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."