James Bouknight shoots vs. Maryland during the NCAA Tournament

Draft combine: UConn’s Bouknight, Duke’s Johnson projected as late-lottery picks

Pelicans Draft 2021 presented by HUB
by Jim Eichenhofer

Based on NBA.com’s consensus mock draft, James Bouknight (Connecticut guard) and Jalen Johnson (Duke forward) are two players who could be available during the latter portion of the lottery, tabbed by the league website's compilation to be chosen at 12th and 13th, respectively. In addition to a similar late-lottery projection, Bouknight and Johnson addressed near-identical questions Thursday at the draft combine, regarding their perimeter-shooting ability.

Bouknight’s overall offensive game is not in question – ESPN.com wrote that “every NBA team is looking to add the type of shot-creation and shot-making prowess offered by Bouknight” – but he made just 32 percent of his three-point attempts over his two-year Huskies career. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-9 Johnson shot 44 percent on treys during his lone Blue Devils campaign, but that consisted of just eight makes in 18 attempts.

“(Outside shooting is) definitely a part of my game that’s underrated,” said the 6-5 Bouknight, who averaged 18.7 points in 2020-21. “That and my playmaking ability. The role I had at UConn, being that go-to guy when we needed a bucket, at times I took ill-advised or tough shots. That comes with the role I had. I’m not worried at all about my three-point shot. At all. I think I’ll surprise a lot of people.”

In addition to his low volume from beyond the arc, Johnson must improve at the foul line, having shot 63 percent on free throws at Duke during his abbreviated season (13 games, eight starts). He left the Blue Devils in February to begin focusing on preparing for the NBA draft.

“I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong,” Johnson said of his shooting. “I’m excited to show people that aspect of my game. There have been things I’ve focused on during this process, developing that consistent outside shot. I’m very excited to show that at the next level.”

Bouknight and Johnson mostly shied away from questions about comparing their games to current NBA players, but each referenced a prominent active or recent playoff participant.

“A lot of people like to make the comparison that I play like a Devin Booker type of player or a Bradley Beal, but I didn’t start playing basketball until so late,” said Bouknight, whose main sport growing up in New York City was baseball until high school. “I feel like my game is unique and creative and its own different type of way. It sounds cliché, but I really just want to be like James Bouknight.”

“I don’t like to get into the comparison thing, but I see similarities in a lot of people’s games that I have in mine,” said Johnson, who averaged 2.2 assists in just 21.2 minutes at Duke. “For example, Ben Simmons, just being able to pass at such a big size, that’s one of the similarities I see. But I’m Jalen Johnson at the end of the day, trying to be the best version of myself.”

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