It was inevitable, but second-year Indiana Pacers guard Orlando Johnson will see more bench time than playing time this season. Thanks to an improved bench and the return of Danny Granger, Johnson’s minutes — 12.1 per game last season — will decline to near zero.
The Pacers are stacked at Johnson’s spot, which is great for the team, but not great news for him. Lance Stephenson, Paul George and Granger will see time at the two-guard, and Johnson hasn’t shown enough to steal any minutes from those three.
So what does that mean for Johnson? More time in the D-League.
Johnson saw 619 minutes of NBA action in 55 games last year, partly because Granger was injured for all but five games and Gerald Green became a lost cause. That time allowed him to begin adjusting to the pace and length of an NBA season, as well as a chance to showcase his talents.
While talented — 4.0 points per game on 40 percent field goal and 38 percent 3-point shooting — Johnson was unable to gain any form of consistency and eventually hit the rookie wall. Unless an injury occurs, Johnson will be left twiddling his thumbs and chatting up teammates at the end of the bench, which is exactly why the Pacers need to play him in the D-League as much as possible.
Last season, Johnson appeared in four D-League games and averaged 39.3 minutes, 23.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals. Those are solid numbers for a second-round rookie, even if its against sub-par talent.
D-League should be used just like MLB’s minor league systems; if the player can’t outplay lesser talent, then they do not belong in the majors. If he wants to impress not only the coaching staff but the front office, he will need to put up similar numbers this season.
It will be tough to watch Johnson linger at the end of the bench all season as I fell in love with his game last year. He can shoot, especially when he catches fire, and Pacers fans can easily feel nostalgic watching him drain 3-pointers just like good ol’ Uncle Reggie.
Will Johnson contribute much next season? Not likely. But that’s okay — he doesn’t need to. If Johnson is seeing 10-12 minutes a game, then something has gone wrong for the Pacers. This will be Johnson’s season to improve his game, move past the rookie wall and completely adjust to the pace of the NBA.
Not exciting, but a necessary evil if he wants to ensure future playing time with the Indiana Pacers.
Mathew Muncy is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMuncy.