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Johnny Davis's Scoring Versatility | The Friday Screener
Johnny Davis is off to one of the hottest starts in the country and has skyrocketed up draft boards. How is he scoring at such a high level?
Johnny Davis is making one of the most impressive sophomore season jumps in quite some time. As a freshman, Davis played 24 minutes a game but came off the bench in all 31 games. This season, though, Davis has adopted a prominent role for the Wisconsin Badgers on both ends of the floor. While Davis is a resolute defender, his most significant improvement has been his scoring versatility.
As a freshman, Davis was given very little freedom to operate as he averaged just over six shots per game and a usage rate below 18 percent. However, this season, Davis’s usage has skyrocketed, and the leash has been completely removed. So far this season, Davis is averaging 15.5 shots per game and a usage rate of 32.3. His scoring average has jumped by nearly 13 points per game, and he is recording a true shooting percentage of 56.2.
I know it is still early, but Davis’s second season leap is reminiscent of the one Donovan Mitchell made. I promise I’m not trying to grab headlines or make an outlandish comparison for the sake of it because I hate making comparisons, especially to players of Mitchell’s caliber. I know it’s still very early, but when you compare the numbers and playstyle, it isn’t as ridiculous as it initially seems.
If you think Davis’s scoring explosion is unsustainable, I won’t blame you for your doubt. What encourages me about it, though, is the variety in which he is scoring. Davis is knocking down outside jumpers, hitting floaters, cutting off-ball, posting up, and attacking the rim at a myriad of angles. Even though I wouldn’t be stunned if his scoring fell off some as they enter Big Ten play, as that will be the real test, I think this version of Davis is closer to reality than the outlier.
To properly understand Davis’s scoring versatility, let’s start from the outside and work our way in. Davis has always been reliable as an outside shooter but on relatively low volume. Davis has increased his outside shooting to 3.8 attempts per game on 40 percent, but his attempts are incredibly calculated.
There are two frames of thought with this. One is that Davis is incapable of creating space and is only a mediocre shooter. The other is that Davis is incredibly disciplined with his shot selection and won’t force bad outside shots. As someone who thrives in the gray zone, I think it’s a mix of both. Davis’s approach to the game and his shot selection are things I adore. However, I wish he would take more pull-up threes.
We have seen a few flashes of Davis attempting a step-back three, but until he is more comfortable with that shot, we won’t see much space creation from him on the perimeter. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that, for now. I would be surprised if Davis’s shooting numbers completely fell off because of how picky he is as a shooter. Per Synergy, Davis currently ranks in the 64th percentile in points per possession (PPP) shooting off the catch, but 60 percent of those attempts are when he is unguarded, which he ranks in the 82nd percentile on. Davis also ranks in the 76th percentile in PPP on all three-point jumpers. The ability is there, but Davis becoming a regular pull-up shooter from outside will be a slow burn as he is much more comfortable shooting off the catch.
The real magic of Davis’s scoring game happens inside the arc, though, as he is incredibly comfortable operating in the mid-range. So far this season, Davis is currently scoring 1.071 PPP (88th percentile) on mid-range jumpers. I know the mid-range isn’t sexy and is now considered a bad shot, especially for guards, but that is only if you’re bad at it. Go take a look at Devin Booker and Chris Paul and try to tell me they shouldn’t shoot in the mid-range.
While Davis doesn’t show a ton of space creation from outside, he shows plenty in the mid-range. Here, Davis forces his defender to flip his hips to turn and chase after a quick first step. Since the defender is larger than him, Davis knows a layup likely isn’t the best option. Davis stops on a dime, dribbles behind his back, shakes his defender, and knocks down the jumper.
Davis is more comfortable with the step-back in the mid-range, but what is incredibly impressive about his mid-range pull-up arsenal is his ability to get to his spot and immediately elevate. It is a skill some of the best mid-range scorers have, and they pick their spot, have the strength to get there, and elevate before the defender can get a strong contest.
Here, Davis runs off the dribble handoff (DHO) and immediately eyes the free throw line as his spot. Davis shrugs off the forearm bump from the defender with ease and takes two more dribbles. Without hesitation, Davis elevates and knocks down the jumper.
Again, Davis doesn’t do anything overly flashy, but he is incredibly effective with his movement. After taking one dribble, Davis knows he can’t turn the corner on his defender. Instead of barreling his way to the rim, Davis changes his spot to the elbow. He takes one additional dribble and elevates. By the time the defender gets a hand in Davis’s face, the shot has already been released.
The mid-range is only an inefficient shot for players who are deficient in that area. It is now a zone that we typically don’t see players master until they are older because it is easier for defenders to body them off their spot and contest shots. Davis, however, has the strength to get to his spots and the explosiveness to catch defenders off guard with his quick elevation.
