Like his team, things didn’t go quite as planned over the past year for Alize Johnson.
Before the season, Missouri State was the hot pick to fill the void at the top of the Missouri Valley standings with Wichita State out of the conference. Much of that faith was because of Johnson, the double-double machine who was tabbed as the league’s preseason player of the year. But the Bears struggled through an inconsistent season, which ultimately led to the dismissal of head coach Paul Lusk.
For Johnson, it was still a successful individual campaign. He yet again put up big numbers (15.0 PPG, 11.5 RPG) and flashed as much raw talent as any player in the Valley. Yet as the NBA draft approaches, Johnson is not the lock to get picked that he seemed to be at one time.
He’s still very much in the draft picture, getting an invite to the NBA combine last month. According to the Springfield News-Leader, there were some bright spots, as well as some numbers he’ll need to overcome.
The former Missouri State star defended multiple positions, rebounded well, and showed off his unrefined but versatile toolbox of offensive skills during the draft combine in front of virtually the entire NBA community.
In the workout portion of the combine, Johnson had mixed results. He had middle-of-the-pack times in shuttle run and lane agility drills but finished 54th out of 56 in the three-quarter court sprint. Johnson was last in standing (25.0 inches) and max vertical jumps (31.0).
Here’s what the former Valley standout can bring to the NBA:
Much like fellow mid-major prospect Kevin Hervey, Johnson is putting his name in the mix at the right time. In the era of position-less basketball, every organization is looking for versatile big men who can space the floor. Johnson fits that mold, as the 6’8 forward entered high school as a 5’9 guard, and was 6’5 when he started at Frank Phillips Community College four years ago. He held onto the guard skills as he grew, and was a solid ball handler and mid-range threat throughout his time at Missouri State. Lusk talked about his wide range of skills at the combine.
“He’s versatile and he’s not dependent upon one particular thing,” said Paul Lusk, Johnson’s coach at Missouri State. “If that one thing’s not working, for a lot of guys, are they valuable? I think he does a multitude of things that makes him a very valuable player.”
If a team believes he’s closer to the long-range shooter he was as a junior (38.8 percent on 103 3PA) than he was as a senior (28.8 percent on 146 3PA), they may see a valuable frontcourt project. It also doesn’t hurt that he was one of the country’s best defensive rebounders over his two years at Missouri State. He finished in the top eight in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage the past two seasons, and pulled down 10 or more defensive rebounds 11 times in 2017-18. If rebounding truly is a skill that translates to the NBA, Johnson should be appealing.
Despite his versatility, Johnson is by no means the best athlete in the draft. His 6’9’’ wingspan is small for his size, and as mentioned in the quote above, his combine jump test results were underwhelming. Fair or not, he’s also four years removed from high school, which might make it harder for teams to see him as a player with a lot of room to grow.
And if the best case version of Johnson is a floor-spacing stretch four, his three-point performance last season (28.8%) — as he took more shots from deep — doesn’t work in his favor. As skilled an offensive player as he is, Johnson was also heavily reliant on mid-range jump shots over his career — something that won’t necessarily be useful at the next level.
Johnson may have needed a dazzling combine to secure a spot in the draft. That he was reportedly solid-but-not-spectacular makes it seem like a toss up whether he hears his name get called. But it seems certain that if he doesn’t get picked, there will be teams lining up to bring him in as an undrafted free agent. With such a chance, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the proven producer with a versatile skill set on a roster come opening night.