Two years ago, as a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks, Johnny O’Bryant registered a DNP for the first 25 games, the first 23 of which he was inactive for. Three games later, he was starting, as he would for the next 15 games while Jason Kidd and company started experimenting following Jabari Parker’s torn ACL.
The experiment didn’t work — due in part to O’Bryant, as a 21-year-old 2nd round pick, being thrust into a role he simply wasn’t ready for — and after spending the next year and a half as a part-time contributor off the bench, the Bucks waived O’Bryant before this season began.
From there his basketball journey took him to the NBA D-League and the Northern Arizona Suns. Some may have balked at the prospect of playing in Development League after two years in the Association, but not O’Bryant. “I felt like this was a perfect opportunity for me,” O’Bryant said in Mississauga, Ontario after the Suns’ first game at the 2017 Showcase.
O’Bryant shined, scoring 27 points on 11-20 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds and swiping three steals. It was the third straight 20-plus point night for O’Bryant, who is averaging 17.9 points and 8.8 rebounds for Northern Arizona this season.
“They were gonna let me make mistakes and work through them with me, and I think that’s what I needed as a young player who really didn’t play a lot in his first few years,” said O’Bryant, who is playing 32.1 minutes a night. “I needed some more development, and it’s worked out perfectly.”
While getting playing time and having success in the D-League is all fine and good, O’Bryant is still focused on returning from whence he came — the NBA. Rangy and athletic, standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 257 pounds, O’Bryant has a prototypical NBA body, and now he’s developing the necessary skills to go with it.
“Passing, knowing when to roll, when to pop, defense, getting in better shape” — these are just some of the skills O’Bryant is strengthening as he works on “everything that comes with being on the floor and playing heavy minutes.”
Perhaps most importantly, though, is O’Bryant’s transformation into an effective three-point shooter, an ever more necessary skill in the league these days. “I’m working on stretching the floor,” O’Bryant noted, adding “I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”
And he is, knocking down 37.5 percent of his nearly three three-point attempts per night, an impressive leap for a player who attempted just one shot from behind the arc during his two years with the Bucks.
Even with a defender in his face, and the game winding down, O’Bryant is confident enough to take and make from downtown, as he showed scouts Wednesday night when he drilled this attempt to put the Suns up three late in the 4th quarter:
With shots like that now part of his repertoire, O’Bryant appears to be correct in his assertion that Northern Arizona and the D-League was the “perfect situation” for him. And with his game ever-improving, he could soon find another perfect situation up in the Association.