What's Wrong With Elijah Johnson?

Ethan Miller

The Senior guard has struggled lately for the Jayhawks. Why?

In Kansas's 64-59 win over Texas on Saturday not much stood out, but Elijah Johnson did for all the wrong reasons. The Senior guard went just 1-11 from the field and had only 2 assists next to 3 turnovers. It was the latest confusing game for the former 5 star recruit, who is now averaging fewer than 10 points per game for the Jayhawks.

But has he been that bad? First, as a smaller point, I think it's important to mention that in the Texas game, while he wasn't converting, he was consistently beating his man off the dribble and getting decent to good shots. Given that I (and a lot of Jayhawk fans) had been asking him to go to the rim more often, I can hardly fault him for missing a few shots once he gets there.

But beyond that, Elijah has had a bit of a troubling season. His effective field goal percentage is currently what would be a career low of 49.3%, and after posting a turnover rate under 20% last year, Johnson is currently at a career high (or low, however you look at it) of 26.9%. He's getting more assists because he is the primary point guard for the first time in his career, but he is also turning it over more than he ever has before.

Diving a bit deeper, the problem certainly hasn't been from deep: Johnson is shooting 35% from three this year, roughly equal to what he shot last year. Not a great percentage, but not terrible either. (and as I mentioned before, he is incredibly streaky. He was up over 40% for much of the season, but has shot just 5-19 from deep over the past 5 games.

The problem has been from two: Johnson is shooting just 46.5% inside the arc, a full 10% lower than last season. Specifically, he's struggling at the rim: he is taking almost a quarter of his shots at the rim, but making just 55% of those shots. Compare that to last year, when he shot 74% at the rim while taking the same number of shots at the rim.

I hate to speculate on things like this, but the fact that Johnson is shooting roughly the same on jumpers as he did last year, but is shooting nearly 20% worse at the rim despite getting to the rim at the same rate suggests to me that he is still struggling with his knee injury. He has looked slower and less explosive this season (other than mini bursts) as he's recovered from his knee injury, and as such I would recommend that he play fewer minutes, or perhaps take a couple of games off altogether. The problem is that the schedule is much tougher in the first half than the back half (KU's last 5 games feature home games against the 3 worst teams in the league), so does Kansas sit him now and risk a couple of losses, or do they try to have him tough it out and then sit him for the final few games when they have hopefully wrapped up the league?

It's a tough question to answer. Kansas will need a 100% healthy and effective Johnson to make the type of tournament run this team is capable of, but I'm not sure they can get that Johnson without resting him for a bit.

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