March 20, 2016
2016 Free Agent Profile: 6’4” 186 lbs, Age 24 (2016-17), Restricted
After going undrafted out of Fresno State in 2014, Tyler Johnson proved himself in summer league and in the D-League before making the most of his opportunity with the Heat. In Miami, Johnson has become a key contributor off the bench, averaging 12.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per 36 [in 22 minutes per game] over parts of the past two seasons.
Tyler Johnson is best known for his highlight-reel dunks showcasing uncommon explosiveness and finishing ability for his size, yet he is a much more complete player than many realize. He has become an efficient and remarkably versatile scorer, combining drives to the rim and put backs with floaters and a consistent jumper both off the dribble and off the catch. He still needs to refine his decision-making with the ball in his hands, and his size will always be a detriment to some extent defensively, but with his athleticism, skill level, and fierce competitive nature, Johnson stands out as one of the most intriguing young free agents on the market.
Physical Tools: Explosiveness, Agility, Quick Hands
Using his 32-inch no-step vertical leap, Johnson elevates quickly to finish in the paint, grab rebounds, and contest shots.
He’s elusive both on and off the ball. Defenders struggle to stay in front of him & prevent good looks, as Johnson changes direction well, especially on dribble drives. He has excellent body control adjusting in the air to evade shot blockers.
Defensively Johnson has active hands with excellent reflexes. He frequently deflects passes & alters shots in the lane (1.4 steals & 0.6 blocks per 36 for his career).
Johnson creates own shot with ease. He possesses a tight handle and a quick release shooting off the dribble. He also utilizes a hesitation dribble to great effect. The majority of his 2-point field goals are unassisted.
Johnson has uncommon finishing ability for his size. As an explosive leaper with the agility to maneuver around rim protectors, Johnson maintains body control in the air and finishes through contact. His 1.25 PPP around the basket places him in the 83rd percentile.
He’s extremely versatile as a scorer. He excels across the spectrum of shot types and play types in the half court, including above-average efficiency from all 5 shot distance categories on basketball-reference.
Jump Shooting / playing off the ball
Johnson has a smooth, confident shooting stroke even under duress: 1.07 PPP on Jumpers (87th percentile); 0.96 PPP with short shot clock (85th percentile); 1.14 PPP on guarded Catch & Shoot.
He’s very comfortable and effective off the ball. Johnson spots up around the arc, sets screens, runs around screens, and dives to the rim. He ranks in the 95th percentile or better off cuts, screens, and hand offs.
Johnson hustles on defense. He won’t give up on a play when beaten off the dribble. Rather than slowing down, he chases after the ball handler or darts into the passing lane. His outstanding recovery ability leads to blocks and steals.
Johnson also crashes the offensive glass & fights for loose balls. His career rebound rate (4.7 per 36; 7.5 TRB%) places him in the top 15% among guards, comparable to Ricky Rubio or Victor Oladipo.
After not being recruited by any major college program and then going undrafted despite his strong senior year at Fresno State, Johnson plays with a chip on his shoulder. He feels the need to prove he belongs as a result of being overlooked by college & pro scouts.
Physical Tools: Size
Johnson is smaller than a conventional shooting guard: 6’2” without shoes, 6’6” wingspan, 8’2” standing reach, 186 pounds. Many opposing wings can shoot over him comfortably. Since Johnson struggles to effectively contest shots from a stationary position, he often feels compelled to jump at the shooter, leaving him vulnerable to pump fakes.
He’s also abused by bigger players in the post, who seal him off and bump him aside after the catch. Johnson struggles to deny deep post position without fouling. His 1.2 PPP allowed places him in the 3rd percentile, and 35% of opposing possessions lead to free throws.
Decision-Making as Lead Guard
Johnson tends to play out-of-control with greater freedom to operate as a ball handler. This is most apparent in Transition (0.78 PPP = 8th percentile; 19.4% turnover rate).
As a lead ball handler, Johnson demonstrates a preference for the spectacular play over safer and smarter alternatives. Too often he tries to thread the needle with a bullet pass or lob.
Value / Recommendation
Tyler Johnson is a combo guard in the complimentary sense of the term. With his quickness, agility, shot creation, and shooting ability, he possesses most of the traits associated with the point guard and shooting guard positions, and he’s an acceptable defender at either position, especially as lineups trend smaller. Although he doesn’t always make the best decisions while running an offense, decision-making typically improves with experience, and Johnson never really played the point in college. I expect Johnson will continue to improve his pure PG skills, particularly his assist rate and AST/TO ratio, as his career moves forward.
