LAS VEGAS — James Michael McAdoo had nothing but swaths of space before of him. The Warriors forward streaked down the court after a Milwaukee Bucks turnover, his teammate hitting him with a great lead pass while the rest of the Bucks trailed behind. His path to the basket, and therefore, two points, could not have been clearer. Even when the Bucks gained a bit of ground after McAdoo couldn’t initially corral the pass, there was still only air between McAdoo and the basket.
He gathered the ball and jumped to the hoop, his path still relatively unobstructed, save for the Bucks’ Chris Wright, who managed to catch up and jump with McAdoo. Even with Wright’s presence, McAdoo was able to adjust accordingly and loft the ball over the defender.
Newton’s first law states that an object in motion will stay in motion with the same speed and trajectory unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. When McAdoo hoisted the ball over Wright, he set the ball’s motion, speed and trajectory and charted a clear course for the basket. That is, until Johnny O’Bryant, bounding from the top of the restricted circle, and his unbalanced force smacked it into the media section on the baseline.
It was the type of timing, hustle and skill that’s become typical of O’Bryant throughout the Las Vegas summer league.
After a junior campaign at LSU that saw O’Bryant post averages of 15 points and nearly eight rebounds per game, O’Bryant declared for the NBA draft and was selected by the Bucks with the sixth pick in the second round. O’Bryant hasn’t recorded quite those prolific numbers in Las Vegas — he averaged eight points and five rebounds per game through five games — but he’s nonetheless won over his coaches, even surprised them, with his skill and work ethic.
“There probably aren’t a whole lot of guys like him who, when you say it, he tries to do it exactly like you tell him to do it,” Bucks summer league coach Sean Sweeney said. “He’s skilled on the inside. He’s got more skill on the outside than I anticipated. His attitude, effort and skill-set were all impressive.”
That skill on the outside, the ability to pull bigger forwards away from their comfort zone on defense is an increasingly sought-after commodity in the NBA. A reliable outside shot and the ability to face up with the ball in his hands means O’Bryant’s defender has to come out of the paint to defend him, leaving him in unfamiliar waters and usually giving O’Bryant a distinct advantage. It also helps O’Bryant compensate for his slightly less-than-ideal height for an NBA power forward, as he stands at 6-foot-8 (his massive 7-2 wingspan certainly doesn’t hurt, either). He’s stocky, but fluid, with uncommon handles for a player his size, something the Bucks used to their advantage during summer league by letting O’Bryant bring the ball up on in fast break situations.
Like any rookie getting a first taste of NBA action, adapting to the speed of the professional game has been a major adjustment for O’Bryant, who acknowledged his mind was “all over the place” in his first few games.
“Coming from college, you walk the ball up, then get into the set,” O’Bryant said. “(In the NBA) you’re busting the ball up the court, running your set, shoot, then you’re back on defense. Everything’s fast-paced; everything’s up and down.”
“He needs to continue to understand the game on both ends of the ball,” Sweeney said. “Understanding his niche, his body, how to play against the bigger guys and the speed of the game. All those things are important for him.”
O’Bryant said the coaches have told him to slow down and “watch the game flow.”
There’s a certain noticeable creativity that courses through O’Bryant’s game, stemming from his off-court interests, which include, among others, fashion, art, painting — anything where O’Bryant can use his creative mind.
“(I’m) able to think outside the box,” O’Bryant says. “I know what’s coming next for a team. Most big men don’t react quick, and I’m the type of guy who reacts quick and is always on to the next play.”
O’Bryant’s true passion, one in which his platform as a professional will certainly help him, is philanthropy. The NBA lifestyle affords comforts and luxuries the general population can only dream about, from private jets to live-in chefs. It also presents athletes with an immense opportunity and responsibility, that being, acting as role models and improving the community.
“I’m just trying to help people and help kids,” O’Bryant said. “I didn’t come from a lot, so I’m happy to give back to the community. That’s a big reason I got here, so I can be a motivation to someone else.”