Season In Review: Xavier Johnson
Indiana had lacked a true playmaker at the point guard spot since Yogi Ferrell graduated in 2016. Mike Woodson's sought to remedy that problem in his first offseason as head coach, going out and nabbing Xavier Johnson from the transfer portal.
Johnson clearly had talent, but much was made of his shortcomings. In his three seasons at Pittsburg, he was a turnover-prone, low-efficiency scorer who had never been a part of a winning team. Would he be able to change at Indiana?
Although there were negative moments, Johnson proved he definitely belonged in the Big Ten and could be a star on his best days. By the time the season ended, you would be hard-pressed to find a Hoosier fan who didn't love and admire the fire and skill with which Johnson played.
Today we look back at some of the narratives and statistics from the senior guard's first season in Bloomington and what to look forward to next year.
It was clear from game one that Johnson added skill Indiana had been lacking for nearly half a decade. His lightning-quick movement on the court and ability to make plays for his teammates injected the squad with a newfound offense.
Much was made of Johnson's turnover-prone ways at Pitt, but that issue never presented itself too much in Bloomington. Johnson posted a career-best 2.7 turnovers per game while also turning in the second-most assists in his career with 5.1 per game.
Unlike many of his teammates, Johnson played a very volatile brand of basketball. He was often the best player on the floor when he was at his best. When he was at his worst, he could lose his team the game.
Johnson's final stats on the season were 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game on 38% shooting from three. There were plenty of bright spots sprinkled throughout the regular season, but Indiana still desperately craved consistency from its backcourt for the majority of the year.
Despite his unique skills, Johnson did not provide that consistency until very late in the season. In order to take his game to another level, he had to hit rock bottom first.
Johnson recorded back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, where he was a lead contributor to a Hoosier loss. He combined to go 6-of-28 from the field with 11 turnovers in both outings and fouled out against Ohio State. Indiana was trending downward and seemed destined for another NIT appearance if they couldn't turn things around quickly.
Johnson's ability to rebound from those performances showed a lot about his mental toughness and skills. In the nine games after that ugly two-game stretch, Johnson became the backcourt star the Hoosiers desperately needed. He averaged 16.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.8 assists while shooting 50% from three.
Mike Woodson had talked all season about how he expects a great deal out of his point guards and that Johnson had yet to find an understanding of precisely what he wanted out of him. He figured that out in the season's final month and played at an All-Big Ten level.
When Johnson plays like he did in the last month of the season, there may not be a better point guard in the Big Ten.
It isn't reasonable to expect Johnson to consistently perform to the level he did in the last month of the season. He went on an absolute tear and showed he can be elite at his best, but his statistics will almost surely regress.
An extra season of chemistry and coaching under Woodson should give him an overall boost. I would expect Johnson to maintain his scoring averages while increasing overall efficiency and upping his assist numbers slightly.
The most important thing for Johnson heading into his fifth season is consistency. Can he eliminate those high turnover, low-efficiency outings and replace them with stability? Indiana can lean on Trayce Jackson-Davis to be their star, but they need consistency around him to be their best.
The presence of Jalen Hood-Schifino should be a tremendous aid to Johnson. Hood-Schifino is a pure point guard who can easily play without the ball as well. In last year's starting lineup, Johnson was the only player who could be a primary ball-handler.
Next season, Hood-Schifino will likely slide into the starting shooting guard role and provide more playmaking. In turn, Johnson should make fewer mistakes simply due to the presence of other players on the court with a similar skill set. He won't need to force things as much.
At the very least, expect Johnson to be an honorable mention for All-Big Ten. However, he has a legitimate chance to be a first-teamer if he plays to even 85% of the level at which he closed the season.