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For Alize Johnson, timing was everything. For the Nets, too

Brooklyn Nets v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Maybe Brooklyn’s big trade deadline acquisition was a journeyman picked up not in some deal involving players and picks, but fresh out of the G League.

The Nets had been circling the wagons since the All-Star break, filling roster spots with vets who hadn’t played in a year, kids trying to make a mark on 10-days. Five in all between the James Harden trade and this week.

Then, with a need to fill an open spot on the roster by March 22, Sean Marks decided it was time to strike one (maybe) final 10-day deal with an enticing two-way forward from the G League: Alize “Zay” Johnson. According to George Langberg, Johnson’s agent, those talks intensified on March 21 when Marks reached out to him directly.

“This was good timing,” Langberg told NetsDaily. “To bring him aboard and see what they could do with him.”

Shortly after, Langberg reached out to Johnson to share the big news, who was staying in his Williamsburg, Pennsylvania home, a home he had bought for his mother just in the last year.

“I called Alize and I said, ‘How would you like to be a Brooklyn Net?’” explained Langberg. “Obviously his reaction was, ‘are you serious?’”

Langberg said the news, delivered at 1 a.m. EST, caught Johnson off-guard. “He thought I was (screwing) with him,” explained Langberg. Once things settled in, Alize and his family celebrated the news. Johnson was waiting for an opportunity like this to “show he belonged,” as Alize put it on Wednesday night. What better place to showcase his gifts than with a team that many have penciled into the NBA Finals.

The next 24 hours for Johnson were a wild ride. On Monday, he took a car to Brooklyn to get his physical done. The next day, Johnson was on a flight to Utah to make his Nets debut. By Wednesday night, he had made his presence known to the NBA at large while clad in white-and-black threads.

Alize jumped, quite literally, off the page in his debut against the Utah Jazz. A non-stop grinder with a nose for the ball and an insatiable appetite to win, Johnson cleaned the glass with astounding proficiency to the tune of 15 boards in 33 minutes ... one of which was over the NBA’s second-leading board man, Rudy Gobert. Take a look in the video below.

Johnson also flashed strong isolation defense instincts, matching up with Donovan Mitchell on 4.4 partial possessions, per NBA stats. In the middle of the third, he shadowed Mitchell’s footwork on the dynastic Utah guard’s step-back, keeping his hands down to avoid Mitchell’s rip-through move, shown in the video below. The shot went in, sure, but Mitchell didn’t call “bank.” So, does it really count?

Johnson’s got a little bit of a wiggle to his game, allowing him to parlay his springy boards into transition possessions by pushing the pace himself. No reason to wait around for Chris Chiozza or Tyler Johnson to lead the break when Johnson can whip out effortless carry-over moves into reverse finishes.

He’s also got himself a nifty push-shot, which he can launch from all directions and distances to the same satisfying results. You’ll see it in the video below; he muscles and prods his way into a tenacious box-out, grabs the rebound with one hand, and then spins his way into a fall-away scoop shot with the grace and confidence of a young player who just passed his first test in Brooklyn with flying colors.

“He was great,” Nash said after Johnson’s debut in Utah. “Stuffed the stat sheet, played good defense and gave us tons of energy. I don’t think he’s really played since the G League “bubble” (which ended three weeks ago). So, heck of an effort from him. Proud of the way he played.”

What happens next for Alize is up in the air, though there is reason to be hopeful. The trade deadline proved to be quieter for Brooklyn than some expected, but the Nets are still sitting pretty with two open roster spots and two $5.7 million exceptions. The buyout market is expected to be robust, featuring the likes of Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge, and quite possibly names like Otto Porter Jr., Gorgui Dieng, and Avery Bradley. Johnson’s future as a Net may hinge on Brooklyn’s performance among the buyout options.

“The Nets wouldn’t rule it out,” said Langberg of Johnson securing a deal that extends beyond the current 10-day deal.

Regardless, don’t expect the situation to affect Johnson’s performance on the hardwood. He’s been counted out his whole life, a junior college product who sprouted from 5’7 in high-school to 6’8 currently. The 24-year-old exists with a perpetual chip on his shoulder. He played 31 games for the Pacers over the last two years but spent most of his time in the G League, leading in rebounds and offensive efficiency this season.

“He’s a guy that controls what he can control and takes it day-by-day,” said Langberg. “And makes the most of every opportunity he gets.”

(League sources indicate to NetsDaily that Alize Johnson is two-way contract eligible due to new league rules allowing two-way deals to be struck at any time. This was not discussed with Langberg.)

Post game, Johnson talked about his priorities.

“Just prove to everybody that I belong here in the NBA and I’ve put in a lot of hard work and I’m going to continue to just keep working and be the best player I can be,” he said, adding, “I’m just taking it day-by-day, trying not to think about that. Every time I get out there on the floor and get an opportunity, I try to play like it’s my last game. That’s just how I’m approaching this thing, and everything else will kind of take care of itself.”

With 23 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals against the best team in the NBA, it’s safe to say Johnson is doing exactly that in Brooklyn.