Not everyone was impressed when the Celtics drafted JaJuan Johnson. Despite his success in college, a career which ended with more wins than any Purdue player in history, the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award, some fans pictured Johnson as a late-first round bust.
Red’s Army wrote, “The kid may or may not turn into a solid player someday… and maybe he’ll get some spot time… but I don’t see him being a consistent, night-in and night-out contributor to this team. I hope I’m wrong here, but I think the most realistic expectation for THIS SEASON is spot minutes, maybe a highlight or two, but mostly bench/D-League time.”
The Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett was similarly unimpressed. “I was among the legions who were profoundly underwhelmed,” he wrote. “A skinny, 6-foot-10 guy who managed to slip all the way to No. 27 while being projected even lower by many in the basketball business? No need to wake the banner stitcher.”
Their surly reaction made sense. In most drafts, big men worth a damn would never fall to the 27th pick. In this draft, known as one of the weaker drafts in years, the likelihood was even lower. Given the fact that Johnson is also built like an oversized toothpick, the naysayers had enough ammunition to launch many rounds, no matter how well Johnson played against Big Ten competition last season.
Yet not everybody shared Bulpett’s initial pessimism. Bulpett also spoke to a respected NBA scout who thinks quite highly of Mr. Johnson.
“The Celtics did a great job,” the scout said. “This guy should have gone before. Danny did a really good job when he identified this kid. He can play. People up there might think I’m crazy, but JaJuan Johnson is a great replacement for Kendrick Perkins.
“I’m not saying he’s going to step in and be a star, but this kid can help that team. And he’s going to get better.” …
“Don’t let the skinny (part) fool you,” the scout said of Johnson. “He’s wiry and he’s tough. All they do in the Big Ten is go out every night and beat the hell out of each other, and this kid was right in the middle of it taking the hits and blocking shots. He’ll surprise you with his low-post defense.”
But a great replacement for Perkins? Johnson barely slipped into the first round, right? And Perkins was a tough customer who didn’t back down from anybody, no?
“Yeah, Perkins can hold position under the basket, but how many really good post-up centers are there in the game anymore?” the scout replied. “I’m telling you, this kid can move a lot better, and he’s still tough. He’s going to be able to get out and guard guys, and he’s not going to back down from anyone. And he’s much better with the ball. He’s a straight-up, no-nonsense good kid.
“There were a lot of foreigners that people got all excited about, and some teams were afraid of (Johnson’s) physical stature, but he’s going to make some teams look silly for not picking him.”
With people split on whether the Celtics selected a certain bust or the next Kendrick Perkins, the only consensus thought about Boston’s two Purdue selections (I include E’Twaun Moore now) is that they’re winners. Sure, they’re flawed. Sure, they wouldn’t win any weightlifting competitions. Sure, Dwight Howard isn’t shivering in his boots thinking about playing JaJuan Johnson. But these guys scrape, claw, battle, hold, grab, shove, hit the open teammate, make the right play, and win games.
In other words, they’re Celtics. Except that they’re young, athletic (at least in Johnson’s case), and possibly quite underrated.
- If you haven’t already, read Jessica Camerato’s piece about Johnson and Moore. Now.
- Moore (#55) and Johnson (#12) have selected numbers. Goodbye, Von Wafer?