Following 143 NBA G League games and 123 contests at the international level, Omari Johnson finally received his chance to play in the NBA this past season. At 28 years old he, much like Andre Ingram and many others, remained patient through the years and was rewarded by the Grizzlies as this past season neared its end.
After playing abroad during the 2016-17 campaign, Johnson returned stateside to provide a crucial veteran presence for the Memphis Hustle. All the while, he averaged 16.5 points on a 46/42/82 shooting clip to go with 6.4 rebounds through 44 games. It’s taken Johnson some time to develop into a 3 and D guy as he’s honed in on becoming a more versatile player over the years. Still, his advantage lies within the extra physicality he brings on the defensive end.
Johnson’s been around the block a bit and his maturity is absolutely something that can benefit younger players as they come into their own as professionals. He served as an extension of the coaching staff for the Hustle: someone who could lead by example, relate to what others are going through, and provide them with a role model to learn from.
At this point in his career, he’s not the spring chicken prospect that a team like the Grizzlies can develop through their affiliate. Nevertheless, he can play a big part in the rise of those that do make their way up in the years to come. Even if this past season is all Johnson goes on to play for the Hustle, his impact has already been felt in the journeys of the big league club’s aforementioned prospects.
That’s why it made sense, and was an admirable decision, that Memphis rewarded Johnson with an NBA call-up once and for all. At 28, he made his NBA debut and produced well in four games. Unfortunately, with the NBA Draft complete and free agency looming, the Grizzlies have released Johnson. As NBA Summer League approaches, what comes next?
At this point in his career, a player like Johnson may not want to compete in the offseason showcase. Still, he himself does not appear to be the kind of guy who is above grinding it out for greater opportunities. With that in mind, it would make sense for the forward to catch on with another NBA team in Las Vegas. The Grizzlies already know what he’s all about, and one could also argue that if they’re releasing him now, there may be fewer opportunities to be had in the future. They rewarded him for his work at the G League level, but may not be as invested in his overall future.
Nevertheless, his body of work abroad and stints with the Hustle and Red Claws before that should speak volumes at this point. After years of competition and key development, Johnson could arguably be more prepared to make immediate contributions than a second or even first round draft choice coming out of college will be.
As another shot to prove his worth inches closer in Sin City, it’ll be key for Johnson to pick the right club to prove his experience has readied him to stick at the NBA level. Andre Ingram may have gotten more fanfare just a few months ago, but the success stories stemming from the G League can be found all over and Johnson is merely another example.