Rutgers center Myles Johnson uses the Twitter handle “Myles the Monster” and there is reason to believe his online alter ego will manifest into reality on the basketball court this season, making him a real life nightmare for opponents. The redshirt sophomore is as positive a development story for head coach Steve Pikiell as any player he has had at Rutgers so far. He was a 3-star recruit who was injured much of his high school senior season and held no other high major offers besides Rutgers thanks to former assistant Jay Young. Now Johnson has the opportunity to breakout as one of the best big men in the Big Ten this season.
After sitting out his first year of college to become stronger and work on his game, Johnson showed a lot of potential during his redshirt freshman campaign. He averaged 4.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 assist, and 0.7 blocks in 17.5 minutes per game. However, Johnson’s role grew throughout the season and look at his averages in the 11 games he played 20 minutes or more: 7.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 blocks. In addition, Johnson actually shot much better from the floor in those games, shooting 63.3% from the field while only making 47.5% of his shots in the games he played less minutes. Johnson showcased an ability to get into an offensive rhythm and dominate for stretches. More court time this season will give him more chances to do that.
Advanced stats make an even more convincing case that Johnson has a chance to be one of the best big men in the league this season. In Big Ten play last year, Johnson ranked in the top 25 in the following categories: offensive rebounding rate (1st); two-point field goal percentage (13th); defensive rebounding rate (14th); block rate (16th); steal rate (25th). He is an efficient big man and while playing more minutes could lower some of those rates to a degree this season, his overall impact will be greater.
With Johnson certain to play a lot more minutes than last season with Shaq Doorson and Eugene Omoruyi gone from the frontcourt, his production should increase as well. His four double-double’s last season were all in games he played 20 minutes or more and it’s fair to expect that he will achieve that mark more regularly this season.
Johnson’s size and passing ability makes the Rutgers offense better due to his versatility. His ability to be a target and distribute the ball against zone defenses is an asset. He also moves well for a big man and should be a force on the boards. Along with the development of forward Shaq Carter, who Pikiell has called the most improved player on the team, Rutgers has two legitimate Big Ten players on the front line that can hold their own in league play.
One thing that will make Johnson even more dangerous is the lineup versatility Rutgers can utilize. When they play smaller and have Ron Harper Jr. or Akwasi Yeboah at the 4, opponents will need to adjust and likely have less size on the floor as well. This will limit opportunities to double team Johnson, or at least with two players his size. It will likely give him even more room to operate in the paint and control the glass. With Rutgers expected to play a more up tempo style this season, his ability to make outlet passes off rebounds to start the break will be key and also his willingness to run the floor will lead to more second chance points off misses in transition.
There are several areas Johnson needs to improve on this season. He flashed his potential on the defensive end and was solid in his first season, but Rutgers ultimately needs him to become a true rim defender and force to be reckoned with in the paint. Staying out of foul trouble is hugely important and something Johnson will need to adjust to is opponents attempting to draw him into contact near the rim. It will likely be a work in progress, but Johnson is a smart player as well and his ability to stay on the floor is crucial to Rutgers’ success this season. The only true hole in his game last season was from the charity stripe, as he made just 40.5% last season. He only had 42 attempts, but that number will increase significantly this season, so he needs to improve his accuracy to make a bigger impact in this area.
With more expectations on Rutgers basketball this season than in many years, the potential of Myles Johnson is one of the reasons why. He should assert himself as the best big man the program has had since Kadeem Jack with his play this season. If Rutgers takes a big step forward this season, including producing its first winning campaign and postseason appearance in 14 years, the play of Myles the Monster will be a major reason why.