And just as things were clicking along for Pitt, the team was dealt a big blow with the news of Durand Johnson's injury. DJ, if you haven't yet heard, will be out for the season with a torn ACL.
Injuries are sometimes the only thing that can derail a team that is playing pretty good ball. And unfortunately for Pitt, this one's not a minor one. An injury to a starter like Lamar Patterson or Talib Zanna would certainly be more difficult to weather, but Johnson's injury is a big blow to the team.
In losing Johnson, Pitt loses their best reserve scorer. To narrow it down a bit more, specifically, they lose one of their few three-point threats. Now, one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that Johnson is a great three-point shooter. That gets thrown around quite a bit because he comes in and takes a lot of them off the bench. However, he shot only 38% from beyond the arc last year and was doing even worse (34%) this season. Johnson simply isn't a great three-point shooter to be fair. His loss still hurts, though, because he was as I said 'a threat' to knock them down. Johnson had the ability to get hot from three-point range and really help Pitt open things up.
Without Johnson, Pitt loses a guy that had the ability to come in and knock down multiple long-range shots.
Johnson has also been a big part of what the Panthers are doing at the free throw line. He is currently third on the team is free throw percentage, making just over 85% of his shots from the stripe, behind only James Robinson and little-used Chris Jones. He would have been a nice guy to have on the court at the ends of games when the other team would be looking to foul and Pitt loses that.
So, in terms of replacements, what does the injury mean? The obvious answer is that we should see more of Chris Jones and Josh Newkirk. Newkirk looks more and more comfortable out there, so there are times you might even see him out there with Robinson and Cam Wright. Instead of Pitt going smaller, they could go to Jamel Artis and get a little bigger. My guess is that unless someone steps in and really shows they deserve those minutes, Jamie Dixon will go with whatever he needs at any given point. More rebounding and size up front? Look for Artis. A third shooter in there to help break down a zone? Newkirk or Jones.
Then, there's the impact that could be felt next season. Johnson has a 9-12 month timetable of when he'll be rehabbing. Athletes are constantly pushing the limits for recovery time for torn ACLs and it's possible Pitt gets him in time for next season, but consider a few things.
First, if he takes the full 12 months, Pitt won't get him back until next year's conference season, missing he could miss the whole non-con slate. Even by the time he returns, he'll need some time to get acclimated to his teammates. Second, even if he is able to push the time and get back in nine months, again, he'll need time to get back up to speed. He'll also have missed a lot of time getting better the rest of this season and in offseason workouts. A guy like Johnson would be even more valuable as a consistent shooter and instead of taking hundreds of jump shots as soon as the season ends, he'll still be trying to get his body healthy instead.
The injury is really pretty unfortunate since Pitt is playing extremely well right now. All teams have to battle through injuries but losing your best sixth man for the entire season is just a tremendous blow.
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