The Wizards won't seem to fully acknowledge what's going on with Johnny Davis so on Saturday's Bleav in Wizards podcast, I brought on former Wizard and fellow Wisconsin Badger Sam Dekker to help us understand it. As Dekker says in the episode, no one benefits from sugarcoating the situation.
Simply put, Davis has struggled. Really struggled, in fact. According to Dekker, this isn't actually all that uncommon. Sometimes we don't completely realize the depths to which a young player is struggling. Granted, most don't look bad in the G League but that doesn't make him any less likely to turn it around.
Between dealing with an early injury that cost him a large part of his rookie year and a trade that forced him to prove himself all over again, Dekker knows a little bit about what Davis is going through.
Davis didn't suddenly forget how to play basketball. But perhaps he did forget how to just hoop. Throughout the episode, Dekker explains how steep the NBA learning curve is and how processing speed, overthinking, injuries, and eroded confidence could all be playing a role in Davis's struggles.
He suggests things that Davis can do for himself but also that the team should be doing for him to help him course correct. I won't list them all here because more than any other podcast I've tried to summarize on Bullets Forever, I think it’s much more impactful coming from Dekker directly.
Dekker started by explaining how teams often think they can totally overhaul a player's jumpshot overnight and how often they are ineffective at doing so. Playing in the NBA is much more complicated and requires a player to relearn what they should be doing on each possession. Now, a player has to remember where to be and where everyone else will be in addition to thinking about his shooting form.
Dekker continued by saying that this isn't just mentally taxing but can be a big drain on a player's confidence and ego, two things you need to compete at a high level. Imagine you've been very successful shooting one way your whole life and now a person you just met is telling you that what you do sucks and you need to start over. Dekker recommends making minor tweaks if needed and then just "repping out" existing form until a player becomes more comfortable.
Davis is clearly suffering from a crisis in confidence and thinking too much on the court. Dekker suggested some things that worked for him when he went through similar struggles adjusting as a rookie and coming back from injury.
One of the things that worked for him was playing full-court one-on-one against a coach as it allowed him to just "get in his bag and hoop again." Players often become robotic when they're put into certain boxes and this would allow Davis to rebuild his muscle memory for the movements that allowed him to dominate the Big10.
We often hear that most of the skill development progress occurs in the offseason. With that in mind, I asked Dekker if it might be worthwhile for the Wizards to shut Davis down from playing in games for the rest of the year and just start the offseason process early.
Dekker thought that was a reasonable approach as it would also allow Davis time to just watch his NBA teammates for the rest of the season and learn without having other things on his mind. At this point in the year, he's seen enough G League action that studying his Wizards teammates like Bradley Beal up close might be more beneficial.
Dekker also explained how much of the negative fan reaction players see when they're struggling. That part is definitely more impactful coming from him than from me so if that interests you, I'd encourage you to give it a listen.
Whether it's the approach we covered here or something else entirely, at the very least we both hope the Wizards have an action plan for how to help Davis be more successful in his sophomore campaign. And that includes giving him time to find his footing as plenty of players don't start to feel comfortable until multiple seasons into their careers.
Sam Dekker is currently starring for the London Lions of the British Basketball League. In the first part of our conversation, he explains how the Lions were a huge underdog entering the season, their first in EuroCup competition. Due in large part to Dekker’s 19 points and 6 rebounds per game, the team has already clinched a EuroCup playoff birth and looks poised to make a deep run.
On a personal note, I’d like to thank him for being honest and open about his own challenges acclimating to the league and how different aspects of his situation derailed what looked like a promising NBA career. He seems at peace with where he’s at in life, which he talks about in the episode, and I wish him luck in basketball and beyond.