAA tournament win over Kentucky. He subsequently missed IU’s Sweet Sixteen loss to North Carolina as a result.

While it’s not fair to argue that Johnson would have changed the outcome against the Tar Heels, his absence was a clear blow to a Hoosier backcourt rotation that lacked depth.

Johnson’s sophomore season was one of major growth as he improved in several key metrics. His 3-point shooting percentage improved from 38.8 percent as a freshman to 44.7 percent in his second season. His turnover rate dropped by 1.5 percentage points. His assist rate grew by five percent.

Following offseason surgery on his ankle, Johnson is back to 100 percent health.

As Indiana’s best returning defender on the perimeter, he’ll be tasked with guarding some of the country’s elite guards. And with Ferrell’s departure, he’ll also be expected to handle the ball more often. With that responsibility, his decision making must continue to improve.

Along with newcomer Josh Newkirk and James Blackmon Jr., who are both returning from injuries as well, Johnson will be a part of Indiana’s committee approach to the point guard position. Given how Indiana’s offense is focused on moving the ball and spacing, having a defined point guard isn’t essential.

What is essential, however, is having the right leadership in the backcourt and Johnson appears ready to step forward and fill at least part of what Ferrell vacated with his graduation. As someone who is viewed as a leader in the program, Johnson has a voice that will resonate in the locker room when he speaks.

When you pair the leadership piece with a work ethic that continues to drive improvement, it’s not hard to see why Johnson is one of Indiana’s most important players on the 2016-2017 roster.

Bottom Line: Johnson should return to Indiana’s starting lineup, which is where he’s been for most of his first two seasons in Bloomington. There will be an adjustment period for him playing without Ferrell, who justifiably had the ball in his hands a lot in Johnson’s first two seasons. As a junior, Johnson should have the opportunity to create more for his teammates while also aggressively seeking out more shots within the flow of the offense.

Quotable: “What has to happen now is those guys have got to learn from what they missed. They’ve got to take those next steps of confidence that come from doing it time and time again. They’ve got to not only do it, they’ve got to bring leadership to the younger guys.” – Tom Crean on Johnson and Blackmon Jr. as they return from missing time this offseason into leadership roles as upperclassmen.

Previously: Devonte Green, Grant Gelon, Curtis Jones, De’Ron Davis, Juwan Morgan, OG Anunoby, Thomas Bryant, Josh Newkirk, Freddie McSwain

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  • sarge

    One of the most underrated players in the country. This guy has the ability to be great on both ends of the floor. I thought losing him last year was a huge loss for our team and definitely affected our team defense immediately. His defense, particularly in the Purdue game, was amazing and he disrupted them from getting anything easy inside by helping in the post with great recovery to his man. I expect him to be a better shooter and ball handler, as well as gaining a reputation as a lockdown defender. I have always thought that he was very unselfish offensively as well as a team first leader. I would have loved to have seen this kid against UNC last year, but fortunately he will get another shot at the tar heels this season.

  • TomJameson

    I know RJ is a Junior, and has already established that he is a good all-around player (maybe the best “all-around” player on the team), but IMO RJ can very easily have what I think of as a break-out year. I just think he is going to amaze some people, especially those that are falling asleep on him.

  • pcantidote

    I think we are going to be amazing this year if we stay healthy, especially RJ and JBJ.

  • I am Baby Cakes

    I have released my preseason Top 25 for the year. The picture is in order left to right. I have Indiana starting out 9th. And teams that we play out of conference starting in the top ten as well. Kansas at 2. North Carolina at 5. Louisville at 10. For other B1G schools, I have Wisconsin at 11, Michigan State at 13, Purdue at 15 and Maryland at 18.

  • BL4IU

    If RJ is healthy, I could easily see him being our floor general, averaging 12 points and 5+ assists per game, and being a lock down defender. He’ll definitely take it to another level with more touches. Only caveat, we appear to have five guards that can play. Until Coach settles into a starting unit and rotations, no way to how many minutes RJ will play. Notwithstanding, RJ will be awesome.

