College Sports

What does MSU’s Alize Johnson think is holding him back in NBA Summer League?

Alize Johnson only got to show so much during his rookie year with the Indiana Pacers, as he spent most of the season in the G-League, but now he’s trying to take advantage in the NBA’s Summer League.

The former Missouri State star has emerged as the Pacers’ go-to scorer in summer league, in light of injuries to Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner, two of the team’s top young players.

Johnson had a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds in a 87-67 blowout loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Playing as a stretch-four, Johnson was the best player on the floor at times, as he was the Pacers’ focal point on offense and a pest defensively. In three games of summer league, Johnson is averaging 15 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

“I thought this was Alize’s best performance so far,” said Steve Gansey, the Pacers’ summer league coach. “He was more patient, he let things come to him a little bit. He didn’t try to force a lot of things. He has to continue to get better and calm down.”

The 6-foot-9 forward admitted after the game that he can force shots offensively at times and is at his best when he’s able to slow the game down. Johnson appeared in 31 games this past season for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Pacers’ G-League affiliate, and averaged 19.2 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range.

Considered a modern power forward when the Pacers drafted him in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft, Johnson said his free throw shooting is the next aspect of his game that needs to be addressed. In the G-League, Johnson shot 74 percent from the free throw line, which is just two percentage points less than his senior-year percentage at MSU.

“I haven’t been able to display those things yet,” Johnson told The Star.

Johnson went 4-for-4 from the free throw line on Tuesday and shot 7-for-13 in a loss to the Pistons on Monday, and is shooting 65 percent from the charity stripe through three games of summer league.

Despite his frequent trips to the G-League as a rookie, Johnson is optimistic about having a role in the Pacers’ frontcourt next season. The team invested in him as a part of its future and in light of Holiday’s injury, Johnson has tried to serve as the team’s leader and primary voice in the locker room.

Outside the Pacers locker room on Tuesday, Johnson preferred to talk about the team’s shortcomings as it looks to get its first win in summer league.

“We need to play defense, be more vocal, lock in on detail,” he said. “Everything else will take care of itself.”

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.