James Johnson

You probably already know by now that the Raptors traded their late first round pick from Miami to the Chicago Bulls for seldom-used sophomore forward James Johnson yesterday. Since Johnson has only played 880 NBA minutes and only 23 of those minutes were against the Raptors, it’s likely that many of you don’t know a lot about him. To be honest, the first thing that popped to mind when I learned that the Raptors acquired him was, “Isn’t that the mixed martial arts guy?”

Johnson has indeed competed in kickboxing and MMA events, but he currently gets paid to play professional basketball. After an inauspicious rookie season with the Bulls where he averaged 11.6 minutes, 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, he fell to the bottom of the Bulls’ depth chart this season and he’s only played 123 minutes so far. It would be an understatement to say that’s rather disappointing for a player selected 16th overall in the 2009 draft.

I haven’t seen enough of Johnson to form much of an opinion on him (although his career Player Efficiency Rating of 10.2 doesn’t inspire much confidence) so I asked Matt (@BullsBlogger) from Blog-a-Bull to give me a one-paragraph scouting report. Generously, he gave me four:

James Johnson never really got the same sentimental underdog feeling from me or other Bulls fans like some first rounders past that were in similar fights for minutes. Maybe it’s because the other member of his rookie class, Taj Gibson, was drafted later but immediately paid dividends. It’s more likely that it was because unlike someone like Tyrus Thomas, who despite inconsistency actually produced in the limited time he received, J.J. never really did enough to warrant fan-pining for more time.

(J.J. is a pretty lame nickname, but acceptable shorthand. I became particularly fond of the BaB commenter-suggested “Jimmy Johns” (Do Canadians know what that is?). He’s also known for his martial arts and kickboxing skills: his father was a professional fighter and he has some achievements in that realm himself, automatically putting him in the top .05% of NBA players, who are usually surprisingly slap-happy when it gets down to fighting…)

The problem with Johnson in Chicago is that the Bulls’ team situation required him to fit in as a role player and he did not have the refinement in his game to do so. He was able to create, attack, and draw fouls but also commit turnovers. He was big for a small forward but not able to go inside, and undersized for a power forward. A nice shot, but not dependable enough from three-point land. An active and disruptive defender, but prone to fouling. There is a lot of talent there, but he needs substantial minutes (and trust to play through mistakes) to figure out what he should and shouldn’t do. Maybe that can happen on a (ahem) “developing” team like the Raptors.

From all accounts, he was regarded as a good teammate and a hard worker, though he has had issues with conditioning which may speak less to the latter. But his is a tough way to find your way in the NBA: good enough in many different aspects to want to be a jack-of-all-trades, but not great enough in any one thing to make up for the mistakes that come with it. It’s enough to dominate the D-League (as he did last month) but unless you’re a budding star it’s not typically what you want out of a player. He doesn’t seem ready yet to be molded into a specialist, but I still could see him becoming a volatile but useful high-usage bench option. He just turned 24 so he’s running out of time to figure out what he can excel in.

Regarding Johnson’s D-League stint, he played eight games for the Iowa Energy recently and averaged 32.1 minutes, 19.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.5 blocks and shot 53 percent from the field. Impressive numbers, certainly. But let’s keep in mind that our own Trey Johnson was the D-League’s leading scorer before the Raptors called him up — grains of salt, and all that.

No matter what happens to James Johnson’s NBA career from here on out, he can probably already lay claim to one title — he’s quite likely the best professional basketball player to ever come out of the great state of Wyoming. Cheyenne, stand up!

Comments (7)

  1. So in other words, if we invest the court time to develop him, there may be some actual upside to this deal. Not surprisingly, that upside is most likely in the form of a solid bench player, but I wouldn’t complain if he exceeded those expectations.

    And yes, I know what Jimmy Johns is. But then again, I have the good cable.

  2. He’s extremely athletic. He saved the bulls by playing well defensively in the few games that he played in. He’s an unrefined talent, and we simply didn’t have the minutes playing behind korver, deng, brewer, and regrettably bogans.

    James is actually the nicest bench player on the team. He’s extremely affable. He’s kind to the fans. He’s a great locker room guy. He’s also a pretty hard worker. He was 250 lbs last year. He’s down to 220 this year. If you’re willing to play him, you should have a quality role player , akin totaj gibson, on your team.

    if you want to know more about the guy, check out the bulls confidential. doug thonus, the writer is in love with guy.

  3. wow you have lost alot of followers!

  4. a: I assume you’re referring to the number of people who comment on RaptorBlog? Comments are down but the blog still gets similar traffic to what I’ve pulled since I returned. And my stuff on TBJ like http://blogs.thescore.com/tbj/2011/02/21/buzz-bissinger-is-probably-racist-and-definitely-wrong-about-the-nbas-popularity/ gets plenty of readers.

  5. It’s just one game, but Johnson looks like he could be a pretty well rounded player. Leo actually pointed out something useful early on when they showed a replay of Johnson impeding Boozer’s movement on a pick rather than just letting Boozer go wherever he wanted to go without any resistance. Little things like that are nice to see on a team like this. Plus on a team with that’s perenially viewed as soft (justifiably), I like having a black belt in there. Maybe he’ll put KG in a submission hold next time we get killed by the Celtics.

    Not to pick on Jay, but two favourite yell at Jay moments were seeing how long he went with Bargs and Ajinca matched up against Boozer and Noah. I think he was testing out that water vs. stone philosophy or something. And then seeing how long it took him to put Weems or anyone but Jose on Rose in the 4th. I thought he may have been thinking about the tank movement himself.

  6. Take into consideration that no player can score without the ball. You had a lot of opinion
    about a player who never had the oportunity to play.
    Who the heck are you, James Johnson is a basketball player, andrea bargnia didnt do any
    thing at all when he first came into the league.
    Some guys are lucky because they get opportunity that other dont get.
    I does not suprise me that a player with the pefecct built for the small forward position would be sucessful.
    This is our first legit small forward. If we give him all the chance to develope he will get
    Colangelo will build a good team out of Johnsons. next free agent signing will be Joe Johnson.
    Even though move was small iit was a structural move meaning vital. the use of small guards at 3.
    Colangelo has done a terrible job until he signed Johnson,johnson,derozan,davis,and maybe bargnia.
    Oviously the draft is our biggest asset right and a good free agent.

  7. you guys like bargs? in a league where perimeter defense means nothing, i’d trade bargs

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