Cavs NBA Draft report: Keep an eye out for Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis
The 2022 NBA Draft is just weeks away, and the Cleveland Cavaliers will soon put their draft prep work on the line.
The Cavs have a plethora of options with their lottery pick at No. 14, which they can use to meet roster needs as a wing or backup point guard. Over the past two weeks, we’ve looked at prospects like Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji and Ohio State’s Malaki Branham as potential candidates for the Cavaliers. This week, we’ll focus on another player who might be on Cleveland’s radar at No. 14: Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis. The 6-foot-5 wing met the Cavs at the 2022 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month and could add offensive firepower to this team.
To answer a few questions about the 20-year-old guard, Athleticism Jesse Temple, a writer from the University of Wisconsin, joined us for a discussion.
Kelsey Russo: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Jesse. The Cavs need to add some wing depth on their roster, and if Davis is still on the board at No. 14, he could be an intriguing addition. Our Sam Vecenie placed Davis with the Cavs in his post-lottery simulation draft in May.
The qualities that stand out for me with Davis’ game are his shot creation and his scoring. How would you describe the type of player Johnny Davis is?
Temple of Jesse: He’s a relentless striker off the dribble whose ability to score in different ways creates headaches for opponents, both in the midrange and on the edge. The thing that can be so frustrating for defenders is that Davis can seemingly be walled in, only to force his way into the lane and foul.
According to KenPom.com, Davis had 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes, which ranked him 23rd in the nation. He attempted the fifth most free throws in the Big Ten and shot 79.1% from there, eventually generating 25.3% of his free throw points. His pull-up is one of his best shots, and it can be hard to stop when he’s going downhill.
Russian: Davis seemed to have taken a big step forward from his freshman year to his sophomore year. He went from averaging seven points per game in 2020-21 to 19.7 points per game in 2021-22 – although his shooting percentages dropped in his second season to 42.7% from the field and 30.6% from 3. He has started the last 31 games. season after getting just one start in 2020-21. After watching him take that leap in those two years, where have you seen Davis grow the most?
Temple: Davis had the perfect situation at Wisconsin in his sophomore season because four of the top five scorers in his first campaign moved, leaving Davis as the most important player for the team’s success. His leadership skills were born out of necessity, but his confidence is what really exploded.
Badgers coach Greg Gard said Davis looked like a different player when he returned to campus after his summer with USA Basketball’s FIBA U19 World Cup winning team. gold in Latvia. He had a swagger and a maturity about him because he realized he was as good as any player in the country. Then he came out and proved it by dominating in his only year as a college freshman, earning first-team All-American honors.
Davis surprised some people early in the season, especially when he dropped 30 points in a win over a top-15 team from Houston. Houston assistant coach Kellen Sampson said Athleticism CJ Moore that Cougars staff initially thought Davis was a JAG — an acronym for “just a guy.” But he was out of control and became a potential first-round NBA pick at the end of November.
What really stood out was how Davis maintained a high level of play as teams made it the focal point of their defensive game plan. He scored 37 points in a win at No. 3 Purdue, 30 points at Indiana, 26 points against Iowa, 25 points in two regular-season games against Michigan State, and 25 points against Michigan. Wisconsin hasn’t often produced first-round NBA talent, but Davis has managed to find his footing and use the Badgers’ system to his advantage.
Russian: During the 2021-22 season, the Cavs built their team identity on the defensive side of the field. Watching a movie of Davis during my draft prep, one of the things I noticed was how strong his ball defense was. He has good instincts and seemed to take challenges with whom he guarded. How would you rate Davis as a defender?
Temple: He has length and athleticism, in addition to instincts, and these are traits that have allowed him to flourish defensively. Davis is tied for second on the team in steals with 36 and ranked third in blocked shots with 23 behind the team’s top two centers. KenPom.com lists its defensive rebound percentage as 70th nationally, with a rank of sixth in conference play only.
One question will be how well Davis defends the NBA’s biggest guards. But he has the desire to excel at this end of the field, which is a good starting point. Having a wingspan of 6ft 8 also helps.
Russian: Davis injured his right ankle late in the regular season. After returning from this injury, his numbers went down slightly. How has this injury affected him for the rest of the year?
Temple: Davis injured his right ankle in the regular season finale against Nebraska when he fell awkwardly below the baseline as he got up for a layup and Nebraska’s Trey McGowens landed on him. That injury certainly seemed to affect him five days later in Wisconsin’s Big Ten tournament game against Michigan State. Davis missed his first eight shots and went 3 of 19 from the field while missing all five of his 3-point attempts. Davis refused to blame his performance on the injury, although Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said the lack of practice time likely contributed to the way Davis was playing.
From there, Davis didn’t always play at the level he had earlier in the season. Sure, he scored 25 points to help Wisconsin defeat Colgate in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But Davis also went 3 of 11 off the field in the first half and tried to force contested shots. Iowa State knocked out Wisconsin in the second round largely by nullifying Davis, who made just 4 of 16 shots from the field and missed all seven of his 3-point tries.
Russian: Where do you see Davis’ biggest area of growth? What can be a priority for him as he enters the NBA?
Temple: It must be a 3 point shot. He connected on 38.9% of his 3s as a freshman role player. But that number dropped significantly in year two, when he gained 30.6% from behind the arc. There are understandable reasons for the decline. He recorded heavy minutes (34.2 per game), had to bear the scoring burden in most games and was the player opponents knew they had to take. Look at some of the games that Davis struggled in and you’ll see that teams sent him multiple defenders throughout the game.
Davis has been successful as a mid-range shooter and hoop driver, and those aspects of his game should translate well to the pros. But teams can also challenge Davis to make 3s, which he’ll need to prove he can do with more consistency (and from a greater distance than in college play). The good thing about Davis is that he has high potential, which is one of the reasons NBA teams are so intrigued by him. If he can keep making the kind of leap he did last season, he’ll have a great opportunity to solidify his weaknesses and become a strong NBA player.
(Johnny Davis top photo: G Fiume/Getty Images)