There was talk when Johnny O’Bryant III came to LSU that he could be a one-and-done, given his McDonald’s All-American status as a five-star recruit.
Obviously, things didn’t pan out as smoothly, but he still had a strong career at LSU. He’s easily among the dozen or so best Tigers this millennium and a two-time All-SEC pick to boot.
Now, he truly is NBA ready, and we know a lot more about JOB — both good and bad — than we did three years ago. He’s not an elite talent. He won’t blow by you offensively and he’s not dominant defensively. But he does have a nice conglomeration of skills, leaving him an intriguing prospect for teams in the early second round.
And that’s exactly where he slots, almost unanimously. Even the most optimistic projections for the Mississippi native have him maybe sneaking into the last few picks of the first round. But with a strong international class and a loaded lottery, that’s highly unlikely. He’d do well to go in the first 40 picks.
So what’s keeping him from being a first-round selection? Well, most of the stuff we saw for three years at LSU: conditioning (though he has trimmed down since the season ended), turnovers (he’s the most turnover-prone player among the top 100 draft options this year, according to DraftExpress), and fouls (among the highest per 40 minutes rate among 2014 prospects).
The worries about conditioning leave him vulnerable to the faster-paced NBA game. Also, he’ll likely play power forward in the Association, meaning he’ll encounter a lot of stretch 4s who can play off the perimeter. He’s never been consistently tested away from the basket on D. I mean, could you imagine JOB checking a Rashard Lewis, Kevin Durant or Chris Bosh in this year’s playoffs? He’s not equipped for that, at least not right away.
As for turnovers, this should improve by circumstance. He won’t be asked to do as much for whatever team he lands with, reducing his usage rate and alleviating pressure to be a primary ball-handler in a crowded paint. Still, if he barrels toward the basket like he was prone to in college or has trouble recognizing double teams, he’ll have difficulty cracking a rotation. There’s just no room for his turnover issues in the NBA.
The fouls issue points to another defensive concern. Though he won’t be an above-average perimeter defender, he’s not a perfect fit for the interior, either. Though he is 260 pounds with a 35-inch plus vertical, he’s not a particularly sound technique defender and isn’t an aggressive shot blocker. That left him prone to foul trouble in college and lacking good tape for scouts looking for a defensive presence in the post. Still, with decreased playing time and the NBA’s extra foul, this issue could work itself out naturally.
So we’ve just covered O’Bryant’s deficiencies, but he’ll be drafted for a myriad of strengths, the same ones that made him a focal point of the team for Johnny Jones’ first two seasons at LSU. He’s still young, having just turned 21 earlier this month, meaning he’s got a lot of time yet to develop.
Scouts loved his steady improvement during three seasons in Baton Rouge, when he went from a gangly talent to a relatively polished post star. It proves he can correct his weaknesses, work hard to do so and won’t have trouble accepting his role on a team. Remember, JOB was at best the third scoring option as a freshman. He can play without the ball, a necessary reality for him in the pros.
His mid-range shot has improved immensely, and he made more than 40-percent of his 10-15 footers in the 2013-14 season. He’ll need to ramp that up at the next level, since he won’t beat a ton of defenders to the basket off the dribble. If O’Bryant can consistently prove a pick-and-roll threat — he’s already a solid screener — then he’ll be plenty valuable to a team out there.
And speaking of fit, there’s several in the top half of the second round that might work. Dallas at No. 34 would be great. Since O’Bryant essentially plays Dirk Nowitzki’s position with less skill, he’d be a prime candidate to come off the bench there and spell the German. At 42, Houston worked JOB out recently and he could, in tandem with Chandler Parsons, provide some of the fundamentals in rebounding and defense sorely lacking from a team where James Harden barely tries to guard anybody. And then there’s Washington at No. 46, where O’Bryant could probably immediately help a team that already pushed Indiana for an Eastern Conference Finals berth this year, complementing the youth tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal with a young body inside.
But this is all assuming he even makes the team in the first place, which isn’t guaranteed for a second-rounder, especially one with some of the limited skills he has. Best-case scenario for his career is a poor man’s Paul Millsap or Chris Bosh. Worst-case, he shuffles through the D-League and the end of NBA benches and then plays in Europe for a while. Those aren’t bad options, meaning his floor is a nice career due to his still-high potential.
That should be enough to entice many teams and keep O’Bryant from going the unsigned free-agent route. A solid landing is expected, but JOB might have expected better when he left LSU early.