Scouting Johnny O'Bryant

by Alex Boeder Writer

YouTube was not made for the power forward from LSU. Try if you like. He backs down defenders on the block and finishes with either hand. He faces up and scores. He steps out to the midrange, but not to 3-point range. He optimistically references David West as a player comparison.

He went to high school on the east side of Cleveland… Mississippi. The #36 overall draft pick doesn’t have a picture on his Wikipedia page.

He is an old-school player, if you can be an old-school player with a birth date in 1993. He is the type of player that your dad might say good things about, if your dad tunes in (tune in, dad).

People didn’t line up outside the gym trying to get a glimpse of Johnny O’Bryant III in Las Vegas, but he earned mostly positive reviews in Summer League, averaging 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in 18.2 minutes.

Yet all of this attempts to draw an equivocal and oversimplified picture of something, of someone, who is incomplete and complex. O’Bryant was a McDonald’s All-American in high school who went to college and reinvented himself each of his three years at LSU. To many fans, his selection was a surprise. To the team, his availability was a surprise.


Here are a few excerpts from my recent chat with Billy McKinney (Bucks Director of Scouting) about O’Bryant:

Where did you have O’Bryant ranked on your big board?

I thought he was a First Round pick. He was one of the few guys in this draft who was a natural back-to-the-basket player. Much like Jabari, not only can he score with his back to the basket, but he can also play on the elbow, make the seven- or eight-foot shot. He is an excellent passer and rebounder. I liken him to a combination of Al Jefferson and Reggie Evans. A really good rebounder and legitimate inside scorer. I thought he had a really excellent first night. So for him to slip down to No. 36, we just didn’t think he would be there.

What did you see in particular that you liked at his pre-draft workout in Milwaukee?

Dave Babcock (vice president of player personnel) and I saw him quite a bit. We had been watching him since he was a McDonald’s All-American, and one of the things that changed over the past couple years is that he has really gotten himself into great shape, great basketball shape. What we saw from him over the course of the year was a guy who was really good on the glass, a really good offensive rebounder. But also a guy with a really good basketball IQ, and someone who is unselfish as far as making passes out of the low post and not forcing the action to score inside.

Do you see him further along offensively or defensively at this stage in his career?

Right now, I would say offensively, that is his strength. Defensively, he is going to have to get better. But one of the things he does have for his size, when we watched him in the summer camps through his college years, is that he really moves his feet very well. That will enable him to cover the pick-and-roll out on the floor. And he is kind of an undersized four at 6-8, so he is going to really need to focus on being solid at rebounding fundamentally, which is something he showed at LSU.

He had some pretty good games against big-name players such as Julius Randle (averaged 22.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games against Kentucky last season). Do performances against elite competition factor heavily in evaluating a prospect?

Sure. It does mean something. And it is not just about playing against Julius Randle. I was talking to Kenny Payne (associate head coach at Kentucky), and he was saying here is a guy who is giving us big numbers, and he is getting double- and triple-teamed. So for him to do that speaks volumes about the type of player he is.

In the past you have told me that the team drafts for talent and trades for need. You picked up a few more guys in the draft who can play forward, when that is arguably not a position of need. Is the philosophy still to draft for talent, to get the best player available?

Yes, absolutely. We are going to take the best player available. We thought O’Bryant was a First Round pick. That was our assessment. And if you go back to the history of the Second Round over the past 10 years, I don’t think you will find many players who have his ability to score with his back to the basket. So for him to fall there, we were pretty lucky.


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