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How Brandon Johns Jr. is showing clear improvement at right time

Coming off the best game of his career, it’s time he gets more minutes

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines basketball program has been desperate for someone to step up in the time that Isaiah Livers has been out due to a groin injury. For the longest time, it seemed like no one would or could answer that call.

Finally it seems like there is one player ready to answer the call, and that is sophomore Brandon Johns Jr.

Johns has steadily been showing growth all season, but lately he has been on another level and found comfort in his role as a starter.

In the last three games that Johns has put in more than 30 minutes, Johns is shooting 62 percent from the field and 55 percent from deep, scoring 50 points in that span. Quite honestly, he has filled in the totals in three of the last four games that Michigan would have missed from Isaiah Livers.

The most important difference in his game is that he looks completely comfortable in the offense, he has been playing very well in the post, and he’s been doing a great job spacing out the court. That came to a peak in his 20 point performance against Rutgers on Saturday.

Of course, Johns was red hot from behind the arc against the Scarlet Knights, going 4-7, but he has also seen a lot of improvement in the interior. Watch as he sizes up guard Ron Harper Jr., and finishes with a left-handed hook:

Johns put a bit of air underneath it and even had a bit of a double team. When he can do this on the inside and spread the floor by hitting some shots from deep, he could be an extremely tough player to stop.

This is a quiet play for the sophomore forward, but it was one of my favorite of his day because of the overall basketball IQ that he displays:

Johns sees Franz Wagner driving down the lane, and he is on the weak side of the play. Instead of clogging the key, Johns bounces out to the corner three so his defender has to make a decision to have help defense or follow Johns to the perimeter. As Nick Brooks steps in with help D, Johns throws his hands in the air and Wagner sees him for a great assist and an open three from the corner for the sophomore forward.

This is one of Juwan Howard’s favorite plays in the new system at Michigan and it’s very simplistic but puts defenses in a pickle:

It’s a double screen by Johns and Jon Teske at the top of the key with Zavier Simpson dribbling the ball. This whole play is built on lack of communication by the defense, and it worked several times in this game. One of each of the big men at the top of the key roles while the other pops after Simpson passes. This time, it’s Johns staying on the three-point line while Teske rolls. The huge blow here is Simpson’s original defender tries to fight through the screen, that causes Johns’ man to slide over to Teske, and no one left to defend Johns. Simpson dribble it all the way to the elbow and Teske sets a screen to give Johns even more space for a wide open three as Simpson kicks it back outside.

For reference here is what happens when Teske gets left uncovered on the screen:

Here is another common play within the system. It is an isolation of sorts that has a lot of late break by the offense.

It’s a pick and pop with Teske on the right wing. Once Simpson gets around the defender, one of the three guys crashes to the rack while another rushes out to the corner. The hope is that Simpson will have an open layup, can kick it out for three, or hit the trailer which he does this time. The timing has to be close to perfect, and while Johns was maybe half a step late, his vertical makes up for it as not many people could compete with his hops.

Overall, there has been a ton of growth from Johns and it was all put on display on Saturday. Whether it be his accuracy from deep or his understanding of the offense, the sophomore forward has the potential to be a weapon down the stretch.