Johnny O’Bryant is Not the Problem


Johnny O’Bryant is a good basketball player. I repeat: Johnny O’Bryant is a good basketball player. After his heavily criticized rookie season, this is something that many Milwaukee Bucks fans are having a hard time accepting, but it is true.

From his numbers thus far this season, it would seem like JOB is not exactly proving any of his doubters wrong. In just over 22.1 minutes per game, JOB is averaging 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and one assist per game on 40 percent shooting from the field.

As usual, however, basic statistics don’t tell the whole story. Although the entire Bucks team has struggled early, JOB has managed to put up a plus 0.5 for the season–which leads the team in plus-minus. He also leads the team in net rating, and is second in both offensive and defensive rating.

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Johnny O’Bryant is making this team better on both ends when he’s on the floor. But that seems impossible, considering according to his stats he’s not doing much of anything when he’s on the floor.

That’s exactly the point. He’s not doing any more than is needed of him, and has become an ideal low-usage role player–his mistakes are minimal, and he’s always in the spot he needs to be in. From drawing excellent charges and playing good on-ball defense to cutting and getting open on offense, right now O’Bryant is doing everything right.

And the results speak for themselves. He’s earned his minutes the hard way. Early on it seemed like JOB would be destined to a bench role behind Chris Copeland, who started game one. Until O’Bryant took his minutes, that is.

In the three games since that awful Knicks game, JOB has played almost 72 total minutes. Copeland has under 30. O’Bryant, who hasn’t got any sort of long-range attack in his arsenal, beat out a guy who’s shooting nearly 55 percent from three-point range. How? Well, mostly because JOB does have a few great moves on offense these days.

He’s pretty much only been taking good shots, which is exactly what he should be doing. O’Bryant knows he’s essentially the fifth option most of the time he’s on the floor–unless he’s open or right near the basket, he won’t take the shot.

Through four games, Johnny O has six made field goals. Five of them were assisted mid-range jumpers that resulted from JOB cutting through the defense and getting an open look, and the sixth was this nice offensive rebound/put-back layup through a triple-team.

His mid-range stroke has looked really good, early on. Especially on his one pull-up bucket (which was still ruled as assisted) against the Nets. O’Bryant looks like he’s got real confidence in his shot–he effortlessly rises straight up and releases a swish for two points.

If O’Bryant can continue to hit shots like that, he’ll be continuing to help the team more than he helps himself. Spacing is talked about constantly, which makes sense because it’s important to operating efficiently on offense. But one thing many people say about spacing–that it comes from three-point shooting alone–is not true.

An accurate JOB mid-range jumper (which is a thing right now. O’Bryant is making 45.5 percent of them through four games) means the opposing team must either move one of their bigs out of the paint to defend him or send somebody else over to contest his shot.

This opens up space. Space that Johnny O has put to good use this season. Despite having just one assist per game, O’Bryant has looked like a great passer in Milwaukee’s first four games–he has a knack for finding the open man when his defender is forced to leave the paint.

That judgement on O’Bryant’s part is fantastic. It’s hard for a power forward to not want to post up and take his chances when he has a little space in the painted area, but JOB sees his man left the rim unprotected, and zips a pass into Copeland for an essentially guaranteed two points.

This transition dish is even prettier, because it involved a great shot fake first to free up the rim for Giannis. O’Bryant’s decision-making this season has been flawless–he has yet to turn the ball over on offense.

Besides Giannis Antetokounmpo ascending into Destroyer of Worlds mode and Greg Monroe being the dependable double-double machine we all hoped for, it’s not a stretch to say Johnny O’Bryant has been the best member of the Milwaukee Bucks through four games.

He almost certainly won’t remain in the top three as Khris Middleton won’t be bad forever, and with Jabari Parker set to return on Wednesday night. But despite Parker’s imminent return, O’Bryant won’t be stuck with DNP-CDs much for the rest of the year.

It’s pretty apparent Copeland is in the doghouse right now, thanks to his abhorrent defense. O’Bryant has done exactly what’s been asked of him, and he’s gone it amazingly well.

He’s freeing up space for Giannis and others to operate down low by making his open mid-range jumpers, and when he is covered up he finds the right player who does have a good shot. His rebounding has been low, probably because he’s been away from the rim–which again, is the best thing for this team.

Monroe didn’t look right in Detroit because he’s best when he has the paint to himself. With O’Bryant moving out and getting his jumper going, he’s freeing up space for Monroe whenever they share the floor.

The numbers show that the two play well together: when JOB and Monroe are both on the court, the team has an offensive rating of 116.1 and a defensive rating of 107.6, along with a true shooting percentage of 62.5.

Looking at lineups that have some combination of three players on the court really proves how helpful O’Bryant has been to the Bucks. Milwaukee has trotted out 50 different groups of three that have played at least 10 minutes together this season, and JOB was involved in 14 of them.

O’Bryant is in the first, second, third and fifth best groups in terms of net rating, meaning that four of the best five Bucks groups of three to play together all involved JOB. Ten of his 14 groups recorded a positive net rating, with just four falling negative.

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And of those four bad lineups, the worst three all contained at least two players that haven’t found success anywhere on the floor for Milwaukee–Khris Middleton, Jerryd Bayless, Greivis Vasquez and Miles Plumlee are all currently in the bottom seven of the Bucks, as far as net rating is concerned.

Johnny O’Bryant has been making everyone around him better, and with even more depth and better players surrounding him he should only look better as the season goes on. JOB has established himself as the ideal bench player–selfless and just as willing to set up a teammate’s shot as he is to take one himself.

Johnny O’Bryant should remain a Buck for a long time, if he continues this style and level of play. He’s going to be too useful to let go, and knowing O’Bryant’s love of selfless team basketball he really doesn’t seem the type of player to demand a stupid, Tristan Thompson-like pay raise when his rookie deal runs out in a few seasons.