Johnny Davis on Summer League, inspiration from family

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Davis on Summer League, inspiration from family originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

LAS VEGAS — Johnny Davis is taking the longview with his NBA career, an approach that served him well at the University of Wisconsin after a freshman year in which he averaged just 7.0 points per game. He remained confident and upped that number to 19.7 points per game as a sophomore, transforming his basketball future from being merely on the NBA radar to a top-10 draft pick.

It’s an approach that paid off in the pre-draft process after what he described as a “so-so” workout with the Wizards. They still chose him, as team executives felt they couldn’t pass up his potential to impact the game on both ends of the floor.

“My agents told me that they really liked it as a spot I could land and I’m really happy that I landed here,” Davis told NBC Sports Washington.

That firm belief in himself should work in Davis’ favor coming out of the 2022 Las Vegas Summer League, which saw him make progress through three games but overall leave with, by his own admission, a bit of a disappointing showing. He was eventually shut down due to lower back tightness, which may have explained some of it. Davis shot just 29.6% from the field and averaged 2.7 turnovers in 24.8 minutes across three games.

Davis spoke with NBC Sports Washington after his first game in Las Vegas, one in which he shot 2-for-11 from the field. It got better from there, but even after that performance he expressed resolve things would improve.

I get this first game probably wasn’t what people wanted to see. But I’m just gonna keep building on it and keep getting better and better and eventually the Wizards are gonna be a championship team,” Davis said.

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Davis’ takeaways from Summer League include the need to be more aggressive looking for his own shot. In college, he was a menace in the midrange, the type of player who could create off the dribble with calculated ease. He was adept at getting opposing defenders off-balance and then making them pay with clever moves in the lane.

Outside shooting wasn’t really his game. While he attempted 3.9 threes per game last season, he knocked down only 30.6% of them. In order to find the same success he had in college attacking the middle, he may have to prove he’s a threat from the perimeter to draw defenders out towards him.

There is also the difference in speed, length and athleticism from college to the pros. That stood out to Davis very early on in Vegas.

[In my first game,] I passed up a lot of open shots, catch-and-shoot threes. And instead, I would just drive to the basket. But that’s not always gonna work because guys are a lot bigger and more physical. So, I would probably say just whenever I get the open shots, just take them,” Davis said.

Last season, when discussing then-rookie Corey Kispert’s development, Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said something that may apply to Davis. Unseld Jr. said it’s common for rookies to not realize what constitutes an open shot in the NBA. When defenders are longer and faster, they can close out very quickly. The window to shoot is much smaller in the NBA than it is in college.

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After getting a grasp of the spacing and timing of NBA defenses, Kispert improved throughout his rookie season. Davis could find a similar trajectory.

Davis’ Summer League experience could portend a learning curve when the 2022-23 season begins this fall. Whether it happens overnight or not, what’s more important is just that he ultimately gets there. Davis said he sees players like Devin Booker, Jimmy Butler and Jaylen Brown as comparisons for what he someday hopes to be.

“Just those guys who can score but also play two ways,” Davis said.

While those may seem like lofty comparisons to some, Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady might disagree. In an interview with NBC Sports Washington last month, he said he believes Davis is going to be one of the best players in the 2022 draft, specifically that he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. McGrady said that before the draft, too, so he wasn’t playing to the Washington crowd.

Davis is only 20, so McGrady’s best NBA years may have been a bit before his time, but he knows enough about T-Mac to understand it’s a major compliment.

“I’ve definitely seen a little bit of Tracy McGrady. I appreciate him saying that. That’s some pretty high praise coming from a player like him. But that just means I gotta get in the gym and keep working until I get to that point,” Davis said.

Davis found motivation in McGrady’s comments, but says his biggest inspiration is his family. He may now have a 4-year NBA contract, but hopes this is just the start of a long and successful NBA career and one that sets an example in more ways than just financial security.

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My family; my mom, her work ethic. She goes to work for 12 hours a day, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., comes home and still cooks and cleans for the family. And then my dad, just him being in the NBA. I’m just trying to follow the same footsteps he did. And for my siblings. I’m just trying to pave the way for them, too. Get this experience and hopefully share it onto them,” Davis explained.

“[My mom] is the manager at her pharmacy. So, she does a lot. There’s some times when people are taking days off and she’s going in to cover for them. But that’s why I do what I do. And that’s why I’m gonna try to continue to stay in this league so eventually, one day she won’t have to keep doing it.”

Davis said that even though he has an NBA contract now, his mother “is just going to keep working.” It’s her mindset, he says.

It may take him some time, but if Davis reaches his goals in the NBA and with the Wizards, maybe one day he can convince her to retire.

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