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Know the Prospect: Johnny Davis

He’s a Badger on both ends of the floor.

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

By my lights, and the lights of many, the most improved college player this season was Jonathan “Johnny” Davis (6’5”, 196 lbs), the shooting guard from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Big Ten Conference’s Player of the Year.

In Johnny’s freshman season, his defense was noteworthy, with 1.1 steals per game and a ninth-best defensive rating of 96.5, but his offensive production of seven points and four boards in about 24 reserve minutes per outing inspired no great acclaim. During his second term as a Big Ten baller, however, the 20-year-old took a giant, Coltrane-sized step.

In 2021-22, Davis started all 31 games. Among his Conference peers, Johnny ranked: first in defensive rebounds (214); second in field goal attempts (492); third in points per game (19.7) and free throws made (155); fifth in rebounds per game (8.2), total points (612), and free throw attempts (196); sixth in defensive rating (95.8); and so on. He averaged 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.3 turnovers, and shot 43% from the field, 31% from deep (on about four attempts per outing), and 80% from the charity stripe.

Insert obligatory highlight video here:

Indeed, horns aplenty were blown about this long-limbed cat who never recoiled from big moments and big shot opportunities. Insert the obligatory scroll of accolades here:

  • 2021-22 All-Big Ten - 1st Team
  • 2021-22 Big Ten Player of the Year
  • 2021-22 Consensus All-America - 1st Team
  • 2021-22 Naismith Award Finalists
  • 2021-22 Naismith Award Semifinalists
  • 2021-22 The Jerry West Award
  • 2021-22 Wooden Award - Finalists
  • 2021-22 Wooden Award - Late Season
  • 2021-22 Wooden Award - Midseason
  • 2021-22 Wooden Award - National Ballot

This gritty guard can get buckets, usually from the mid-range and post. He’s a playmaker with panache who can generate his own shots and works well in the pick-and-roll. Johnny glides past average dudes with his fast first foot and can match defensively with 1-through-4. But, don’t take my word for it. For analysis, I trust the excellent Tom Piccolo (@Tom_Piccolo), and here’s his assessment of the Badger:

As for Johnny’s shot distribution, 31% came at the rim, where he proved to be capable with either hand and converted 61%; 44% of his shots were two-point J’s (35% accuracy); and 25% of his shots were three-pointers, of which he averaged 31%.

When Iowa State knocked Wisconsin out of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, the game was a mixed bag for J.D. The Good: Davis posted some nice stats in the loss: 17 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, and shot 9-for-11 from the line. The Bad: Johnny shot 4-for-16 from the floor, 0-for-7 from three, logged only one assist, and coughed up the ball four times.

The Iowa State game wasn’t his only poor shooting performance of the year. Out of 31 games, Davis shot 40% or less from the field in 13 games, of which at least six or seven were stinkers. He’ll need to put shots up in the gym to broaden his range and should concentrate on his footwork to make his shooting form more consistent. Also, while he feasted on run-of-the-mill-yet-talented-enough-to-play-Division-I guys, he did falter against more athletic players. Experience, development, and coaching should help him over that hump.

I’ve seen him compared to Khris Middleton and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. For good reason, some prognosticators have predicted that Davis will be a top ten draftee, others say top five.

There are a few promising guards in this year’s draft class. I expect Davis to go off the board after Jaden Ivey and Shaedon Sharpe, and maybe before Benedict Mathurin and Malaki Branham. He has the potential to be an NBA star, has demonstrated a supreme work ethic, and, barring an unlikely regression, should find steady employment in the Association well into the 2030’s. A defensive-minded guard who can score is one of my favorite things, so I’d dance on my sofa if the New York Knicks managed to snag him on draft night.

Where he would fit on New York’s roster is a good question. Quentin Grimes won my heart in his rookie season and plays with similar defensive intensity. What an embarrassment of riches it would be to have @qdotgrimes, @johnnydavis, and @evanfourmizz duking it out in training camp for the starting two-spot. And with two young studs in the barn, wouldn’t that make it easier for Leon Rose & Co. to bring veteran Evan Fournier to the market? The heart flutters at the possibilities.

Until next time, here’s Johnny lighting up Purdue for 37 points and 14 rebounds to put you in a sentimental mood: