2021-2022 Player Profile: Xavier Johnson
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 2021-22 Indiana roster. Today, our player profiles continue with a look at senior Xavier Johnson.
Indiana’s point guard competition added a third participant last spring when the Hoosiers landed a commitment from Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson.
Johnson, who left the Panthers program following a 79-72 loss at home to Florida State on Feb. 20, put up solid numbers over 84 games in the ACC.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 13.7 points, 4.9 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 31.4 minutes per game at Pitt. While the scoring numbers certainly stand out, Johnson’s playmaking ability and effectiveness in transition are the best traits of his game.
Over 18 games last season, Johnson led the ACC in assist rate in conference play at 41.5 percent and he ranked fifth nationally for the season with an assist rate of 42.3 percent. During his freshman season, Johnson was second in the ACC in assist rate and he ranked fifth in the league in assist rate as a sophomore.
Indiana lacked a playmaker last season as Rob Phinisee struggled with his confidence and Khristian Lander, who moved up a class to enroll early in college, wasn’t ready to contribute in a meaningful way as a freshman. Facilitating for teammates is a role that Indiana assistant Dane Fife envisions Johnson filling for the Hoosiers.
“We need Xavier to make sure that he’s the guy that gets to the paint and kicks it out,” Fife said last spring. “Gets guys open shots or gets Trayce easy baskets. Gets Rob Phinisee a step in three where his hips are already square to the basket.”
Johnson’s effectiveness in transition could be also transformative for the Indiana offense.
As a junior at Pitt, more than 25 percent of his offensive possessions were in transition and he scored 1.197 points per possession on the break. That figure was in the 78th percentile nationally, according to Synergy Sports.
The two key questions Johnson has to answer involve his perimeter shooting and his ability to lead a winning team.
Woodson termed Johnson a “streaky” shooter in a press conference in late May and his numbers suggest he has work to do with his 3-point shot.
Johnson is a career 33.6 percent 3-point shooter and he shot a career-worst 32.1 percent from distance last season at Pittsburgh. He scored just .755 points per possession on spot-up shots, which was only in the 29th percentile nationally per Synergy Sports.
As for his ability to lead a winning team, it’s something Johnson has yet to do consistently as a college player. Pittsburgh struggled for three seasons with Johnson at point guard and while it’s never fair to lay the blame at the feet of one player, he did acknowledge over the summer that he has work to do in terms of keeping his composure.
“Honestly, just to just keep my head on and not let the refs take me out of the game,” Johnson said in the Bahamas. “Because that’s one thing I had in the past and what I want to take away while I’m here.”
Bottom Line: Johnson started at point guard in the Bahamas and appears to have a leg up on Phinisee and Lander in the battle for the spot. While Phinisee has just as much experience as Johnson, the Pittsburgh transfer has been the more productive college player and has been an elite playmaker at times in college. While the lack of 3-point shooting in his game and high turnovers (3.6 on average per game for his career) create some questions, Johnson is an excellent transition player who should allow the Hoosiers to push the pace. He should also give Indiana a reliable second or third scorer on the floor behind Trayce Jackson-Davis, which should create a more well-rounded offense in Woodson’s first season.
Quotable: “He is a high-intensity player who brings tremendous energy on both ends of the floor. He has a presence about himself that translates into his ability to provide leadership in a key role. He especially flourishes in transition where he can create for himself and his teammates.” – Woodson on Johnson and his potential impact for the Hoosiers.