(“The Gallery” is an end-of-season series featuring one uniquely titled picture or video installation for every player that best summarizes or encapsulates that player’s season in a single snapshot. These aren’t highlights, they’re seminal moments expressed through the medium of art placards. Enjoy your tour!)
Forward, Age 23
Rough around the Edges
Windy City Bulls versus Fort Wayne Mad Ants, December 1
Allen County War Memorial Coliseum
In Rough around the Edges, Johnson brings to life what Kevin Pritchard said about him on Draft Night, “He’s a guy that if you told him to go eat glass, he’d say, ‘Do you want salt or pepper?’”
A bulldog defender with an improving 3-point stroke (38 percent on 3.3 attempts per game with the Mad Ants) and natural feel for distribution (even if also somewhat sloppy), the 23-year-old forward highlights his duality in this mid-season composition. Playing alongside Omari Johnson while in horns formation, Alize is supposed to cut to the basket as Fort Wayne’s stretch big releases to the top of the key. Instead, he errantly pops at the same moment as his teammate, thereby stripping any and all dynamic qualities from the action. And yet, though he gave the tagger a free pass to breathe easy, make note of his response once the shot goes up. He doesn’t high-tail it back to build a wall in transition; he crashes hard from the perimeter and drags his man right along with him (*sprinkles with salt*), sapping the leak-out opportunity (*adds a dash of pepper*) while simultaneously manufacturing and converting the second-chance bucket (*picks shards of glass out from in-between teeth*).
That’s Alize Johnson. With 2:49 left to play in a game in which his team leads by 17 points; he still needs the ball as much as his next breath. Johnson finished out the night with 22 points and 17 rebounds, one of the 23 gaudy double-doubles he amassed in 31 games with the Mad Ants. He doesn’t always know where to be on the floor, but darned if he has anything left to give when he walks off of it.
His footwork wants for refinement when he attacks through contact in transition, where he has a tendency to get bumped off his finishing angle, and he sometimes switches furiously onto the ball without much forethought for the mismatches he’s creating in his overly aggressive wake; but, his nose for the ball is undeniable, even to the extent of overshadowing the areas of his game that lack in polish. Case in point: As a second-round draft pick with limited experience in Indiana’s regular season finale, he was a team-high +14 in 25 minutes of action, though his entire role in the offense essentially boiled down to hanging out in the dunker’s spot and gobbling up rebounds.
If the rising sophomore on a partially guaranteed contract can pair improved know-how and skill with his high-motor, he may yet smooth those rough edges and provide economical depth in the process.