What can James Johnson bring to the table?

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Last year at the draft, I was jumping up and down for joy when the Bulls drafted James Johnson.  The ball handling skills he had with his size were so tantalizing, and I thought he provide a second player who could create his own shot and play well on offense.

I still feel his ball handling skills are tantalizing, but the rest of his game never developed enough to utilize them in a meaningful way.  His jumper wasn't good enough for him to shoot from the outside and even his mid range was shaky while he looked completely lost playing off the ball.  His weight also appeared to be an issue at times, as he was playing an athletic position while carrying an extra 20lbs on him.

So what can we expect this year?

One thing is for certain, Johnson's dedicated himself to getting into elite physical condition.  He's dropped all the excess fat, and he's now a 6'8 athletic beast.   Last season, he made so many athletic defensive plays while carrying the extra weight that I think with proper coaching he has the physical ability to become a versatile defensive stopper that can guard three positions.  

However, much like when off the ball on offense, Johnson frequently looked lost as to where he should play in the defensive scheme last season.  He struggled with the covering someone else's man on a rotation or losing players on cuts and backscreens.   However, when he was on the ball, had to chase someone down, or rotate to help on the ball he made spectacular athletic plays.   When things were more straight forward, he'd.use his quickness, length, leaping, and timing to disrupt passing lanes, block shots, and play help defense.

Johnson's now 25-30lbs lighter and has a premier defensive coach to help him.  Whether he puts in the work and can learn to play in the scheme will be on him, but the potential is there.

On the offensive end, he still has the raw talent to become successful as well.   However, despite coming into summer league in phenomenal shape, Johnson struggled to play well against d-league caliber competition.   This shouldn't be taken as too large a red flag as these games aren't team oriented, the overall sloppiness of the play makes them hard to evaluate, and it's such a limited sample size.

But.... we'd have hoped he'd blow us away, or at the very least look good.   Neither happened.

On the offensive end, Johnson needs to do two things well to help this team.   He needs to knock down open jump shots, and he needs to learn when to cut to the basket.   Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer are both masters of the basket cut, and hopefully Tom Thibodeau can mentor Johnson better than VDN did.   Unfortunately, these things go against his natural strength of working on the ball and taking players off the dribble.

Johnson's commitment to getting in shape shows that he's serious about becoming a player in the league.  He's willing to put in the work.  He's proven it.   Can he learn to play a role as a supporting player?   Can he maintain focus and understand his responsibilities off the ball on both ends of the court?    Will he even get an opportunity to play minutes this year without an injury?

The Bulls didn't do Johnson any favors in how they crafted the roster this off-season, and I don't blame them.  He didn't show them enough last year to go into this season with a 15-20 minute niche carved out for him, and now he'll need to beat out newly signed players making over twice his salary to find minutes. 

In fact, Johnson's likely in jeopardy of not having his third year option picked up at all.  If he doesn't show considerable improvement from last season throughout training camp and preseason, the Bulls are likely to write him off all together.  They no longer have minutes to develop him, and are committed to chasing championships instead of player development.

Can Johnson come in and make an impact?  I think he has the physical ability to do so.  I think in limited minutes, he's shown flashes of what he can become if a team was committed to developing him, but Johnson needs to prove he's the best man for the job right now not that he could be the best man with proper development, and he needs to do it with the deck stacked against him.

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  • It's really too bad. He fumbled a golden opportunity to become a long-term NBA player (and essentially rich) but also got hosed by having a "coach" like VDN and an extremely short window to develop. He did collect about $1.6 mil and didn't have to do much for it, but given a little more patience and time to develop he could become something special. Now he may never really get that chance.

  • In reply to jamatokwu:

    Agree. It is a question of first impression. If he had been Taj like, he would have got a lot of new things to try and fail. The mistake he/VDN made was not evaluating him and giving him a specific role to do well to build his confidence.
    I hope he gets a role on the second team(bench) to play alongside Korver.
    The strange thing about a black belt, those guys are usually good in focusing their skills to take it to a higher level in anything they do. JJ looks to be the opposite. It probably tells that his BB IQ is very low which might lead to his downfall..

  • What can Dickey Johnson bring to the table? A trade asset. That's it.

    I don't see him being apart of the Bulls' long-term future.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    how can you still keep caling him that?

    you might as well call him brett farve.

  • In reply to pinkizdead:

    avtar,

    He MEASURES up to what Dickey Simpkins brought to the Bulls, minus the jewelry the actually Dickey has on his fingers these days.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    The 3rd Year Rule

    It seems pros figure it out in 3 years or less. If they don't, their careers are in question.

    Tyrus Thomas was tantalizingly erratic in his performance, but the Bulls chose Taj Gibson as a dependable alternative in the draft last year. It was a decision that worked very well.

    James Johnson was the insurance policy for the sometimes fragile Luol Deng. But Luol surprised with a healthy and dependable year while JJ disappointed with overweight mediocrity.

