It’s not concrete what exactly it is that makes a G League player an attractive NBA prospect, but whatever it is, Alize Johnson has it.
The G League is not the NBA. I cannot stress that enough when writing this, as that caveat is important when writing an article about the minor leagues. But what Alize Johnson is doing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants is insane.
Johnson is putting up over 19 points per game and 14 rebounds per game in the G League. In the pros, that has only been done by 2 players since 1990 – Dwight Howard and Kevin Love. That combination of per game production is incredibly rare. So rare, in fact, that Charles Barkley was one of the last 5 players to do it, and he did it in the 1980s.
Johnson is doing it on pretty efficient shooting splits, too. He’s hitting 52 percent of his shots, 41 percent of his 3s, and 82 percent from the charity stripe, culminating in a 59 percent true shooting percentage. His box score stats are awesome.
But all we’ve had for a long time is just cursory glances at box score stats for G League players. We’ve never had a place to take a look at any advanced stats beyond the atrocious PER. Thankfully, that has changed as Jacob Goldstein has created PIPM for the G League, allowing us to see how impactful players are in the minor leagues.
Johnson has a +2.08 PIPM in the minors. For reference, Serge Ibaka and Chris Paul are right around that number in the NBA this year. That +2.08 is supported entirely by the impact he has on the offensive end of the floor. His OPIPM is +3.35, the 12th best figure in the entire G League. Kyle Lowry is right around the number in the NBA, in case you’re wondering how impactful that really is.
Alize is just an effort maven. He grabs 14.1 percent of Mad Ants misses on the offensive end the of the floor, an absurd figure that allows him to get the team countless efficient possessions every game:
Rebounding is a skill that translates to both ends of the floor for Alize. On the defensive end, you have to box him out, otherwise, he will fly in and grab the rebound from just about anywhere. He grabs over 1/4 of every opponent misses on that end of the floor. His defensive rebound rate is nearly that of Clint Capela’s – he yanks them down like his life depends on it.
Getting the Mad Ants extra possessions is how he helps the team win in totality, but he helps the offense be successful on a per-possession basis by being good at pretty much everything. I already referenced his tidy shooting percentages – his three-point shot has come a long way from where it was at Missouri State:
Alize Johnson checks one of my boxes for players who always seem to turn out like good NBA players regardless of their draft stock – big men who can run like guards. Joel Embiid did this at Kansas. Michell Robinson showed this at his various stops before the pros. Johnson shines in this way as well, he blossoms in transition both with and without the ball thanks to his graceful trot down the floor:
I’m taking some of this from a discussion I had on twitter with BBall Index writer Mike Garcia. The unique running is just a part of Johnson’s originality. Guys who go through growth spurts late in their basketball career can end up being big men with guard skills, and Alize Johnson is a guy who meets that criteria. Throw in the Pacers incredible player development staff, and they could turn this guy into something special in the position-less basketball era.
All of these skills put together have formed a nicely packaged player for the Mad Ants. Johnson has a +3.6 points per 100 possessions impact on the team’s offense when he is on the floor versus off. He’s an efficient scorer, he’s got a high-motor, he limits his turnovers (11.3 percent turnover rate), and he moves around in a way that lets him impact the game even when he’s not as involved in the action. That is one hell of a young player.
With more inexperienced players, you never really know if they are going to be good. But the early returns on Alize Johnson are very, very promising. This is the highest level of coaching he has had in his basketball career by a mile, and it is paying huge dividends on his skill development. If this trend continues, we could be seeing a player who will have an important role for the Indiana Pacers in the future.