JaJuan Johnson makes the most of his opportunity
|02.02.12 at 1:33 am ET|
After the Celtics’ 100-64 thrashing of the Raptors Wednesday night, Mickael Pietrus directed the media to JaJuan Johnson‘s locker. “He’s ready for you guys,” Pietrus said. The reticent Johnson nervously laughed.
“This is only one game,” said Johnson. “It’s definitely good for me personally to have a game like this. I definitely want to be a contributor to this team.”
Johnson had been used only sparingly this season, seeing a grand total of 28 minutes going into Wednesday night’s game. In those brief stints Johnson has shown flashes of why the Celtics took him in the first round of the draft. However, the most amount of time he had logged in a game was just over 5 1/2 minutes.
“Like I told someone earlier, you just have to see the bigger picture,” Johnson said. “I understand my time will come. You have to be ready at all times, and that’s what I try to do.”
Johnson’s preparation paid off Wednesday night. In 10 minutes of action, Johnson went 5-of-5 from the field, scoring 11 points.
“The last two or three weeks have been good for me,” he said. “The beginning of the season I got in and had a couple air-balls. It was just more jitters and being so tight coming off the bench. I was happy to see a few shots fall.”
Although it is certainly wise not to overreact to a player’s performance in a 36-point blow out, Johnson’s overall growth is noticed by someone who evaluates him every day — head coach Doc Rivers.
“He just keeps getting better,” said Rivers. “His energy is unbelievable. He’s an offensive weapon. He can shoot the ball, he can run the floor. Where he’s really improved is his positioning defensively on the post. Early on guys were just going through him. He’s learning now, you can use your chest, you can use your arms, you can slide people with your feet and he’s doing that.”
Johnson agreed with Rivers that the transition to the NBA has come a lot harder on the defensive side of the ball, but he also has the luxury of being mentored by one of the game’s greatest defensive players: Kevin Garnett.
“[Garnett] is always there to answer any questions I have,” said Johson. “He gives me advice. During the game, I messed up on a play, and it was definitely my fault. But he told me to stick with it and keep playing, and I did that.”
The rookie also has the added benefit of seeing hard work pay off even after rookie hardships with the play of Avery Bradley. Bradley struggled with injuries and sporadic playing time his rookie season, but in his second year Bradley has become a significant contributor to the Celtics.
“You can either be like, ‘Man I’m thrown in the game at the end of the game, and I should be getting more playing time,’” said Bradley. “Or you can go and play like JaJuan did. I think he played so well. It’s hard because you are just being thrown out there and you don’t want to make any mistakes.”
Johnson said that he still feels like he is learning the offense, and that as the season goes on his confidence will grow with his understanding of the system. While it isn’t likely that Johnson will usurp any of the veteran big-men’s playing time, he could steal the minutes that Greg Stiemsma is currently getting as the fifth big man in the rotation. The lockout season is also a war of attrition and opportunity may be as close as a sprained ankle.
“JaJaun’s going to be a good player,” said Rivers. “I really believe that and maybe this year.”
For now, Johnson has to keep things in perspective and keep improving his game, something his teammates won’t let him forget anytime soon.
“Whenever you’re done with the media,” said Pietrus, “Just keep it real and go get me some water.”
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