    Noah's great 3rd season is my best example of an NBA pro "getting it" during his 3rd season. Let's give James Johnson at least two seasons to show what he's got. JJ losing 25 pounds is a very good start (hey, I've lost 45 pounds this past year).

    Here's hoping Thibodeau can do what VDN couldn't do, develop all his players and make them into a basketball team. I am looking forward to this Bulls season more than any in recent memory.

  • In reply to rkraneis:

    I had a similar Rule that I modified to a player's 6th season post high school to compensate for the high school to pros and one-and-done guys. Teenagers rarely come in with the maturity of a guy that played 3 or 4 years of college ball so I give them another couple of years to "get it." 24 seems to be the age where players start to show who and what they're really going to be in the NBA.

    The good ones continue to tweak their game after that but unless they're stuck behind one or two stars or solid, near-star veterans for several years, you usually have an accurate picture of the player they're going to be by age 24, roughly the average age of a player 6 years removed from high school.

    Unfortunately for them most NBA teams aren't that patient. They tend to go by the 3rd Year Rule, too. If he can't produce consistently by then he's usually outta there regardless of how young he was when he came into the NBA. I hope JJ improves enough to really help the Bulls either on the court or with increased trade value.

  • In reply to rkraneis:

    The only hope I have for JJ becoming an effective pro is that Mr Happy is convinced that JJ is useless, and what are the odds that Mr Happy is right about ANYTHING basketball-related?

  • In reply to bullsville:

    Bullville,

    More jealousy. Thanks for the mention.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    Wouldn't he be better off playing a full season in the D-League rather than getting garbage minutes at the end of the bench? He would be available in case of a Deng or Korver injury, but I think big minutes in the D-League would give the Bulls the best chance to evaluate whether to pick up the 3rd year option.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    To answer your headline question Doug, James Johnson can bring the orange gatorade cooler to the table. Because he can be a great yet expensive waterboy. Last year I had higher hopes with Johnson than Gibson, but boy was I wrong there. I agree with Doug that Johnson has the physique to be a good asset I just dont see the hunger in his eyes, he seems very lazy at this point, I guess he could prove us all wrong this year, but the fact that he couldnt do anything good against d-leaguers keeps me doubting him even more.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    I think JJ is another example of a guy who left college early and wasn't really ready for the NBA. Look what four years did for Taj.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    Anyone else see this? Joakim says playing for Del Negro was like Club Med and for Thibs it's like a military camp:

    http://www.hoopsnotes.com/2010/09/joakim-noah-with-del-negro-it-was-club-med/

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    Anyone else see this? Joakim compares play for Vinny "Club Med" vs. Thibs "military camp"

    http://www.hoopsnotes.com/2010/09/joakim-noah-with-del-negro-it-was-club-med/

    This is good...

  • In reply to mcooper81:

    NoahsHair,

    What happened to winning one for VDN?

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    Happy, I think Joakim was just exercising that unique wit of his.

  • I disagree on that point of him being an athlete. He is pretty good athlete for the 3 position and he can create but can he do it at this level? That's the question.
    The biggest problem is his basketball IQ. That seems to be bad. If you look at successful college teams, it is usually one player from a group of 3/4 who are selected who does well in the NBA. For ex: Mateen Cleaves was the higher pick than Morris Peterson who was kind of the 2nd best player at MSU but Peterson turned out to be the better player in the NBA. That said, we just need to see for a couple of years to watch how this guy matures and learns the game.

  • Overall, I'd agree, but I also wouldn't mind seeing JJ get some strategic time in the D-league this year, if only to get him minutes on the court where he is competing. It's hard to get better when the only thing you are doing is practicing.

    But the overall evaluation is spot on. right now JJ is an ugly duckling. He has the ball skills and coordination to do some nice things, but lacks the overall bbiq you need to be a ballhandler/creator on the NBA level. If he can work himself there, he could still end up being a nice surprise, but it's going to be hard for him to earn meaningful minutes this year.

    I actually wouldn't be that surprised if his option is picked up though. We want to get through Miami, and JJ was definitely drafted with Lebron in mind. A physical 3 with 6 strong hacks in him can be a blunt instrument off the bench, at the minimum.

  • It seems somewhat rare for players to overcome entering the NBA with a low basketball IQ. And sadly, that is the situation facing James Johnson - He's more athlete than basketball player.

  • JerseyChaser vs. Chris Broussard:

    http://twitter.com/Jerseychaser54/status/25046800225

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    What credibility does JerseyChaser have?

