Johnny Furphy is a Lottery Pick Hiding in Plain Sight
The NBA is a wings league, and Johnny Furphy's combination of shooting, rebounding, size, athleticism, and defense is making him one of the most intriguing wings in the 2024 NBA Draft.
January is always a fascinating time in the basketball world. The dust from the early season chaos is settling, sample sizes are becoming more legitimate, and teams are figuring out their rotations. In the draft world, this is typically the time when we start to see previously uninvited guests start to crash the party. Over the last month, there hasn’t been a prospect who has capitalized more on their opportunity than Kansas Jayhawks freshman Johnny Furphy.
Coming into this season, Furphy was a bit of a surprise as he reclassified and signed with Kansas. Furphy had built a solid reputation in Australia as a solid shooter, versatile wing, and explosive athlete. Furphy, who just turned 19 on January 1st, looked like he could quickly add some much-needed size, athleticism, and shooting to a Kansas roster that was relatively devoid of wing depth.
At the start of the year, Kansas, like every other team, was still workshopping their rotations. Furphy was getting occasional opportunities, but going into 2024, he only had three games where he played over 15 minutes, all of which came in their first four games. Since the turn of the new year, the 6’9” 202-pound wing has played more than 15 minutes in all but one game and more than 30 minutes in each of their last five games.
The raw numbers with Furphy still aren’t overwhelming as he’s averaging 8.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, and 0.9 stocks per game with shooting splits of 52.3/40.8/70. While those raw numbers may not scream NBA wing, Furphy’s tendencies, process, and efficiencies certainly do. His numbers are currently incredibly impressive and subject to revert, but everything Furphy does feels replicable. It also mirrors a few prospects we’ve seen who have had plenty of success in the NBA. Before even looking at the numbers, Furphy’s tape, decision-making, and play style are eerily reminiscent of two lethal shooting wings, but we’ll get to those comps in a second.
So far this season, Furphy has an effective field goal rate of 67.2, a three-point percentage of 42.6, and is attempting 10.9 threes per 100 possessions. That shooting volume and efficiency also is arriving in an NBA body. The only other players to have hit those benchmarks from a true high major conference while being at least 6’9” are… well, it’s nobody. This doesn’t mean that Furphy is the greatest scorer the world has ever seen. It means that the query is flawed, so let’s adjust.
Furphy’s size is legitimate and a huge selling point, so let’s keep that filter at 6’9”. Additionally, his three-point percentage and volume are relatively in line with who he was coming into this season and who he’ll project to be in the NBA, so let’s keep those at 40% and 10 attempts per 100 possessions. The real kicker is the effective field goal rate being set at 65. That’s an absurd rate for a wing and is surely the biggest beneficiary of his sample size. However, it doesn’t feel like an outlier, given his shot selection and decision-making. Let’s lower it to 60. Now we have an interesting list that just so happens to contain two of the names I teased earlier: Trey Murphy and Cam Johnson.
Both of those players have proven to be legitimate NBA starting wings with tremendous versatility on both ends of the floor. Every time I watch Furphy, I can’t help but seeing the Trey Murphy we saw at Virginia. It’s a lofty comparison given Murphy’s early success and impact, but it doesn’t feel that outlandish when we pair the numbers with the tape, which we’ll do shortly.
However, in an attempt to further widen the pool for comparisons and not completely turn you off with my excitement, let’s further adjust our query by lowering the height requirement to a minimum of 6’8”. When we do, we get another pool that includes plenty of success stories.
All of Furphy’s current numbers align with this entire group. It’s an archetype that is sought after in the NBA and finds plenty of success without needing to be ball-dominant. Even looking past the initial filters, we can see that Furphy’s rebounding rates are some of the best from this group, his defensive metrics are right in the middle, and his free throw rate is towards the top. Oh, and he’s the only freshman in this conversation (also shoutout Alex Karaban who deserves more love than he’s getting). Furphy isn’t an on-ball creation wizard, but he impacts the game on a myriad of levels.
Furphy plays an intoxicatingly simple brand of basketball. He takes what the defense gives him, plays within himself, constantly makes the right decision, and is almost always in the right place at the right time. That innate sense of situation combined with an NBA frame and athleticism, screams not only first-round talent but Top 10 talent. I know this may seem reactionary based on what’s deemed a small sample size of January, but the flashes were still there early in the year. Now that he’s getting a consistent opportunity, Furphy continues to show that he deserves to have his name toward the top of the list of wings in this year’s draft. So, how’s he doing it?
The main selling point with Furphy’s game is his off-ball shooting in a 6’9” body. Per Synergy, Furphy is scoring 1.37 points per possession (PPP) when spotting up (97th percentile), 1.26 PPP on all jumpers (94th percentile, and 1.22 PPP shooting off the catch (81st percentile). Furphy isn’t a traditional movement shooter in the Jordan Hawkins fashion where he’s sprinting off screens, but few players in the country move off ball as well as he does.