At present, a team should not rely on Johnson to assume the lion’s share of the ball handling duties when he is in the lineup, but rather he should function as a secondary or co-lead ball handler with substantial opportunity to contribute off the ball as well.
Johnson is a restricted free agent, and as such the Heat have the right to match any offer. His cap hold is minimal ($1,180,431), so Miami has no incentive to renounce his rights even as they seek to re-sign Wade and add another star with their cap space.
Johnson’s free agency is further complicated by the fact that he satisfies the conditions of the “Gilbert Arenas” rule [See CBA Article XI, Section 5(c) (“The following rules shall govern the signing of an Offer Sheet by a Restricted Free Agent who has one (1) or two (2) Years of Service . . . “) (pp. 235-36); see also Larry Coon FAQ #45]. As a restricted free agent with only two years of service, Johnson cannot receive more than the Mid-Level Exception ($5.628M) in Year 1 of his next contract. He is then limited to a 4.5% raise in Year 2 ($5.881M) before becoming eligible for the standard max salary in Year 3. Assuming a $92M cap, his Year 3 max should be roughly $23.5M [Barring application of the Arenas provision, his Year 1 max would be roughly $21.6M, not $23M (25% of $92M) as commonly understood. Maximum player salaries and the team salary cap are based on different BRI calculations. Compare CBA Article II, Section 7(f) with CBA Article VII, Section 2(a) (pp. 33, 111)].
Any team extending an offer sheet will be charged the average salary of the deal annually for cap purposes, whereas the Heat could match using the Early Bird exception rather than cap space and be charged the actual contract payouts, starting with the MLE next season.
In terms of market value, I have identified Cory Joseph as a free agent comp. Joseph signed a 4-year, $30 million deal with the Raptors last summer following his age-23 season (the final year is a player option). Joseph is very similar to Johnson physically—standing 6’2” without shoes to go along with a 6’5.5” wingspan and 8’3” standing reach, weighing 190 lbs—and Joseph’s production at the same age mirrored Tyler Johnson’s almost across the board (see Appendix I). Joseph undeniably is a more polished distributor, with an AST/TO ratio consistently hovering around 3:1, though his outside shot has never been as much of a weapon.
CJ McCollum is another notable comp even though he has not yet signed a free agent contract or rookie extension. McCollum’s first two years in the league were remarkably similar to Johnson’s at the same age, with McCollum a more prolific 3-point shooter and Johnson holding a slight edge in most other areas (see Appendices I and II). On the combo guard spectrum from point guard (pass-first) to shooting guard (pure scorer), Tyler Johnson fits somewhere between Joseph’s and McCollum’s skill sets.
Using Joseph’s contract as a guide and factoring in 20%-50% inflation, Johnson can expect to sign for $36M to $45M over 4 years, or perhaps even slightly more considering that Joseph’s deal contains a player option. It is conceivable that some team will offer Johnson his 3-year max of approximately $35 million, in much the same way that the Rockets pursued Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, thereby forcing the Heat to commit to paying Johnson like a true max player in 2018-19 in order to keep him and maintain their cap space this summer.
Considering the strong likelihood that Miami would prefer to use an exception as opposed to cap space to match, every extra dollar per year on a 4-year offer sheet adds two dollars to Johnson’s annual cap hit in Years 3 and 4 from Miami’s perspective. For example, with Johnson set to earn about $11.5M total over the next two seasons under the Arenas rule, a 4-year, $9M/year offer will cost the Heat $12.25M/year in Years 3 and 4, compared to $16.25M/year in Years 3 and 4 to match an $11M/year offer over the same period. Given that Miami strives to remain a viable destination for top-tier free agents, the idea of allocating the latter amount of cap room to Johnson in future years could be unpalatable.
An annual salary in the $9M-$11M+ range may seem like a reach for an undrafted player with such a short NBA track record, but keep in mind that $11M is just 10% of the salary cap after next season. It’s the equivalent of a $5M-$6M a year deal signed in the 2014 off-season or prior, taking into account the cap increase and rookie-scale stagnation. Also, one of Johnson’s comps, CJ McCollum, has taken a significant step forward in terms of his ball handling and usage this year at age 24, such that his next contract likely will be in the $20M/year range. Whether Johnson will make a similar leap is unknown, but if his progression comes anywhere close to McCollum’s third year development, his upcoming contract may quickly look like a bargain.
Cory Joseph 2014-15 v. Tyler Johnson 2015-16 v. CJ McCollum 2014-15
Tyler Johnson v. CJ McCollum: First Two Years / Through Age 23
Per 100 Possessions
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