Unheralded and undrafted out of Fresno State, Tyler Johnson showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie season with the Heat last year. Johnson dropped 26 in a win against Phoenix in March and three games later, he scored 24 to lead Miami past Sacramento.
Between stints in the D-League and injuries, though, the 23-year-old wasn’t able to put together a full, consistent season, posting 5.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game in 32 appearances with the Heat. As he enters Year Two, he’s looking to change that and provide pivotal backup minutes to Miami’s talented backcourt of Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.
We caught up with Johnson at Summer League in Orlando—where he already has a game-winner—to talk hoops, sneakers and of course, emojis.
SLAM: How do you feel your game has improved since last year?
Tyler Johnson: In a lot of different ways. I’m a lot more comfortable. My mentality, I think that’s been my biggest growth area. Just staying ready when my number is called. Obviously, working with some of the best basketball players in the world, you’re going to get better if you stay the course. All I’m trying to do is keep my mind right and trust the process.
SLAM: Do you feel you’ve taken a leadership role at Summer League this year, after playing all four years in college and playing in the League last season?
TJ: Of course. This is where I got my start. This is where I separated myself, in the sense of earning the job. Whenever any of the younger guys have questions, or whenever I see something that somebody is doing wrong, or if anyone just needs a bit of advice here and there, I definitely try to give it to them.
SLAM: What’s the feedback been like from the coaching staff?
TJ: They just want to win. We’re 3-0 right now, and we were able to get the win (Monday night) even though we were sitting some of our key guys. I think that’s just a testament to how hard we’ve been working in the days leading up to Summer League and the mindset of the group of people we have here.
SLAM: What was scoring a career-high 26 points last season like for you? Was your phone blowing up?
TJ: I started to get into a rhythm. I had to battle a couple of injuries leading up to that. But I was just starting to get more comfortable out there. And yeah, my phone was definitely blowing up after that game [laughs].
SLAM: Do you play with a chip on your shoulder after going undrafted and getting assigned to the D-League multiple times? Are you on the floor trying to prove something?
TJ: Of course. There were a lot of guys who were drafted instead of me who I go up against, and I want to show them, and everyone, that just because I wasn’t drafted, or just because my name wasn’t big coming out of college, I’m still a very good player and that I should be a valued player. Any time you go up against one of those guys, you’re trying to prove something, thinking, “Maybe I could’ve been in that situation.”
SLAM: What do you see as your role with the Heat this coming season?
TJ: Being one of the backup guards, being able to contribute defensively at all times. And when my name is called, and the ball finds me out on the perimeter, being able to make plays with it, whether it is my spot-up jumper, taking it to the hole or finding people. I just have to play off the other guys.
SLAM: What are some of your hobbies during downtime and on road trips?
TJ: Just sit down [laughs]. Watch some Netflix, talk to my lady and my son. I miss them when I’m home, so I try to keep up with them and what they’re doing.
SLAM: What are you watching on Netflix these days?
TJ: I actually switched over to Hulu. But I’ve watched Orange is the New Black and Master Chef.
SLAM: What music is in your headphones before games?
TJ: To be honest, I don’t listen to music before games. But I’m big on Big Sean right now.
SLAM: What kicks have you been rocking recently?
TJ: I brought a couple of pairs of Jordans with me [to Summer League]. The “Double Nickel” 10s and the 13s.
SLAM: What’s the first thing you bought when you signed with the Heat last year?
TJ: I didn’t really buy it, but I just sent money to my mom.
SLAM: What’s your favorite emoji?
TJ: That’s a tough one. I use them all. Probably the heart eyes I send to my lady.
Photo via Getty Images