Player Review: Orlando Johnson
June 20, 2013, 10:00 AM
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Years Pro: 1
Status: Has one more year on a guaranteed contract that will pay him nearly $800,000 next season
Key Stats: Averaged 4 points in 12.1 minutes during the regular season. Shot better on the road, where he hit 44 percent of his 3-point shots and 91 percent of his foul shots. Hit just 33 percent of his 3-pointers and 62 percent of his free throws at home.
Orlando Johnson had one of the most unusual roles a Pacers player has ever had last season. He was a rookie. He was a second round draft pick. He was a backup shooting guard who didn't even play in 30 regular season games. But, he was a leader.
As someone who prevailed over a tragic childhood during which his mother was murdered and family members were killed in a house fire, he carried himself with uncommon maturity as a 24-year-old rookie. He was stoic but dignified, and as comfortable with Miles Plumlee as with Paul George. He quickly earned the respect of the veteran players, and fit seamlessly into the team's closely-knit culture.
Remember when George had that scoreless game at Golden State on Dec. 1? On the overnight flight home, he sat next to Johnson to vent his frustration and listen to the advice of a teammate who's a year older and has experienced so much more in life.
Johnson told him that he should never take himself out of a game, as George had done that night when he took just seven shots and let others lead the way. You're too talented to limit yourself, Johnson said. Don't settle. Get to the foul line and recharge your offense there instead of relying on jump shots.
It turned out to be the turning point of George's season, if not his career.
Later in the season, Gerald Green was benched for failing to conform to the structure of the offense. When he returned to the playing rotation and began playing well again, he gave credit to Johnson for having set an example of how to do it.
Johnson first showed signs of being able to contribute in the four games he played for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA's Development League. He averaged 23.5 points in those games, a number brought down by his first appearance, when he and fellow rookie Miles Plumlee joined the team on the day of the game and had not yet practiced with their new teammates. He scored 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting that night in November, but followed with 30 points, nine rebounds and four steals two nights later. He returned more than a month later to play two more games, and scored 24 and 25 points.
One night after his final game with the Mad Ants, Johnson was in Boston to join a Pacers roster thinned by injuries. He wound up playing 12 minutes in a blowout loss, and scored seven points. He played 11 minutes the next night back in Indianapolis against Milwaukee, and scored another seven points. Having caught coach Frank Vogel's eye in those games, he became a regular part of the playing rotation for most of the remainder of the season.
He reached double figures four times, with 14 points against Detroit, 12 against Minnesota, 15 against Atlanta and 12 against Dallas. For a while he was the team's best 3-point shooter, having hit 8-of-19 attempts in January and 10-of-17 in February. He seemed to dampen the Pacers' spirit for dealing for Orlando's J.J. Redick or any other shooter before the trade deadline, because at the time Johnson had a better three-point percentage than Redick and was a better defender. Why give up anything of substance for a rental player when you might have a better talent on your bench?
Johnson made significant contributions on the Pacers' four-game Western sweep near the end of the season, when they won in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, against the Clippers. He hit 6-of-11 3-point shots in those games, and played particularly well against the Mavericks when he finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists without a turnover in 21 minutes.
Those games turned out to be the end of his personal run, however. He hit just 4-of-26 field goals over the remaining six regular season games in which he played, including 3-of-17 3-pointers. He seemed to lose confidence in his shot down the final stretch, struggling even while shooting after practice. He was dropped from the rotation during the playoffs, playing only mop-up minutes.
Overall, it amounted to a season in which he averaged 4 points and 2.2 rebounds in 12.1 minutes. That's nothing spectacular, but anything a second round draft pick can contribute seems like a bonus, and Johnson seems like one of the rarities from the second round who can have a long NBA career. As long as he gets his shot back, his athleticism, hustle and maturity should keep him out of the D-League for seasons to come.
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