Furphy has some of the best spacing and floor awareness of anyone in this draft. He is constantly relocating to open pockets for threes and timing his cuts to perfection to create offensive rebounds or easy buckets at the rim. A beautiful compliment to his spacing recognition is his quick decision-making. The below clips may not seem like much, but Furphy’s movement is crucial. Whether he’s relocating to ensure proper spacing for the team or shifting to improve a passing lane for his teammate, Furphy consistently puts himself in position to be an outlet.
Furphy’s excellent timing and off-ball craft led to plenty of offensive rebounds. Here, Furphy is on the right wing while Kevin McCullar is taking a corner three. Furphy sees the shot go and waits for his defender to turn his back to watch the ball. Once Furphy’s defender turns, Furphy immediately crashes the glass and uses his size and athleticism to secure the rebound. From there, Furphy’s decision-making and processing speed shine as he immediately kicks it out to McCullar and relocates to the corner. As he’s relocating, Furphy remains shot ready and is rewarded with an open three.
This time, Furphy is on the left wing and is shot ready as the ball swings around the perimeter. Instead of pouting because he didn’t get the ball, Furphy uses the momentum of him lifting out of the corner to lose his defender and crash the glass as Hunter Dickinson puts up the three. Furphy’s timing on his movement allows him to get priority rebounding position and secure the loose ball. From there, Furphy wisely pulls it out and resets the offense. Instead of viewing his job as complete, Furphy remains shot ready in the corner. As DaJuan Harris comes off the KJ Adams screen, Furphy wisely sinks deeper into the corner as his defender digs at the ball. This subtle movement creates an even bigger shooting window while also increasing the distance the defender has to recover to where Furphy gets a clean look and knocks down the three.
Aside from offensive rebounds and open threes, Furphy also frees himself up for easy looks at the rim with his cutting in both the halfcourt and in transition. Here, West Virginia sets up in zone, and Furphy cuts from the left wing to the right corner. As he cuts, we can see him eagerly signaling to swing the ball to McCullar. Aside from wanting to make a play, Furphy immediately sees that they have a numbers advantage on that side of the floor. With the on-ball defender pressing that high, there are only two defenders to deal with McCullar, Furphy, and Dickinson (who is about to flash to the free throw line. As Furphy nears completion on his cut, he improvises and doesn’t go to the corner. Instead, since he sees that the entire zone is up around the free throw line, he settles in the dunker spot and is rewarded with an uncontested dunk.
This time in transition, Furphy yet again finds an open pocket of space as the defense fails to pick him up. As Kansas pushes in transition, Furphy properly fills his lane by sprinting to the corner. Instead of settling for a potential kick out, Furphy sneaks baseline behind the ball-watching defenders and is yet again rewarded with an easy bucket. Furphy currently ranks in the 73rd percentile with 1.211 PPP in transition. Quick decision-making and spatial recognition, as we see here, are a big reason why.
Furphy has a tremendous knack for putting himself in position to succeed with his off-ball movement, but the next evolution for him is going to be on the ball. Furphy is currently scoring 2.167 PPP as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, but he’s only had six possessions; 12 if we include passes which ranks in the 89th percentile with 1.083 PPP. Those numbers rock, but they’re also meaningless given the miniscule sample size. Furphy also has zero possessions in isolation, has taken five jumpers off the dribble, has taken three midrange shots, and has an assist rate of just 5.3.
These numbers are far from encouraging for a prospect if you’re taking him early in the first round. However, there are some simple explanations for it. First, Furphy’s handle is pretty mediocre. It isn’t bad, but he also isn’t a dynamic ball-handler at this point. To thrust him into an on-ball creation role would be ridiculous at this point. Second, and far more importantly, Kansas doesn’t need him to be that player. With a roster that has nearly all of the on-ball decision-making flowing through Harris, McCullar, Adams, and Dickinson, Furphy just needs to be a reliable play finisher. Of course, it would be delightful if Furphy started initiating the offense, but we’re never going to see that from him at Kansas because they don’t need him to do that.
What will be a more crucial test, though, is how Furphy adapts to being run off the line more consistently. His recent outburst will skyrocket him up scouting reports, so teams will know that they have to run him off the line. With a lot of knock down college shooters, this can be a death sentence as they are ill-prepared to adapt. While I have optimism that Furphy will be just fine given the flashes in transition, his quick decision-making, and his pre-college sample, we still don’t have proof of concept. Out of his 54 spot-up possessions, Furphy has taken a no-dribble jumper on 51 of them. Having optimism that he’ll be able to consistently attack closeouts is pure speculation, but the below example engenders optimism.
