By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Ravern Johnson is a changed man, in more ways than one.
A little more than four months ago he was a sulking, struggling shooter serving a two-game suspension for sending out Twitter messages critical of Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. The Bulldogs were struggling, and Johnson’s senior year was not going particularly well, as he was mired in a 3-point shooting slump.
But he came out of that suspension with a different attitude and a suddenly red-hot hand. Over the final seven games of the 2010-11 season, Johnson averaged 19.4 points on 53.6-percent shooting, including 58 percent (29 of 50) from downtown.
That marked the beginning of a change in Johnson, who is hoping to be selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
“I’m a totally different guy from college in these two months that I’ve been away from school,” Johnson said Friday. “I’m just a totally different guy. My defense has gotten a whole lot better, I’m actually putting on weight. Everything is just different now.”
Johnson has been putting his new self on display for NBA teams leading up to the draft, having worked out for Memphis, Boston and Washington, among others. He’s trying to convince general managers that he can be an asset, and not just as a shooter.
It’s obvious that shooting is Johnson’s biggest strength. He made more than 40 percent of this 3-point shots his final two seasons at MSU and developed a complementary mid-range game as well.
Joseph Treutlein of DraftExpress.com wrote recently that Johnson is “one of the best pure shooters in this year’s draft class.”
The knock on Johnson has been his weakness in every other area.
“I think he needs to improve his defense and his handle,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said Thursday. “He’s got size, and he’s a good athlete. He can knock down perimeter shots, so he can stretch the defense.”
Johnson, who put his name in the draft pool as a junior before withdrawing, is coming off his best college season. He averaged 17.6 points while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 40.3 percent from free throw range.
The strong finish to his season wasn’t simply a matter of improved mechanics or harder work. It was more about perspective.
“During the suspension, I had time to sit back and think about a lot of things,” Johnson said. “I was wrong about the things that I did, and when I got back to the team I was just real happy and wanted to show them that I wanted to win as much as they did, and to try and do everything in my power to let us win.”
He added, “Most of the (NBA) teams were talking about that, saying they really liked that.”
Will he be drafted?
Johnson said he’s gotten good feedback from teams, in particular Boston. But will he actually be one of the 60 players taken in the two-round draft?
ESPN.com draft expert Chad Ford has Johnson ranked 86th in this class.
“I don’t see him getting drafted,” Bilas said. “But when you’ve got the skill of being able to shoot the ball, you can make your way onto a roster.”
The Lyon native, who was the Mississippi high school player of the year in 2007, was a three-year starter for MSU and logged 129 games. He was known for an ability to score in bunches and put up big numbers – he notched 25 or more points five times last season.
Johnson has a funky release on his shot, but Treutlein called his shooting mechanics “superb” and his release “incredibly quick.”
One area Johnson visibly needs work on is his bulk. He has good length at 6-foot-7, but he played at just 175 pounds last season.
He said he’s up to 185 now.
Another criticism of Johnson has been his ability to finish at the rim, and certainly a little more muscle would help there. However, as a senior Johnson more than doubled his previous career highs in free throws attempted and made, hitting 85 of 109 (78 percent).
That indicates a more aggressive offensive approach.
Johnson said he’s been working hard on his defense, his ball-handling and creating his own shot while training at Joe Abunassar’s Impact Basketball facility in Las Vegas. He thinks his game is becoming more well-rounded.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do, show them I’m not just a guy that can sit there and shoot jumpers,” Johnson said.
If he isn’t drafted, Johnson feels confident he’ll find a place in the league. If nothing else, he’s got that shot of his to fall back on.
“A lot of teams in the league, they need shooters. I can fit that easily.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571