[IUFR] How to Unlock Xavier Johnson on Offense ... Using History as a Guide
Coach Adragna dives into what made Xavier Johnson great in ball screens before and how tweaking Indiana's offensive philosophy may help him get back to form this season.
It’s no secret that this season has been a struggle for Xavier Johnson.
The 6th-year senior suffered a season-ending injury last season and was granted a waiver by the NCAA to be eligible to play this year.
Expectations for Xavier Johnson were high entering the year, both from fans and from Indiana’s staff. Johnson was selected as captain of the team, alongside Trey Galloway.
Johnson struggled to get things going early in the season, then the worst-case scenario happened: he got injured again.
The injury set Johnson back seven games and it has been a struggle to find his groove since.
His first game back from injury against Nebraska was a poor performance, but his play against Ohio State was promising. Indiana fans felt like they had their point guard back.
But since then, the wheels have fallen off the wagon for Johnson. He was ejected against Rutgers for a Flagrant 2 after hitting the groin of a Rutgers player.
The penalty sent Xavier to the bench and Gabe Cupps has been starting in his place since.
Two games later, Johnson received another flagrant foul against Purdue in a performance to forget. He finished the game with an offensive rating of 9. The next lowest Hoosier was Gabe Cupps at 74.
Johnson’s performance against Wisconsin gave the Indiana Faithful some room for optimism. He scored eight points in 24 minutes and had two assists and no turnovers.
But even those numbers aren’t the numbers Hoosier fans were hopeful for when XJ got his waiver for this season.
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Behind the Numbers
Xavier Johnson’s numbers are down across the board.
His last full season at Indiana (2022), he had an offensive rating of 102.2, an assist rate of 36.7% (14th in the country), and a turnover rate of 20.2%.
This year, he has an offensive rating of 98.3, an assist rate of 15.4% (vastly lower than his career low of 32.4%), and a turnover rate of 23.1.
Quite frankly, it’s not good enough.
But is there a way to unlock Xavier Johnson? Or is all hope lost here in late January?
Xavier Johnson’s Brilliant Stretch
When I think about the best version of Indiana’s Xavier Johnson, I look no further than the Big Ten Tournament in 2022. Trayce Jackson-Davis was brilliant, but so was XJ.
That stretch of play quite literally willed Indiana into the tournament.
Don’t forget, earlier in the year, Johnson was (wrongly) booed off of that same floor at Gainbridge Fieldhouse against Notre Dame.
So I wanted to dive into the film to see if there was anything Indiana was doing differently then that got Johnson unlocked.
Throughout that weekend, Johnson was making all of the right reads and giving guys the ball in spots they wanted to score in.
Take a look for yourself.
I’m attaching several screenshots below because I want you to notice something about a lot of these plays.
The floor is open!
Johnson has room to operate once he comes off the screens. This is extremely important.
Not only was Johnson assisting throughout that weekend, he was able to score the rock, as well.
Just like on his assists, I’m attaching some screenshots below.
Once again, Johnson was able to operate out of the open floor and put the ball in the bucket in numerous different ways.
Along with the open floor, you can see from the videos above that Johnson has a nice pace to his game. He uses a change of speed and change of direction well to keep the defenders on their toes.
As it was noted above, this was the Xavier Johnson fans hoped they would see this year. But it’s been a far cry from this (for the most part).
Let’s look at film from this season and see if we can find any trends.