As Furphy receives the pass in the corner, he utilizes a subtle head fake that draws a hard closeout by the defender. Furphy decisively attacks baseline and gets the defender on his hip. Furphy’s quick decision-making creates a baseline drive that forces the help rotation by the opposing center, which in turn frees up a pocket of space in the lane for Dickinson. Furphy quickly recognizes the opportunity and shovels a pass in traffic to Dickinson who draws the shooting foul. It isn’t a play that shows up in the box score, but everything Furphy does here is decisive, the right decision, and what you hope to see from an off-ball shooter when they get run off the line.
Being a deadly shooter with size is enough to get you on an NBA roster. What truly separates the role players into legitimate starters, though, is what happens on the defensive end of the floor. Furphy is still a bit raw defensively as his footspeed isn’t always consistent, but he has shown far more than just flashes of terrific defense. With more experience and as his body continues to fill out, Furphy could be an excellent defender.
According to Sports Reference, Furphy currently has a steal rate of 1.8, a block rate of 0.9, a defensive box plus-minus of 1.8, and Kansas has a defensive rating of 97.8 when he’s on the floor. Remember that Murphy comp from earlier? Well, in his predraft season, Murphy had a steal rate of 1.8, a block rate of 1.8, a defensive box plus-minus of 2.4, and Virginia had a defensive rating of 102 with him on the floor. The similarities continue. Even if you’re not a fan of defensive metrics, which I can understand as I tend to lean more heavily on the tape for that end of the floor, the tape is highly impressive.
Here, Furphy is switched on to a smaller guard and defends him about as well as possible. Furphy closes out under control and in a low defensive stance. This allows him to quickly react to the ball-handler’s drive and smother it. Furphy absorbs the contact on the jump stop, is barely moved, and nearly gets the tie up, all without fouling. Even as the ball-handler pivots into the fade away, Furphy maintains his pressure and has a hand in the shooter’s face. The shot falls, but it is one you live with every single time.
This time, Furphy chases his man through the handoff to initially break it up. As Oklahoma resets, Furphy again chases over the screen and promptly recovers rim side to cut off the drive and allow Dickinson to recover to the roller. As he recovers, Furphy shows his upper body length and how effective his stride length and footwork is. As Otega Oweh spins back middle, Furphy’s sound footwork allows him to mirror Oweh’s movement and contest the tough floater.
While Furphy has shown plenty of competency defending on-ball, he’s also shown a proclivity of flowing effortlessly between reliable off-ball defense into suffocating on-ball defense. Furphy is an attentive helper, capable of jumping passing lanes, and an all-around disciplined defender.
Here, Furphy is again matched up with Oweh who isn’t much of a proven shooter, but he is a devastating slasher. As Oklahoma runs a high pick-and-roll, Furphy is in good position to help without being too far in the lane where he can’t recover to his man in the corner. As the ball kicks out, Furphy closes out under control and effortlessly moves his feet to cut off the baseline drive. Oklahoma resets and runs another high pick-and-roll, but this time to the opposite side. Now, Furphy has to help a bit more aggressively with the weak side tag on the roller. Furphy does so perfectly and again promptly recovers to his man on the kick out. As he closes out, Furphy does bite a little on the up fake, which creates a small window for Oweh to attack baseline. Since Furphy has tremendous footwork and NBA length, he stays glued to Oweh’s hip and forces the bad midrange miss.
Like most terrific defenders, Furphy often turns his stellar defense into easy offense in transition. Here, Furphy yet again does a great job of tagging the roller before closing out to his man under control. As the ball-handler attacks middle, Furphy stays with him before implementing his length to poke the ball away from behind. From there, it’s off to the races. Kansas immediately pushes in transition, and Furphy flares out to the left wing. As he crosses half-court, Furphy is already shot ready and looking for the ball. He does a great job of controlling his momentum, getting his feet set, and knocking down the open three.
This time, Furphy just capitalizes on a lazy pass. Furphy reads it the whole way and eagerly jumps the passing lane after the point guard’s initial hesitation. From there, Furphy uses his explosiveness and athleticism to finish with the big dunk.
NBA teams are constantly looking for size, shooting, defense, and rebounding. Johnny Furphy offers all of that. In a draft class that doesn’t have many highly touted wings, Furphy’s low-maintenance two-way versatility should continue to skyrocket him up boards. Furphy isn’t a sneaky athlete; he’s a terrific athlete who uses his explosiveness, size, and athleticism to impact the game on both ends in a way that few players in the 2024 NBA Draft are proving capable of doing. Even if his numbers cool off, I implore you to focus more on the process rather than the end result. As long as Furphy continues to play with quick decision-making, a high feel, and with that beautiful straightforwardness, he should be a lottery pick come draft time.