Duke basketball: Jalen Johnson draft stock plummets in places

Duke basketball forward Jalen Johnson (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball forward Jalen Johnson (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) /

Former Duke basketball player Jalen Johnson may have cost himself millions.

Before Jalen Johnson ever arrived on the Duke basketball scene in August, the freshman’s name had appeared as a lottery pick on most 2021 big boards for years.

And up until the Feb. 15 announcement of the heralded forward’s decision to permanently part ways with the current Blue Devils in order to prepare for the pro ranks, Johnson’s projected draft position remained in the 5-15 range in the eyes of most.

Now, though, Johnson’s first contract could take a hit with every win by Duke (11-8, 9-6 ACC) here on out.

The Blue Devils, who are set to host Louisville (12-5, 7-4 ACC) at 6 p.m. Saturday, have certainly reached new heights without him. Their active four-game win streak began at NC State on Feb. 13 as Johnson sat on the bench across the entire second half in what became his final Duke basketball game.

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In the days after Johnson bolted, NBA scouts warned that the Wisconsin native will face serious questions. Naturally, there are abundant concerns regarding both his sudden departure from Durham and unexplained transfer from IMG Academy (Fla.) midway through his senior year of high school, which happened without him having ever once laced ’em up there.

So it seemed to some like only a matter of time until Johnson’s draft stock nosedived.

On Thursday, Travis Branham of 247Sports updated his big board, where he dropped Johnson from No. 15 to No. 28 overall, just a few spots from falling out of the first round. Such a falloff equates to a difference of roughly $4 million in a rookie’s initial three-year deal.

Also within the past week, NBADraft.net made some tweaks and now forecasts Johnson near the bottom of the first round as well, at No. 25.

A different point of view on the ex-Duke basketball five-star

To be fair, there is still a handful of mock drafts where Jalen Johnson has barely budged despite his choice not to honor a commitment to the Duke basketball program and his teammates. Evidently, even though Kyle Boone of CBS Sports used “quitting” to describe the 19-year-old’s actions, he has him No. 12 this week and offered the following explanation:

“[Duke’s success without him], coupled with the optics of quitting the team, hasn’t been good PR for Jalen Johnson or his prospects. But teams don’t draft on optics. And the truth is that, though Johnson didn’t have a particularly successful one-and-done season, he’s still a 6-8 forward who can rebound, put the ball on the floor, pass at a high level, and run the break.”

Of course, franchises do in fact draft on optics if those optics align with their own. Plus, the mock drafts showing Johnson safely in the top 10, where he had routinely resided, are now few and far between.

Yet we’ll just have to wait and see how the NBA big wigs view Johnson come draft night (the league has still not set a date).

Between 13 outings as a collegian, in which Duke went 5-8, Jalen Johnson averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks, and 2.5 turnovers while shooting 52.3 percent from the field, 44.4 percent beyond the arc, and 63.2 percent from the foul line.

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