ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Shot after shot after shot, Johnny O’Bryant III is focused.
He wants to improve his jumper.
O’Bryant stops to share a laugh with a teammate, but then it’s back to launching shots in repetition at the Milwaukee Bucks’ training facility.
The former LSU standout is trying to become a well-rounded player in the NBA. It’s a continual learning process for O’Bryant in his rookie season.
“Never get too high, never get too low on yourself and all your accomplishments and all your failures,” O’Bryant said. “You’re going to have times when you’re starting 12 games, and then you’re going to have a string where you don’t play 12 games.”
O’Bryant, who entered last year’s draft a year early and was selected No. 36 overall by the Bucks, has played in just 27 of his team’s 63 games this season, after Milwaukee’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night.
“When you talk about a rookie, especially when we’re loaded at that position, it would probably be even harder to play if we had Jabari (Parker) here,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “For Johnny, his character, being able to work, being ready to be called upon at any given time, I think just shows his character. He’s working extremely hard and he’s getting better.”
The power forward missed 23 games with an injury, has not played in 12 others and has logged 15 starts. Not getting the chance to play every night has been difficult for O’Bryant.
He started 79 of 91 games at LSU and wasn’t accustomed to sitting on the bench.
“I’ve never been in a position like this in my life,” O’Bryant said. “Some good things that come from this is patience. I get to sit down and watch the older guys and watch what they do on the court, and I try to learn from that. It just makes me stronger and it makes me hungrier.”
O’Bryant has had a hearty appetite to play since spraining the MCL in his right knee in the Bucks’ second preseason game Oct. 9. He was missed two months and wasn’t able to do much on the court during his rehab stint.
“It kind of hurt me,” O’Bryant said. “I had a good training camp, (but) I played one preseason game. I think I was starting to get a groove for the NBA and, with that injury, it starts you all over again.”
O’Bryant, 21, worked diligently to get back into the lineup.
“The injury was really at the wrong time, but it’s over now and he’s back in shape and lost some weight,” Bucks center Zaza Pachulia said. “He’s ready for his opportunity.”
O’Bryant saw his first regular-season action Dec. 17 at Portland and scored two points in five minutes. The next night at Sacramento, O’Bryant earned his first career start. He took advantage of his chances, scoring six points in 17 minutes.
The 6-foot-9, 265-pound O’Bryant is averaging 3.2 points, 1.9 rebounds and 11.4 minutes this season. He’s only scored in double digits twice, tallying a season-high 12 points against Atlanta on Dec. 26.
O’Bryant feels like he’s back in a groove and 100 percent following his injury.
“He’s improving every day,” Bucks forward John Henson said. “One of the things that is most noticeable is his body. He looks a lot better; he’s slimmed down. You can tell by his athleticism when we’re doing warmups and drills, he’s getting better. When he gets his opportunity, he’s got to take advantage of it.”
Pachulia likes O’Bryant’s upside and believes his game have evolved greatly since the preseason.
“He’s going to get better with shot selections and his passing abilities,” Pachulia said. “He’s playing power forward and, when I guard him on the floor, I can see he likes the power game.”
O’Bryant’s offensive game has improved since college. O’Bryant averaged 15.4 points per game as a junior at LSU and was a force inside. After coming to the NBA, he’s become more versatile away from the basket and given the Bucks a scoring option outside the paint.
Henson has tried to give O’Bryant some advice. The third-year pro stresses the importance of playing solid defense.
“That’s what I try to tell him: ‘Hey, you’re not going to get on the court by offense; you’re going to get on the court by playing defense and doing the little things.’ Naturally, as you get time on the court, the offense is going to take care of itself,” Henson said.
O’Bryant knows he has a long way to go to become a well-rounded player. He’s trying to adapt and adjust to everything that’s been thrown his way.
One area O’Bryant had to get acclimated to quickly once he was drafted was heading to a cold-climate city. Growing up in Cleveland, Mississippi, and honing his game in Baton Rouge, O’Bryant has never had to live north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“It’s been a cold experience,” O’Bryant said. “It’s been cold up here, man, but it’s starting to warm up a little. That’s the biggest thing, getting used to driving in the snow, putting on a big jacket.”
O’Bryant is settling into Milwaukee and enjoying his life. On Feb. 22, he became a father when his fiancée, Arial Ward, gave birth to a baby girl, Amara.
O’Bryant, who signed a three-year contract with the Bucks in July, believes playing for the Bucks is a great fit since it’s a young, up-and-coming organization.
“For the most part I’m just taking it one day at a time,” he said. “You never knew what can happen. But for the most part, I try to enjoy every day that I can here and whatever happens, happens.”
O’Bryant hasn’t had any regrets about leaving LSU a season early. If he had to revisit his choice, he wouldn’t do anything differently.
“I got drafted and I’ve been able to start some games and play some games,” he said. “It was a great decision.”