Johnson: Pass-First Point Guard

In basketball today, it's increasingly rare to find a point guard who looks to set up his teammates first, rather than himself. With a premium on points and personal glory, the unselfish traits of a pass-first player are much harder to come by, especially when that player can create his own shot.

However, in the case of Mitchell Johnson (son of former NBA player, John Johnson), observers realize that this junior point guard for Seattle's (Wash.) O'Dea High School has a plethora of strengths, not just the ability to score.

In fact, Johnson says, "I consider making others around me better the strongest part of my game." This statement becomes evident the first time one watches him play. It is extremely rare to see the 6-foot-1 Johnson bring the ball up the court and take a shot without initiating the offense.

Instead, he is more focused on running the offense as it was designed and gaining good shots out of it. He has good court vision and the ability to penetrate and find open teammates. And, while he scores nearly 20 points per game, it is very inconspicuous.

O'Dea Coach Phil Lumpkin observes that "Mitch doesn't force a lot of shots. He's good at taking what defenses give him." One could watch an entire game thinking he scored around 10 points, only to discover he had 25. This illusion comes to fruition through a lack of forced, poor shots and Johnson's ability to get to the free-throw line. While Mitch Johnson's unselfish style of play serves as an asset to his game, it also can be a hindrance.

Because Johnson is a good jump shooter and has the ability to penetrate and get to the basket, his tendency to pass first sometimes causes him to ignore scoring opportunities. According to Tracy Pierson,'s West Coast Recruiting Analyst, "He is a pass-first type of point, looking to set up his teammates first rather than score."

This can help to explain times when he has consecutive scoreless quarters, then erupts for seven points in a matter of four minutes, as he did against Seattle Prep on February 3. When Johnson is looking to score, his athleticism and skill give him an advantage over most defenders at the high school level. Because defenders must respect both the outside shot and penetration, Johnson is a difficult matchup.

Add to that his ability to pull up and shoot while driving the defender backwards and it's no wonder he's able to put 25 points on the board on any given night. However, when he loses his offensive aggressiveness, Mitch Johnson takes a key element away from his game and becomes a one-dimensional offensive player.

Defensively, Johnson puts good pressure on the ball and uses his quickness to get his hands into passing lanes. Generally, he is already up on the ball as soon as is crosses half court. When he's defending off the ball, he utilizes his superior athleticism to deny passes and cut off penetration. His vision and court sense allow him to see where the ball is going and to make plays on it before the offense can react.

John Johnson, who played 12 seasons in the NBA for Cleveland, Portland, Houston and Seattle, has contributed to the evolution of a well-rounded basketball player. He is able to give Mitch advice in virtually any basketball-related situation because, "He's been through it all before," Mitch says of his father. "He knows what it takes to succeed."

And he knows that success isn't just scoring. In fact, it isn't measured by any individual accomplishments. While Mitch Johnson is rated by among the Top 25 point guards in the class of 2005, and is receiving interest from elite programs such as Kansas, Florida, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Washington, his ultimate goals for the season have nothing to do with personal accomplishments that may help him arrive at one of those institutions.

Instead, he wants to "bring the young guys along and hopefully make a push for the [state] championship." With this benevolent attitude, Mitch Johnson is destined to be a point guard distributing the ball to open teammates.

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