  • Fifer39

    Well said sarge. So disappointing thinking back to how banged up we were at the end of last year. Terrible for RJ and for the whole team not having a fair crack at UNC – and beyond. Of the PG ‘committee’, if that’s how it’s gonna work out, I expect RJ to be the key guy.

  • Arch Puddington

    Neither he nor anyone else will have the same command of the ball as Yogi, but LOTS of point guards don’t have that. The big thing a PG has to do, at least offensively, is serve as that unmistakable center of gravity the team revolves around. Even in a so-called positionless offense, somebody has to be not only a primary ballhandler, but the guy who stands up during crunch time. I think RJ can be that guy. Even if he never quite breaks down a defense off the dribble like Yogi, I think he will shoot well, defend well, and be very effective at attacking the lane. I don’t know enough about Newkirk to compare, but my early sense is that RJ is ready to step up as our lead guy.

  • BL4IU

    Yes, after four years of Yogi, seems like everyone now exclusively pictures a PG as a small, quick guy. Big PG’s can be just as successful, they just do it differently (e.g. Valentine). Like small, quick guards, big guards also have unique advantages. For example, RJ can handle it and he has the length to take it to the rack or rise up and get his with a defender in his face.

    Appears JN will also be effective. Darn, too many good guards ?

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    Between RJ and JN, we may have the one of the most powerful backcourts in the country. If there was a tag team arm wrestling championship for guards, I’d put money on these two.

  • HoosierStuckInKY

    I agree with RJ being underrated. His defense alone will play an important role this year. I personally cannot wait until the RJ vs. Trimble matchup.

  • IdahoHoosier

    Thanks? This looks suspiciously like the USA Today Coaches Poll with minor changes. Also this area is for comments related to RJ.

  • I am Baby Cakes

    The AP Poll will also look like the Coaches poll with minor changes.

  • IdahoHoosier

    Ok. Then thanks for sharing what we’ve already seen on 10 polls.

  • inLinE6

    Not taking credit away from Marcus Paige, but were Johnson not injured, he may not get all those shots in or take as many 3-pointers in the first couple mins. We lost big time on perimeter defense in that game.

  • Bruce Clark

    Then bring in Green to spell RJ :). TC has done a great job at putting together a deep and experienced team. We can come at teams many different ways, from a 3 guard lineup to one with TB, Davis, OG and Morgan.

    Very much looking forward to seeing us vs. Kansas.

  • Alan H

    Blackmon and Johnson are they keys to this season. If they play well on both sides of the ball and stay healthy then this team has a chance to a top 10 team. Our top 6 of the 3 guards coupled with OG, Morgan and Bryant can compete athletically with anyone. I also think RJ has the chance to be this year’s Oladipo.

  • I agree with this 100%. Paige was not that kind of shooter all year, and him hitting three threes so quickly really screwed up the game plan. I don’t think he would have had those opportunities had RJ been defending him.

  • Can’t forget JBJ. He’ll be in there with either RJ or JN, and either way that will be a killer backcourt.

  • Spooky

    .. Says the ITH comment police.

  • TJauburn

    This kid totally understands the game in depth at both ends of the floor . Leads by example . Will do whatever it takes to win and is a unselfish team leader. all around coaches dream . We are not the same team without him on the floor.

  • TJauburn

    Has anyone heard anything about Kris Wilkes recruitment? CTC will be shut out in his own state if he goes to UCLA . Alford is on the hot seat there. Plus he is a great kid ,talent and character.

  • John D Murphy

    1. That is just a little rude.
    2. Would you expect he would have 20 different teams. That would be stupid.
    3. Your comment is as far off RJ as his is.

  • IdahoHoosier

    1. Yikes, relax. Just ragging on the guy who has ragged on me (and many others) in the past. Sarcasm doesn’t come across well in a forum.
    2. I’d expect something interesting or original if one bothers to post something random.
    3. And now so is yours.

  • Outoftheloop

    Robert is “Mr Smooth”! He does it all: score, shoot a high %, assist, defend, rebound, lead and he does it gracefully!