PHOENIX – After the Suns put Nick Johnson and five other draft prospects through basketball drills this morning, they finished it off by asking each one to run as many lengths of the court as they could in three minutes.
“We try to wear guys out,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said.
That actually may have helped Johnson, who is trying to move into a late first-round slot like the one the Suns have at No. 27. Johnson capped the workout by running 28 court lengths in the three minutes, while Hornacek and Suns GM Ryan McDonough said afterward that Johnson was strong and athletic.
He’s “a little bit undersized, especially at the shooting guard position but he is tough and he’s strong, athletic and well-conditioned,” McDonough said. “So all of those things make up for that maybe he’s a little undersized at the two. (As a) point guard he’s fine; he’s got plenty of size there.”
While Johnson said at the NBA draft combine that he was a point guard, he’s now accepting himself as – and maybe marketing himself as – a combo guard who is strong, athletic, versatile and experienced.
“I think I’m both,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a benefit that I played the two in college. When I have that experience, I can guard both positions. I think its something that’s a plus in my game. Coach (Sean) Miller put me in the right situations to be a playmaker. So I mean that’s just a little transition. I’ve been in that playmaker role for a while.”
Hornacek said he could see Johnson playing a combo guard role, and that his body is ready to play defensively.
“He’s strong, athletic and can really shoot the ball,” Hornacek said.
The Suns workout was Johnson’s seventh of the pre-draft season but he said it isn’t the drills or shooting that is tiring him out. It’s the shuttling between cities.
So far, Johnson has worked out for Chicago, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Boston and Toronto. After a break at home this weekend in Phoenix, Johnson will visit the Clippers on Monday, then take off for Denver, Houston, Minnesota and Cleveland. He said the Knicks may also want him to work out, while Orlando and Oklahoma City want him back for a second look.
The tiring part “would be the airplanes, the travel,” Johnson said. “When you have 10 flights here to six cities, in a week and a half, it’s tough. But it’s also fun. I mean, not a lot of guys are able to do this so it’s a good experience. You get to see every practice arena and stuff like that.”
Johnson, of course, was especially familiar with the practice arena he worked out in today, inside the US Airways Center. It was there that he and Jahii Carson were teammates for a travel team headed by Rex Chapman as eight and nine-year-olds.
“When I got to the hotel last night it started to kick in,” Johnson said. “I started remembering all the practices we had here. …When I walked in it felt like home.”
The Suns may not select Johnson at 27 or even at No. 50 (Draft Express now has Johnson going No. 52). But the thought is appealing to Johnson.
“I would love to play at home,” Johnson said. “This is home for me. I didn’t really have too many years here in high school, had two years (at Gilbert Highland) and those were kind of building stations when I really started to talk off. I had my game elevate more at Findlay (Prep of Nevada).”
In any case, McDonough indicated Johnson’s versatility could help him fit in somewhere.
“It gives you more flexibility and with our current roster, if you can play a one or two, that’s an advantage,” McDonough said. “Guys who can only play one position are a little bit limited.
“I think like most rookies he’ll come off the bench at first, be able to make shoot the ball put some points on the board. Defensively he’s got some strength.”
Johnson said he’s aiming for a first-round pick, or at least to go as high as he can and to a team with a good fit for his skills.
“Obviously, I want to go to a good organization where they’re in need of a guard who can do what I do,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to work out for teams who have mid- to late-first-round picks. There are some that have mid-teen picks who really like me so I’m just going in there and showing them what I can do.”