With the 2021-22 season a few weeks away for the Michigan men’s basketball team, the starting lineup will likely feature freshman Caleb Houstan, sophomore Hunter Dickinson, and seniors DeVante’ Jones, Eli Brooks and Brandon Johns Jr.
The first two seniors on that list are expected to make major contributions for this upcoming season, but expectations for Johns Jr. are a little harder to project.
Let’s take a look back at the senior’s U-M career, and try to figure out what Michigan fans should expect from him.
The story so far
With Isaiah Livers out with a foot injury late last year, Johns Jr. stepped up in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 10 points and 3.25 rebounds per game on 57.1 percent shooting from the field.
He didn’t completely replace Livers’ production, but he contributed to a decent chunk of it and proved he can be relied upon in big games. Head coach Juwan Howard did take notice and hopes he can build upon that good momentum heading into this season.
“That Brandon that played in the Big Ten Tournament as well as in the NCAA Tournament when Isaiah Livers went down,” Howard said when speaking of Johns Jr. at media day. “Yes, we’re going to need that Brandon this year.”
His performance in the NCAA Tournament led to Johns Jr. being named as one of Jon Rothstein’s 20 breakout players for the 2021-22 season, calling him an “unsung presence” for the Wolverines.
It would be great if Johns Jr. could consistently produce as a top-3 scorer for the Wolverines, but Michigan fans know all too well that for every game where he scores in the teens, there’s a game or two where you can forget he is out there.
Over his three years, similar to Terrance Williams now, Johns Jr. has struggled at times because he hasn’t been able to get a proper rhythm going. For the majority of his Michigan career, he has had to learn multiple positions and played in 3-4 minute bursts off the bench, never averaging more than 20 minutes or four points per game.
While Johns Jr. hasn’t been super consistent as a scorer, he has earned minutes in his Michigan tenure due to his commitment to embracing his inner Ben Wallace: he’s a good rebounder and a flexible defender who doesn’t care about getting his shots if it benefits the team.
When Johns Jr. is able to score, he does a great job using his length to his advantage. He’s great at making moves baseline, can hit an open three in transition, and has learned to be a good off-ball cutter and rim runner.
It’s not crazy to think if Johns gets hot from three, he could lead the Wolverines in scoring for a few games in conference play.
Outlook for 2021-22
Considering he’s a senior who knows the offense well, Johns Jr. will likely be starting in the front court this season alongside Dickinson.
Johns Jr. said on the Defend The Block podcast he has worked to be a vocal leader and is focused on being one of the best rebounders on the team this season.
“I definitely have been trying to work on being more vocal with everybody, holding people accountable,” Johns Jr. said. “I’m just trying to be that type of leader out there but also trying to guide everybody...I really want to be a really tenacious rebounder out there, and just bring energy ... always bring energy.”
The senior also said in that interview he is willing to do everything he can to help this team win a National Championship.
With all the scorers that are going to be on this squad, the best role for Johns Jr. in terms of team success may be to be the “glue guy” by getting easy baskets, focus on grabbing rebounds, setting up teammates and helping to guard the toughest front courts in the Big Ten.
I’d love to see the Wolverines experiment going small with Johns Jr. at the 5, perhaps surrounding him with playmakers like Jones, Brooks, Houstan and Kobe Bufkin.
While Dickinson would be on the bench, a lineup like that where you can switch at every position while every player is a threat to score from three could be lethal in conference play.
College basketball is filled with seniors who can be leaders on the floor and do the things that may not show up on the stat sheet to help their teams make a deep tournament run. Johns Jr. likely won’t be scoring 15 points a game this season, but he doesn’t have to. If he can be a senior leader who can be on the floor in the final minutes and score when called upon, he can end his Michigan tenure on a high note.