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Dakari Johnson is a Surefire Big off the Bench

All year long the Kentucky Wildcats have been synonymous with the NBA draft. With seven players declaring for the draft and at least five potential first round picks, the team was the toast of March Madness and is now the focus of NBA scouts and executives. The Kentucky players are coveted because of their superior skills, immense talent, and endless potential, but it’d be foolish to clump them all into the same category.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles are all high upside picks, with it likely costing a lottery pick to snag any of them. The late first round is made up of mostly contending teams with less talent and upside on the board, leaving teams to draft NBA ready players.

That’s where Dakari Johnson comes in.

Johnson has become somewhat of an afterthought of a Kentucky team that was hardly ever overlooked. Of the seven Kentucky players in the draft, Johnson played the least minutes, playing only 16.3 minutes per game. The Wildcats were loaded with talent, justifiably leaving Johnson as a role player. Luckily for him, it’s the same role he’ll need to play in the NBA—maybe even right off the bat.

Johnson definitely has the size to play in the league, standing at 7’0” tall, 265 pounds, and he certainly knows to use it to his advantage. He’s a big, brute force that likes to bang inside, snatch offensive rebounds and finish over and threw defenders.

March 19, 2015: Kentucky Wildcats center Dakari Johnson (44) during a second-round NCAA Tournament game between the Hampton University Pirates and the University of Kentucky Wildcats at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY.

According to Hoop-Math, Johnson shot 64.0% at the rim and his free throws drawn per field goal attempt was an astounding 92.3%, as he drew 3.7 free throws on just 4.0 field goal attempts per game. He also improved his free throw percentage from 44.7% to 62.5% this season.

Johnson averaged 15.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per 40 minutes, and per Sports-Reference, finished third in PER (22.3), third in usage percentage, second in rebound percentage on Kentucky. In short minutes he did his job, cleaning up the glass and providing instant offense.

He’s shown some post skills, using his wide frame to seal off defenders and hit the occasional hook shot, but playing on an offense that liked to spread the wealth, he didn’t post up nearly enough and he’ll need to prove he could do it more consistently.

He was also a non-factor in the NCAA tournament this year, playing just 8 minutes in both the Elite 8 and Final Four, failing to score in either game. He played a much more prominent role in last year’s tournament run, scoring 15 points against Louisville, 8 points against Michigan, and 10 points against Wisconsin en route to the National Championship game. He’s shown the acumen to contribute in big games, which he could have to do in his rookie season.

If the playoffs have taught us anything this year, it’s that injuries can happen at any time, and even the most obscure, unlikely players may be called upon. I don’t think anyone expected Matthew Dellavedova to start a Finals game and hit the game-winning free throws in his sophomore season, but he had to step up with Kyrie Irving sidelined.

For the Warriors, it was sophomore Festus Ezeli getting important minutes off the bench when Andrew Bogut was in foul trouble, a role similar to what Johnson could be playing very soon.

Johnson won’t be thrust into stardom anytime soon, but he’ll provide a dependable 15-20 minutes a game without taking anything away from his teammates. It won’t hurt to cut down on his 14.9% body fat and he might not be sharpest tool in the shed (it look him five minutes to solve how many pennies are in a million dollars), but he’s still only 19. Try finding another player at his age that’s more NBA ready at the end of the first round.

Here’s my Top 30 Big Board. I’ll continue to update it in my draft articles leading into the NBA Draft on June 25.

  1. D’Angelo Russell
  2. Karl-Anthony Towns
  3. Jahlil Okafor
  4. Justise Winslow
  5. Emmanuel Mudiay
  6. Kristaps Porzingis
  7. Myles Turner
  8. Kevon Looney
  9. Stanley Johnson
  10. Mario Hezonja
  11. Willie Cauley-Stein
  12. Devin Booker
  13. Jerian Grant
  14. Frank Kaminsky
  15. Tyus Jones
  16. Delon Wright
  17. Cameron Payne
  18. Kelly Oubre
  19. J. Hunter
  20. Montrezl Harrell
  21. Sam Dekker
  22. Bobby Portis
  23. Trey Lyles
  24. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  25. Dakari Johnson
  26. Christian Wood
  27. Rashad Vaughn
  28. Justin Anderson
  29. Pat Connaughton
  30. George De Paula (complete wildcard)

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