The unfamiliarity seemed to be what had the Milwaukee Bucks three (two of them kept) second round picks landing with a bit of a thud in the minds of many Bucks fans on draft night. But simply because we’re not that familiar with a player, does not mean that player is not worthwhile.
And after digging into Johnny O’Bryant, the 36th selection on draft night and Milwaukee’s final (kept) selection, he actually doesn’t seem so surprising a pick any more. He has the strong pedigree that seems to correlate with many John Hammond picks and potentially other traits that could serve him well in the NBA over the next few seasons.
Like other Hammond selections, Doron Lamb and Tiny Gallon come to mind along with first round picks like John Henson and Brandon Jennings of late, O’Bryant was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. It would actually probably come as quite a surprise to an 18-year-old Johnny O’Bryant that he even lasted three years in college before declaring for the NBA Draft, as he initially had the desire to be a one-and-done college player.
“Of course, I want to have a big impact from Day One,” he said. “When I signed, I knew a lot would be expected of me. I’m going to accept the role and try my hardest to get better each day. (On the NBA) I just know if I come out and play hard, let the NBA decide. Hopefully, I won’t be too long, but if I do, (I’ll) try to help the team.”
When asked if he would like to be a one-and-done player he added: “Of course.”
Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen.
He stayed three years at Lousiana State University and transformed from a talented, and apparently brash, 280-pound forward/center who shot under 40% as a freshman to the 255-pound player who averaged 15.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and had his way with Julius Randle and the Kentucky Wildcats frontline as a junior last season.
As a guy who’s currently eating an entire frozen pizza and watching Parks and Recreation season four for the 15th time, it’s always inspiring to me when a player aggressively approaches his diet and workouts enough that he turns his body type from a weakness (too big) to a strength (powerful). And he’ll need to be powerful, given his lack of traditional NBA center height.
“Real big body – he’s a bit undersized, maybe 6’8”, but he can play inside because he’s got a real wide body,” Hammond said on draft night. “He reminds me a bit of when we (Detroit) had Corliss Williamson. I can remember Corliss even guarding a guy like Shaq because he has that low base. And I think that Johnny can – he’s undersized not so much at the power forward but if you ever tried to play him at center – but I think we can play him at center because he’s so strong and so thick.”
Draft Express has O’Bryant listed at 6-foot-9 with shoes on and his wingspan was measured at 7-foot-1.5 in 2013. That makes him roughly the size of Jared Sullinger, a little bit shorter with the same reach as Nick Collison and Ronny Turiaf.
In Milwaukee we’ve seen how a guy with a good base that’s willing to use his strength can be effective on a number of occasions. Jeff Adrien did this last season. Kurt Thomas and Brian Skinner each gave Milwaukee some good minutes in a season (2009-10 and 2003-04 respectively) with similar body types. Shorter bigs can be effective if they can leverage themselves and adapt to the NBA.
Back to the Williamson comparison for a moment. Williamson actually moonlighted at the three rather than the five as O’Bryant is destined to do. He was a prolific college scorer and a two time second team All-American. His pedigree was as a clever scorer coming out of college. He used his power to bull through defenders in college, but could also rise above them a bit. When he got into the league, he had way more difficulty with the strength, speed and athleticism of NBA threes and fours. Still, he was a solid NBA player because he did a good job adapting to the league.
After a few seasons, he wasn’t simply a power guy. Williamson carved out as effective an NBA career as he did and specifically shined for those Pistons teams Hammond spoke about, was his short-to-midrange offensive game. He consistently made between 44-50% of his shots from 3-10 feet and could even step out to the 10-16 feet range, though with more sporadic results. According to Draft Express, the mid-range game is where O’Bryant has shown improvement, but still has room for improvement.
Knocking down a very solid 47% of his jump shots, O’Bryant still has room to expand his range, which is limited to about 15 feet at the moment, and his form wavers at times, but he went from being a non-factor away from the basket a season ago to a fairly reliable threat to score on the three shots he attempted per game away from the basket.
The more athletic defenders he’ll face around the basket at the next level make his ability to score over the top from the post and the midrange efficiently critical to his ability to be successful on the offensive end at the next level.
While he did improve his offensive game, he did struggle as a defensive rebounder as a junior. Per StatSheet.com, his defensive rebound rate was 19.7 as a freshman, 21.3 as a sophomore and just 16.5 as a junior, despite his cited improvements in energy level thanks to a better diet and less weight. DX mentions in its scouting report that there are concerns about his focus wavering at times and intensity level lacking consistency. That could have played a role in his down rebounding numbers.
The lacking intensity is a bit worrisome, given that he doesn’t really have a special offensive skill. Remember those guys we listed before? Sullinger, Collison and Turiaf? Collison and Turiaf are as energetic as practically any players in the league. They’re passion players who’ve continued to be great teammates all through their NBA career. Sullinger, while not known as the same kind of non-stop motor fella as the other two, worked himself into being a capable 3-point shooter in his rookie season.
O’Bryant’s going to have to work hard to find his place in the NBA and he’ll have to bring something to the table that other guys aren’t, especially in Milwaukee’s crowded front court. O’Bryant has the physical traits of other players who’ve had long careers. It’s possible he’ll carve one out too.
But history says it won’t be easy for him.