Orlando the player. Orlando the city.
This week they are again one as Indiana Pacers guard Orlando Johnson for a second consecutive year is in Florida as part of the team’s summer league roster.
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard out of UC-Santa Barbara demonstrated flashes of potential as a Pacers rookie in 2012-13, playing in 51 of 81 regular-season games and accruing double-digit point totals on four occasions.
All effort is now directed at solidifying not only a roster spot for next season but increased responsibility within the framework of what Pacers head coach Frank Vogel is attempting to accomplish with his Eastern Conference finalists.
“I like the improvement in his shooting. Orlando still needs to work on his playmaking and just being consistent defensively,” said Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke, the franchise’s summer league coach. “He’s a worker, and that’s not always the case with young players. Orlando is consistent with his effort, consistent with showing up early and being one of the last to leave.”
Burke also is encouraged by Johnson’s passion for examining game film in order to determine offensive and defensive tendencies of opposing players.
“He loves to watch video. That’s a worker,” Burke said.
Johnson’s 17 points led Indiana in Sunday’s 76-68 loss to Oklahoma City in summer league play. He followed that up with 13 points, two steals and an assist in Monday’s 96-75 romp over Philadelphia’s squad.
As is the case with most rookies, Johnson’s introduction to the professional game included its share of bumpy times. His best month was March with 43 percent of his regular-season point total (88 of 203) coming in games played then.
Johnson’s minutes began decreasing the following month; he took part in nine of the Pacers’ 19 postseason games this season, only twice exceeding six minutes of court time.
“The whole season was just learning from the best in the game. We’ve got a great core of guys here from Larry (Bird) and Donnie (Walsh) and KP (Kevin Pritchard) all the way down,” said Johnson, who credits more established Indiana teammates Paul George and George Hill for being instrumental in his progress so far. “The most surprising part (of the NBA) so far is there’s so much film, so much scouting that goes into it.”
The California native began his college career at the University of Loyola Marymount in 2007, averaging 12.4 points and 4.9 boards as a freshman. Johnson elected to transfer to UC-Santa Barbara where, after sitting out the 2008-09 season per NCAA transfer rules, averaged 18 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Gauchos to earn Big West Player of the Year honors.
He was taken 36th overall by Sacramento in the 2012 NBA Draft and immediately traded to Indiana.
In high school and at both collegiate stops Johnson was his team’s go-to player, the guy most counted on by coaches and teammates to take the clutch jumper with time winding down in a ballgame.
Now he’s near the bottom of the Pacers’ totem pole with hopes of moving up.
“I’ve been used to always being the man. As much as I wanted to be out there I knew I had to keep watching film and working in the gym to get better,” Johnson said. “You have to work your way back up. Learn the tricks of the trade.”