Johnson, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Orangeburg, S.C., averaged 5.4 points on 51.1 percent shooting in 10.6 minutes per game during his rookie campaign. His 0.51 points per minute played ranked second only to P.J. Hairston (0.62), which provides some context into his ability to score.
His minutes, however, suffered due to his defensive prowess, or lack thereof.
“Everybody says that I can put the ball in the basket – I do that well – I just have to work on my defensive part of the game now,” Johnson said earlier this week.
That’s been his focus this offseason. His technique work includes getting his hips down and maintaining a stance instead of standing up and trying to block shots as he did much of last year.
UNC strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian has pinpointed lower body strength as Johnson’s primary need with a multitude of squats and similar lifts. The goal is not necessarily to bulk up, though.
“I’m not really trying to gain so much weight,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to get a lot stronger. If I get a lot more weight, then I probably won’t be able to do half of the things I can do on offense and won’t be as mobile on defense, so I’m just trying to get a lot more stronger.”
Johnson entered his freshman season weighing 187 pounds. He’s up to 200 pounds currently and hopes to reach 210 pounds by the end of summer.
When asked how he plans to go about packing on 10 pounds over the next month, Johnson deadpanned: “Trying to eat as much as Jonas tells me to, but it’s hard sometimes because food is very expensive these days.”
That extra weight and strength in his lower body is crucial to preventing opponents from pushing him out of the post. It will also allow Johnson to bang more effectively on the block, thereby increasing the likelihood of opposing post players getting into foul trouble.
Johnson is not solely focused on defense. He’s working to round out his offensive game to become a more consistent scoring threat.
“I’m going to still do some of the same things I did last year,” Johnson said. “Now, I’m trying to work on facing up, driving to the basket [and] hitting the little midrange jump shot. I didn’t do that as often as I should have, because I can shoot it.”
Camp pickup games have been beneficial due to the large number of post players on UNC’s roster. Given Johnson’s size, he’s been forced to play on the wing at times and work on other aspects of his game.
“I can space out more now instead of staying in the post because that’s not really my game,” Johnson said. “I can post up every once in a while, but it’s just not my game. I’d rather set a screen, roll off it and make a jump shot or roll to the basket and dunk it.”
Defense, however, is the key for Johnson’s minutes in 2013-14 as his offensive skillset is a step above most of his post counterparts.