In an up and down year that saw Kemba Walker finally blossom into an All-Star and unquestionable leader of the team, perhaps the most defining aspect of the Charlotte Hornet’s 2016-17 season was the volatility at the center position. Hornets centers were the “Spinal Tap Drummer” of the NBA in 2016-17. A near constantly revolving door of injuries, panic trades, next-man-ups, and 10-day contract Band-Aids.
The center position wasn’t just cursed this year; it was a haunted house built on an Indian burial ground. All in all, the team played eight different guys at the Five spot. How fitting then that the season ended with the poetic irony of assistant coach Patrick Ewing- one of the greatest centers to ever play the game- leaving the team to take the head coaching job at Georgetown University.
Given that context, it stands to reason that you may have missed one of the most surprisingly fun 10 minute stretches of the season: the birth of Johnny O’Bryant. His legacy I mean. The birth of Johnny O’Bryant’s legacy. You know what I meant, come on. I shouldn’t have used “birth” at all. Or “legacy.” Look its been a really tough season okay? Just let me have this.
Johnny Lee O’Bryant III, a guy who all intents and purposes existed only in a theoretical sense as a combination of letters on a lineup sheet for the first 8 days of his 10-Day contract, had himself a night on March 4th, 2017. While the vast majority of Hornet’s nation (and ownership) was busy watching the ceiling become the roof in Chapel Hill, O’Bryant scored 15 points and grabbed 6 rebounds going 7 of 9 from the floor. He played with energy. He banged with Nikola Jokic. He shot- and made- a three, he even took a damn heat check.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more efficient, literal example of Andy Warhol’s oft-referenced “fifteen minutes of fame” theory. The Notorious J.O.B played exactly 15 minutes that night; and played it so well that he parlayed it into a multi-year contract from Rich Cho. I cant claim to have any idea how he will work out in the future, but I absolutely love how this went down. Johnny O’Bryant clearly went to the George Costanza school of philosophy: go out on a high note, leave ‘em wanting more.
The day after that game, I was so excited by what I had seen that I started writing a long-form piece on O’Bryant. I was intrigued by how a young big man displaying the range of skills that he did could've flown below the radar for so long. After all, the Hornets didn't even look at O’Bryant until after giving fellow D-League call up Mike Tobey TWO 10-day contracts. I put the question out to our staff Slack, here’s what they said:
Nick Denning So I didn't seem much, but asked a couple of guys from Brew Hoop about him when he signed the 10 day. Their reviews weren't positive -- he had bad hands, so he struggled rebounding and catching in the post, but they also said they had no idea how he had progressed since leaving. Last night certainly showed some progression.
Joshua Cornelissen: O'Bryant has always been able to shoot. It was everything else he struggled with But hopefully he can keep contributing
Steve Bob Forrest: Interesting... could you elaborate on that, like what specific struggles he had/has? That’s a really interesting/weird problem for someone who can shoot to have bad hands
Joshua Cornelissen: If he's open on the perimeter, he can catch and shoot. From the corners or his favorite spot seemed to be the top of the key. But he didn't secure rebounds or catch in traffic. Milwaukee tried to pair him with Greg Monroe and that didn't work at all on defense as neither guy protected the rim.
Obviously, thats not the best feedback. However, if O’Bryant had played differently his first go-round in the league, the Hornets wouldn't have even been in a position to sign him in the first place. A big man dramatically improving after years of knocking around in the D-League and abroad isn't without precedent. How many teams missed out on Gastonia native Hassan Whiteside?
All in all, we just don't know what we have here. But if you’re looking for a glimmer of hope, its Johnny O’Bryant. The Hornets are desperately lacking in young prospects that could potentially bloom into good to great players. Save for Frank Kaminsky, no one else on the roster seems likely to make any sort of leap. However unlikely it may be, O’Bryant at least has that thread of a possibility to him.