This is the second installment of a series on what we learned about each player during Arizona’s recent trip to the Bahamas. You can find the first one here: Player Evaluations: Mark Lyons, Gabe York
Nick Johnson will contribute in many ways. Johnson’s effort in the first game jumped off the box score. Johnson had 13 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, and 6 steals while playing a team high 25 minutes. In the second game Johnson added 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in 22 minutes. Johnson did have some trouble with his shot, going 7-18 from the field, and after the second game coach Miller spoke with Johnson at length about being confident about his shooting.
Due to injuries and suspensions last season, Johnson was asked to do a number of things on the court he wasn’t completely comfortable with. But with a year of experience in the system and much more depth at the guard position, Johnson can now focus on his strengths which revolve around attacking the basket and making athletic plays.
Arizona fans likely recall a few momentum changing blocks by Johnson last season, along with his near game tying tip dunk against Washington. With the number of offensive options Arizona will have this year, Johnson won’t have to force shots or play out of position. If he can focus on crashing the boards and cutting to the basket, Johnson will be able to make the big plays that can help change a game. With the attention Arizona’s post players will receive, Johnson will have a number of chances at alley oops, tip dunks, and weak side blocks.
Johnson will need to be able to knock down open shots to keep defenders out of the paint, and he will need to improve on defense to contain the opposing team’s shooting guards. But this year Johnson will be able to concentrate on his strengths, which should lead to easy baskets. And with the senior leadership provided by Lyons and Parrom, Johnson can grow into his position without having to worry about leading the team.
Jordin Mayes is close to full strength. The main thing that stood when watching Mayes is how long it has been since he was 100 percent healthy. Mayes used the off season to improve his upper body, and the games in the Bahamas helped him get back to game speed.
In the first game Mayes shot 3-4 (2-3 from deep) for 8 points and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes. The best part of Mayes’ game was that he had 5 assists with only one turnover. In the second game Mayes struggled from the field going 1-6, but he had 3 assists and no turnovers to go along with 3 steals in 20 minutes. Mayes’ ability to run the offense and take care of the basketball is a great sign for his recovery.
If Mayes can provide quality minutes at the point guard position behind Lyons, Arizona’s offense should run smoothly all game. And if Mayes can consistently make three pointers, he can become the scoring threat that he was developing into during his freshman year. That would allow him to provide some minutes at the shooting guard position and would give coach Miller a number of combinations to play in the backcourt, depending on match ups. The added depth is important, as Arizona fans know all too well that many things can happen throughout the season.
Assuming that Lyons and Parrom earn the starting guard positions, Mayes and Johnson will be crucial to Arizona’s success. Few teams, if any, will have the talent on the bench to match these players. They can help the team make runs while the starters are resting, as well as help wear down opposing defenders. Having a second unit that can increase leads will be a significant factor in making Arizona an elite team this season.