Johnson has experience to make impact

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Johnson has experience to make impact

WALTHAM No one is expecting Boston Celtics rookie JaJuan Johnson to come in and average 20 points and 10 rebounds right away, if at all. But unlike most of Boston's rookies in recent years, Johnson comes in with a realistic chance of seeing some playing time from Day One.

An All-American who was Big Ten Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year at Purdue, Johnson comes in with the kind of pedigree that bodes well for an NBA newcomer.

Johnson became the fourth player to return to the Celtics' practice facility since the tentative agreement between the players and owners was reached which allowed for players to resume working out at practice facilities.

While he declined to speak with the media following his Saturday morning workout, he discussed in an earlier interview the transition he'll have to make from college to the pros.

"Everyone is bigger, stronger," he said. "I know it's not like college, anymore. But I'm coming in to help this team anyway I can."

Even though he's yet to have his first practice with the Celtics, it's a given that he'll be one of the Celtics' best big men at running the floor and finishing in transition. He can also score facing the basket and at times from the perimeter.

Defensively, he doesn't have the strength yet to hold his own in the paint with the NBA's elite big men, but his knack for blocking shots as a weak-side defender should fit in nicely with the defensive-minded Celtics.

However, with the lockout wiping out all of summer league and leaving the NBA with a shortened preseason, it's unlikely that there will be many rookies making much of an impact. Johnson's experience may give him an edge in terms of picking up the Celtics' way of doing things, quickly.

"He's a four-year college guy and he's very mature," said his agent, Bill Duffy, who also represents Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "That will serve him very well in the transition."

Ditto for Boston's other pick in last June's NBA draft, fellow Boilermaker E'Twaun Moore.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, believes the experience factor will help both players adapt to the NBA sooner than some younger, less experienced players.

"It helps a lot," Ainge said of the experience. "These guys have improved a lot over the course of their college careers. They've played in a lot of big games, a lot of hostile environments. They've been ranked very high at times in their college career, been ones expected to win. They've been through a lot. That can only help as they get ready for the NBA."

Most players selected in the late-teens or early 20s, usually begin their careers fighting just to crack the regular rotation behind an established standout who logs 30-plus minutes a night.

Kevin Garnett, a player that Johnson has acknowledged that he greatly admired even before he became a Celtic, isn't going to have too many 30-minute or more nights.

As has been the case in recent years, Garnett's minutes will be monitored closely and aren't likely to tip much, if at all, past the 30-minute mark.

That means if Johnson comes in and establishes himself, he can be there as a backup to Garnett.

But that was just part of the reason why Duffy likes having Johnson a member of the Boston Celtics.

"It's one of the signature franchises in basketball," Duffy said. "As an agent, you always want to have a player in this market. You know they want to win, you know there's a lot of visibility. And we're really excited for JaJuan to be here. We think the next several years, he has a chance to have a very prominent role as the Big 3 they're older players now, so they do need to look for new blood, if you will. And the fact that having Rajon here who is such a great leader, we feel this is a great fit for JaJuan to develop more expediently than he might elsewhere."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

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Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

WALTHAM, Mass. –  As the fourth quarter rolls around, you will occasionally catch Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas looking down at his wrist, a gesture to remind anyone watching what time it is – Thomas time.

There are those who elevate their play in the fourth quarter of games, and then there’s Thomas who continues to smoothly navigate his way in unchartered fourth quarter scoring territory.

The Celtics begin the second half of the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, and there sits Thomas atop all players in the NBA when it comes to fourth-quarter scoring.

But that’s not all.

He’s not only dropping more points than any other NBA player in the most important quarter of them all, but he’s doing so at an unprecedented level of 10.1 fourth-quarter points per game.

Since NBA.com/stats began tracking fourth quarter scoring with the 1997-1998 season, no player has averaged more than 9.5 fourth-quarter points (LeBron James, 2006) in a season.

What makes Thomas’ fourth quarter heroics so impressive is that everyone in the building – fans, coaches, opponents – knows that’s when he’s looking to be most impactful for the Celtics and yet he still can’t be stopped.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford acknowledged how tough it is to limit Thomas despite knowing he’s looking to take over games in the fourth.

“It’s hard because the blitz game is impossible because they don’t roll,” said Clifford whose Hornets were beaten 108-98 by Boston on Monday. “If you watch the teams that try to blitz them, you’re going to give up basically lay-ups. We had things in to get the ball out of his hands but the way they played and the stuff that they usually go to late, they didn’t get to. He (Thomas) made some terrific plays; he’s a terrific offensive player.”

Despite what he does in the fourth and his overall scoring average of 28.2 points which is ranked among the league’s leaders, there are still lots of doubters as to how good Thomas.

Regardless of how you view his play, he has consistently played at a level this season that places him among the game’s best players.

And at the rate he’s scoring in the fourth quarter, he’s establishing himself as one of the great closers in the game.

Consider the list of players in the past decade who led the league in points scored in the fourth quarter.

  • 2016: James Harden (7.7)
  • 2015: Russell Westbrook (7.1)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (7.9)
  • 2013: Kevin Durant (8.4)
  • 2012: Kevin Durant (7.3)
  • 2011: Amare Stoudemire (7.1)
  • 2010: LeBron James (8.0)
  • 2009: LeBron James (7.7)
  • 2008: LeBron James (9.1)
  • 2007: Dwyane Wade (8.2)

You have All-stars, All-NBA First Teamers, league MVPs as well as a few future Hall of Famers.

As good as those players were in their respective seasons, when the game mattered most – the fourth quarter – Thomas numbers (for now at least) stand head and shoulders above them all.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens gives Thomas a lot of credit for being such a consistent scorer, particularly in the fourth quarter.

But as good as Thomas is, he’s not out there getting all these baskets on his own, either.

“It says a lot about the fact that he’s got a lot of skilled guys around him that are hard to leave,” Stevens said. “When you’re playing Kelly (Olynyk) and Jonas (Jerebko) together with him, there’s a lot of space on the floor to operate. When those guys are at the four (power forward) and five (center), when you’re playing guys like Al Horford who can space the floor or Avery (Bradley) or Jae (Crowder), you know, those types of guys … at the end of the day I think that it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

And for opponents, a lot of problems.

“He’s been playing well,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of Thomas. “He’s been playing better than anyone in our league. He’s playing with great confidence and making the plays for his team to win games. He’s been great.”