Davis’s explosiveness also makes him an interesting at-rim finisher. For starters, he can do stuff like this which is incredibly fun.
More importantly, though, Davis has shown an improved level of craft, creativity, and contact manipulation. This season, Davis’s free throws per game have jumped from 1.4 to 5.8. This improvement directly results from Davis being more aggressive, stronger, and more creative as an at-rim finisher. Davis isn’t trying to just dunk on everyone on every possession but instead works the angles to find the most effective way to finish. We saw Davis finish with force at the rim, but his improved ability to utilize angles and finish with floaters is not only encouraging for his future scoring ability, but it is also a sign of sustainable scoring.
Davis isn’t an elite ball-handler, but he is crisp and direct with his movements, which is then aided by his quick first step. Here, Davis gets his defender leaning towards the screen before quickly crossing over and denying the screen. Instead of dunking on or finishing through the help defender, Davis sees the space towards the right block. As Davis attacks, he quickly splits the double and finishes with a reverse layup.
Even though Davis avoided finishing through contact above, it doesn’t mean he is averse to it. I already pointed out Davis’s improved free throw attempts, but his improved strength and ability to finish through contact is a sign of meaningful change.
Here, Davis uses his adept off-ball movement to create space before attacking. A strong rip-through followed by a quick first step allows Davis to get a step on his defender. Davis drives hard to the left side of the lane, enabling him to beat the help defenders collapsing on him. Davis elevates between the help defenders, absorbs the contact, extends with his off-hand, and finishes with a velvety soft touch.
Even when Davis is incapable of getting to the rim, he still has tools in his never-ending Batman-Esque scoring toolbelt. Many young players struggle to score in the intermediate area because they lack the touch and/or body control to do so, while Davis is rather adept at both.
We saw Davis’s soft touch off the glass with his off-hand layup, but that touch also consistently shows itself on his floaters, as we can see here. Davis uses a quick jab step that sends his defender a step to the side and creates a lane towards the middle of the floor. The defender has superior length, so he can recover if Davis attacks the rim. Davis knows this, so he instead attacks the middle of the paint to finish with an off-hand floater.
The absurd floater with his weaker hand rightfully gets the applause here, but Davis also did something incredibly subtle to make this shot easier for himself. After Davis plants his right foot, he elevates almost straight up in the air. This extraordinary body control is crucial because it gives him a little extra space from the defender, and it kills his momentum, which would otherwise affect the force on his floater.
Again, we see Davis’s stellar combination of touch and body control. Davis hop-steps into the lane and almost seems surprised by the help defender. Davis somehow maintains his balance without traveling and has the awareness to pivot and knock down a floater that barely touches the net.
Davis has consistently proven that he can get to the rim out of various situations. He can create out of the pick-and-roll, attack in isolation, and cut off-ball. Most of these situations are buoyed by the threat of his outside shooting. Defenders currently respect Davis’s outside shot, as they should, but if that changes, Davis’s at-rim scoring may see a sharp decline. Even if it hurts Davis’s shooting numbers some, he needs to improve his willingness to pull-up from three, or else the situations like we see below will become much more difficult.
Finally, if you were turned off by Davis’s proclivity of mid-range scoring, then you’ll really hate this. Davis is an excellent post-up scorer. It’s ok; you can take a minute to compose yourself. The year is 2021, and one of the best scoring guards in the country is an excellent post scorer. What a wild world we live in. Davis is so good at posting up that he ranks in the 72nd percentile in PPP on post-ups. Not only is that an incredibly impressive ranking for a 6’5 guard, but it is also absurd that he even qualifies to be ranked.
Wisconsin constantly runs post-ups for Davis by setting a backscreen for him and then having him make a 45 cut to the opposite block. Davis is comfortable passing out of these situations, but he is also oddly comfortable executing post moves, as we can see here. Davis takes a few crab dribbles, spins back over his right shoulder, and finishes through the contact.
It isn’t wildly sexy, but Davis’s post-game will be an effective tool in the NBA. He can take advantage of mismatches and attack his defender in ways they likely aren’t used to defending. It obviously won’t be something he utilizes regularly, but it will be an excellent safety net.
Johnny Davis’s scoring game is an odd mix of old school and new school. He loves to operate with surgical precision in the mid-range while also finding creative ways to finish at the rim. Davis’s improved strength makes him difficult to knock off his spot and allows him to finish regularly through contact at the rim. Davis has been successful as an outside shooter, but the volume is low, and the attempts are mostly safe. Davis showing a more versatile attack from outside would be welcomed, but even if he doesn’t, his effective, methodical approach makes him one of the best scoring guards in the 2022 NBA Draft class.