How can the Bulls use James Johnson effectively?

The first preseason game didn't go so well for James Johnson.  Of course, having a poor preseason game isn't a big deal.  It's just a blip.   However, throughout summer league and that preseason game one disturbing trend has emerged.
James Johnson doesn't play well off the ball.

Combine that with the obvious, Derrick Rose is going to always be on the ball, and you have a recipe for trouble. 

We saw it at summer league, we saw it on Friday.   Johnson doesn't seem to know how to get involved without the ball in his hands.   Part of the problem is the offense.   Luol Deng struggled with the same problem for much of last season.   He still may end up struggling with it this year.

The answer to this problem is simple.   At least to me.   James Johnson needs to play PF.   Now, I've thought he needed to play PF before anyway, but that goes double now.   The PF doesn't have the same role in having to float around the perimeter and figure out when to cut to the basket or try and stretch the defense with three point shooting.   For now, neither of these things seem like strengths for Johnson.

However, at PF, how good would Johnson look setting a pick?    Towards the end of the Pacer game, Johnson set a bone crushing pick on an unsuspecting Pacer (AJ Price?) freeing up Lindsay Hunter for a three.   Johnson has the best pick setting body on the team.  He's got the size to get in the way and the bulk to lay people out.  He's also more than willing to take the contact.

After the pick, Johnson's also a nice target on the pick and roll or pick and pop.   He's probably more effectively on a roll than Noah or Tyrus because he has the greatest ability to finish a contested shot with one hand on the team.   When Tyrus and Noah aren't getting dunks, they're finishing isn't that great while Johnson can finish the tough "sort of" open shots better.  

He'd also be effective on the roll out.  He's got a nice mid range jump shot even if his range doesn't extend to the three point line, and he'd be a great threat on a pump fake an drive with his ball handling.  

It's always been obvious to me that Johnson needs to play at PF, and one game into the preseason seems to support the cause.

Johnson is immensely talented, but the Bulls need to play to his strengths.   We can't try to force a round peg into a square hole.  There are four scenarios that can play out here:

  • Johnson reinvents his game becoming a great outside shooter and off the ball cutter.
  • The Bulls change the system and allow him to have the ball in his hands much more at the SF position in a position to create
  • The Bulls play him primarily at the PF positions
  • His immense talent is never fully utilized

The third option certainly seems like the most appealing one to me.  Especially given the players in front of him at both positions.


Leave a comment
  • You have a serious MAN-CRUSH on James Johson...haha.

    Now back to your question. I have always thought he is a SF and not a PF, so I would say he's the back-up to Luol Deng. He does have some good ball-handling skills, so maybe they can let him become somewhat of a Point-Forward when Derrick Rose isn't in the game. That being said, he needs to learn the NBA first, including how not to foul out of a game.

    By the way, stop dogging on Derrick Byars. He's a solid all-round player, who is working his tail off to make it the NBA. Contrary to what you believe, I think he has a real shot of making the Bulls roster. They could use another player with some size and skill, who can play both Shooting Guard and Small Forward. Sure, he's an under-dog, but what's wrong with rooting for the underdog?

  • SMALL FORWARD, not really a POWER FORWARD, sorry.

    Bulls Director of College Scouting Matt Lloyd on James Johnson:

  • Doug you make some good points. JJ is probably the only other big who is strong enough to set some decent picks for Rose, but I view that as more of a failing of the other guys. I am an irrationally firm believer in 2 anecdotal theories in basketball:
    1) Players, especially rookies, should not play two positions. The game is tough enough to transition to that learning 2 positions makes guys hesitant.
    2) If guys are physically talented enough to play 2 positions, they should play the smaller position. Bball is a tall mans sport and if you are bigger and stronger than your counterpart than it gives you an advantage.

    The fact that Deng is our SF will make it hard for Johnson to get a ton of minutes. But I'd rather see Deng switch to PF for periods to give JJ time at SF, because of #1 above.

    Also, I like JJ as a 2nd ball handler out there is a point fwd role with the 2nd unit.

  • I will have to wait until the regular season starts and the NBA Ticket kicks in to actually watch Johnson play.

    However, with Deng and his $12 million per, and Salmons as a swing 2-3 Johnson is not likely to have many minutes available to him at small forward.

    Double However, with Tyrus Thomas a major question mark and part time knucklehead, Johnson should have ample opportunities to show his stuff at power forward, assuming that Taj doesn't steal his thunder.

    Which means that the Bulls caoching staff in their infinite wisdon will peg him as a small forward, stunt his development and likely waste his rookie season.

    Why are coaches so apparently myopic, when most reasonably astute fans can apparently make better judgements about players capabilities and roles just from watching the games on TV.

    I feel the same way watching the Bears, it seems to take the coaches several games or even a season or 2 to figure out what fans can sense almost innately.

  • When the Bulls are struggling on offense, particularly from the power forward position, it seems that Johnson might be able to provide a lift, based on his one on one abilities that Thomas can't.

    We only have a 7 man rotation, which is too short for the regular season, so someone among Pargo, Johnson and Gibson will have to step up and could earn significant minutes (20 pg).

    Unless Miller starts playing 30 plus minutes pg, which I think would be too much, there should be some good minutes available in the front court for at least one guy, will it be Johnson or Gibson, or will they both join Pargo as bit players(10 minutes or less pg).

  • I agree with Doug for the most part, but I think JJ has to be held accountable to a certain degree.

    Yes, James Johnson is very skilled with the basketball, but at the small forward position, those skills become fools gold. The guy is not quick enough, and doesn't shoot the ball well enough to make his perimeter game the meat and potatoes of his offensive attack. It could be a great asset at the four, but at the three it's simply fools gold. I think you will see what I'm writing about if he's matched up against a NBA caliber defender like Ronnie Brewer on Tuesday. JJ is just not quick enough to consistently get around his defender in the half court game. This flaw at the small forward position will lead to JJ forcing up a bunch of bricks from the perimeter, making him a less than effective player.

    The main question I have about James Johnson, is pretty similar to the question I have about Tyrus Thomas. Is he willing to be the player he needs to be, or is he so in love with the concept of being the perimeter player he fancy himself to be? The answer to that question is obviously yet to be determined, but I think in the early stages (really, really early) he's clearly on the wrong path.

    On a side note, I think if Taj continues to play well at the backup four, this could end up being a throw away season for our Johnson.

  • I disagree with DT. JJ has to adjust to Derrick Rose or he's going to be left behind. I think he's a Paul Pierce type of player and that's the truth. Vinny and Rose should run post-ups for Johnson and let him operate on the block at times. I think putting him at PF will clog playing time for the mysterious Tyrus and the greatly, undocumented Gibson. I like what I saw out of Gibson and that may be the reason I disagree wholeheartedly.

  • Sorry Doug.

    It was actually Mark Deeks, who was dogging Derrick Byars.

    "Kirk Hinrich didn't play in the preseason opener with a slight hamstring injury, and Jannero Pargo sat out with a minor wrist injury. So if they can't go, and if Rose also can't play versus the Jazz on Tuesday, then this will probably mean that my first ever NBA game will feature a starting backcourt of Lindsey Hunter and Derrick Byars. That would be.......something."

    Regardless of Mark's poor attitude's and pessimism, I'm still rooting for this kid to make the Bulls. If anyone didn't see the game vs. Indiana, he had similar stats to Luol Deng, as well as his counter-part Brandon Rush and he also badly outperformed James Johnson. If he continues to EARN his minutes and eventually a spot on the Bulls roster, I hope money or politics don't come into play.

  • **If we can get JJ to keep LeBron under 20 points without fouling out, then I'll be happy.**

Leave a comment