The sample size may be small – he played only 31 games in the G League – but Alize Johnson may already be regarded as one of the best players in the the Mad Ants' 12 seasons of existence.
With a career-best 34 points and 11 rebounds in the season finale Saturday, a 121-118 loss to the division-champion Grand Rapids Drive at Memorial Coliseum, Johnson finished with a whopping 23 double-doubles this season.
Not bad for a rookie second-round NBA draft pick out of Missouri State, even if he has played only 35 minutes over 12 games with the Indiana Pacers this season.
“I'm in the middle of everything. I get to come down here (to Fort Wayne), run and work on my game,” said Johnson, 6-foot-9. “And then I get to go up there (to the NBA) and gain some knowledge from everybody. I've been happy with my schedule and whatever is thrown at me, I'm going to take full advantage of.”
With the Mad Ants, Johnson averaged 19.1 points and 13.5 rebounds. That includes a 22-rebound game against the South Bay Lakers at the NBA Showcase on Dec. 22 at Las Vegas; he was two short of Rob Kurz's Ants rebounding record set in 2010.
Last season, Johnson averaged 15 points and 11.6 rebounds at Missouri State, and he feels vastly improved since then.
“It's just knowing where to be on the floor, learning the NBA terms and plays,” said Johnson, 22. “I'm just trying to go out there and play as hard as possible, every time I get out there.”
Johnson said he still has plenty to work on, namely, “shooting the 3 ball consistently, working on defense and trying to become more explosive,” but he epitomized the successful development the Mad Ants did for Pacers prospects this season.
Edmond Sumner and Davon Reed moved to and from the NBA, Stephan Hicks got his first 10-day NBA contract, and Ike Anigbogu was back and forth before the Pacers released him to create roster space.
Though the Mad Ants missed the playoffs, they were made up of almost all first- and second-year players, and Johnson felt the improvement was evident.
“We made a lot of different changes in our roster,” he said. “We were just trying to build chemistry. Everybody showed up and did what they had to do every day, so I'm excited just to see where these guys are going to go in the future.”