  • In reply to Dileg:

    RobD,

    I'm not sure, but Yahoo's Marc Spears, who happens to know Melo pretty darn well since high school, keeps backing their information up.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    OK, since Deng's contract is something that nobody wants, why do these rumors keep coming out about the Bulls being one of Melo's rumored destinations? I mean the Nets and the Knicks have all of this big time cap space and can offer young players and picks... I say SO WHAT!!! Why in the world would Melo want to go to a team where he would be the only star there with very little help and why would he want to go to a team that has a lame coach that doesn't know the word DEFENSE and has a so called all star player that doesn't want to play defense. I still say it's about what Melo wants and not Denver, or they can be like Cleveland and Toronto and let him walk. If I were Melo, I wouldn't care if I were from Baltimore or Brooklyn or were my wife wanted to be. I would be trying to win and win a championship and going to N.Y. or N.J. will not bring him a championship regardless of what trades either team would make. I know a lot of people are trying to sike themselves up to believe that the Heat can be beat and they can be, but the right team will have to be put together to succeed in doing this and not because I am a Bulls fan, but I believe the Bulls are on the right track into contending and beating the Heat in a series and adding Carmelo without trading Noah would indeed seal the deal for me. To me if Carmelo agrees to a sign and trade to either N.Y. or N.J. then he knows something and we should all look for Tony Parker or Chris Paul TO END UP WHERE EVER Melo gets traded to. But really from a basketball and winning point of view, he should be trying to get traded to Chicago if NY and NJ are his other choices. Common sense should tell him that Chicago is the better of the three and DAMN WHAT DENVER WANTS!!!

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Reesel,

    People are ASSUMING that the Nuggets' don't want Deng or his contract.

    I have been trying to tell people on here that Deng is a top 10 SF in the NBA (true) and that he, along with Gibson, would save Denver about $3-$5 dollars per season, in terms of contract $.

  • In reply to MrHappy:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/The-NBA-A-through-Z-Defense;_ylt=AlyQIHZsCCdCdBRpcfdCMiO8vLYF?urn=nba-270481==============Along with Carmelo, this will get the Bulls a championship.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/The-NBA-A-through-Z-Defense;_ylt=AlyQIHZsCCdCdBRpcfdCMiO8vLYF?urn=nba-270481 my fault I messed link up

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to MrHappy:

    Just to play a little devil's advocate JJ was asked to play the 4, then play the 3, then not play at all, projected for the d-league, rumored as trade bait, asked to drop a bunch of weight (which he did) and at one point during summer league given time at the shooting guard for chrissake. All this is just over 1 year in the league.
    Who's going to succeed when he's being asked to do something different practically everyday. What I want to see is what happens if he gets a consistent 8-10 minutes a game at one of the forwards. Come rain, come shine, come blocks, come idiotic fouls, come dribbling the ball off your foot into traffic, whatever. You want a guy to become a consistent contributor? Give him a consistent role. Hopefully Thibs can accomplish that.

    But then again if Thibs manages a championship ring with Johnson on the bench I'm okay with that too.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    BTW to actually answer the question on this thread I think Johnson's ceiling is Robert Horry (he just reminds me of Horry for some reason), while Mr Happy has adequately documented his floor.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    Redwhitenblack,

    Thanks for the mention.

    Your ceiling could be seen as an insult to Robert Horry, who is one of the most CLUTCH players in playoff history.

    Perhaps, CEDRIC CEBALLOS is more like it. Just a thought.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    I can't wait until he starts his MMA career. I got money on James Johnson knocking out Brock Lesnar in the first round by 2012.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    I agree. Just give him a simple role in the beginning for 8/10 mins. Play him at 3 to space the floor with Korver as SG on the second team. Let him bring some energy on defense and do some things on offense like setting picks, shoot if open and slowly expand his game. He can be also the insurance in case of a injury to Deng for 5/6 games.
    He has to learn the game and at his age/level of BB IQ...he needs to play through mistakes to learn.

  • Doug,

    THROW-IN to match salaries...that's it.

  • ISIAH THOMAS CHIMES IN:

    It's between the Bulls and Knicks.

    http://www.chicagobreakingsports.com/2010/09/isiah-melo-will-wind-up-with-bulls-or-knicks.html

  • RPK,

    He doesn't make that much and can be cut loose soon, so his value is debatable.

  • Doug,

    Agreed.

  • I agree, and not only because of his off season work ethic. Throughout the first half of last year every time JJ touched the ball you knew he was shooting (open or not). As the season progressed i noticed he played more "within" an offense. As if some people told him to stop trying to score so much and earn your minutes by being a little smarter.

    I agree that overall he looked pretty lost last year, but i don't think it is due to lack of effort. I hope with some tutiledge under Thibs and the rest of the team he can improve enough so that he isn't a liability on the court.

  • http://www.realgm.com/src_wiretap_archives/69205/20100921/nba_executive_melo_wont_sign_with_new_jersey/ I guess this crosses out all the guys saying N.J. having the best offer huh???

  • His court awareness n knwoledge f the game are weak as he showed this summer. Thus it is wildly unlikely that he will become a defensive stopper. He'd have to understand why offensive players move the way they do and he hasn't shown that knowledge on offense let alone defense. If he had a dead eye 20 foot shooting range all this would be different. As it stands his confusion makes others get out of position and coach T can be no fan of that nonsense

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