WASHINGTON — These days, a jury meets every time Johnny Davis enters a game.
Every time a basketball lands in his hands, every time he rises for a jump shot, every time an opposing player tries to beat him after the dribble – that’s when let people who care about the Washington Wizards formulate their verdicts, concluding whether team officials made the right call when they selected Davis 10th in the 2022 NBA draft.
What happened Saturday night in a cozy arena in southeastern Washington did little to appease critics eager to prematurely label Davis a “bust project.” In fact, it probably intensified the already smoldering doubts. But at the same time, it may also have marked a turning point in Davis’ development, a vital step in his quest to become a rotating NBA player.
Davis appeared in his first game for Wizards’ G League affiliate the Capital City Go-Go and recorded his longest playing time in months, a necessity for a youngster still acclimating to the speed and physics of professional basketball.
“It was great to finally be able to play again,” Davis said. “Being with the Wizards, you always have to stay ready, but I’m glad they sent me here so I could get some reps and get that feeling back.”
His stat line will not win over opponents. In 26 minutes against the Toronto Raptors branch, Davis scored 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field. He had three rebounds, two assists, blocked a pair of shots and returned the ball twice.
His performance resembled his play during the NBA Summer League in July. As in those games, he struggled to beat defenders from dribbling, hitting shots or making a clean impact on offense.
There were some shining moments, however. In the second quarter, he kept 6-foot-7 forward Gabe Brown, then moved to 6-3 guard Jeff Dowtin Jr., successfully guarding him as Dowtin missed a layup. Shortly after, Davis ran past 6-5 guard Ron Harper Jr. and converted a layup as he absorbed contact from 6-8 forward Reggie Perry.
“I thought Johnny showed why he was the 10th pick,” Go-Go coach Mike Williams said. “He was aggressive and sometimes when he came to the paint he made good decisions. He scored. He had hard shots, rim shots. For him, I think he has to make decisions a bit faster, but overall I think it was a decent outing. You have to keep in mind that he didn’t really play a lot of minutes.
Granted, due to his relatively few reps since his second season at the University of Wisconsin, it would be a mistake to rate the 20-year-old shooter too harshly.
But in the Summer League, preseason and his limited regular-season appearances so far for the Wizards, it was hard to identify many instances where Davis undoubtedly looked like a quality potential NBA player.
Indeed, on Saturday’s Go-Go list alone, several players showed more developed abilities or skills for the NBA, including Wizards third-year center Vernon Carey Jr., who scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds. Quenton Jackson, a wing in his first professional season out of Texas A&M, unleashed some dunks that showed he had at least NBA-level athleticism.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) November 6, 2022
Despite the exploits of Carey and Jackson, the Go-Gos lost to the Raptors 905, 110-107.
Washington assigned Carey, Davis and 21-year-old forward Isaiah Todd to the Go-Go because they have significant hurdles ahead of them on the depth chart. Wingers Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Will Barton and Corey Kispert, when healthy, will receive playing time ahead of Davis.
But Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard said the team would remain patient.
“He’s doing great,” Sheppard recently said on AthleticismThe Wizards Podcast, “Bullet Points.” “He’s a mentally strong lad. His freshman year in college he was a very low-key player on the team. His second year he was Big Ten player of the year. He’s familiar with that: come in and earn his stripes and earn a living. And he’s come to a (NBA) team that actually has great depth in his position. So we don’t have crazy expectations of him that he come on and change the world from day 1. We expect him to be an impact player, and he’s got the tools, he’s got the talent, and now he just has to bide his time.
Wizards fans concerned about hyperventilated Davis’ early game when news broke that Davis would come off the bench on Saturday for the Go-Go. But there were reasons for that. Chief among them: Wizards officials gave the Go-Go a 24-minute recommendation for every game Saturday and Sunday. Getting Davis off the bench made it a bit easier to adapt to that.
Davis had played in garbage time in the Wizards’ blistering Friday loss to the Brooklyn Nets, and he could play when the Wizards visit Charlotte on Monday. So with the possibility that he could play games on four consecutive days, team officials wanted to be on the safe side, especially since Davis hadn’t played much in the previous weeks.
Before Saturday’s game, Williams said he didn’t expect Carey, Davis or Todd to make huge numbers.
“We’re not waiting for them to come here and score 30 points,” Williams said. “They won’t be asked to score 30 points for the Wizards. We want to help them play the role they’re going to play for the Wizards.
Williams added that Davis would be expected to play solid defense, make the right play on offense and get used to playing a competitive five-on-five again.
After the game ended, Williams said Davis was “at least solid” on defense.
Davis will get another chance on Sunday — and maybe more luck with the Go-Go in the weeks and months to come. The Wizards’ practice facility is located in the Go-Go arena, and Wizards officials consider this a significant advantage.
For Davis, playing for the Go-Go may ultimately be remembered as a building block.
“There were a few times in the second half where the guys were driving and I stayed solid,” Davis said. “But I feel like I can just improve my full game.”
(Photo: Brad Mills/USA Today)