Johnson needs time to mature

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Johnson needs time to mature

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
BOSTON After the Boston Celtics drafted Purdue forward JaJuan Johnson Thursday night, the C's made it clear that they anticipated the 6-foot-10 forward to be in the mix for playing time this season.

But even with an All-American pedigree along with Big Ten Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors to his credit, expectations of Johnson heading into his rookie season have to be tempered.

Why?

It's simple, really.

When you look at where Johnson was drafted, rarely does a player 6-foot-10 or taller taken late in the first round, contribute in a meaningful way to a championship-caliber team immediately.

"Obviously we got some work to do," Johnson told Comcast SportsNet's Kyle Draper shortly after being drafted. "And I'm ready to put in the work."

Since the 2001 NBA draft, there have been a total of nine players 6-10 or taller drafted in the first round at or after the No. 25 pick. Of the nine, four were on a playoff team as a rookie.

David Harrison, drafted by Indiana with the No. 30 pick in 2004, was the best scorer among the bunch with a 6.1 points per game average as well as the leader in minutes played (17.7).

Only one player in that category has won an NBA title. That was former Boston center Kendrick Perkins who was selected by the C's with the No. 27 pick in the draft.

Johnson became a Celtic when the C's used their first round pick (No. 25) to select Providence's Marshon Brooks, and shipped Brooks to New Jersey for the Nets' No. 27 pick (Johnson) and a second round selection in the 2014 draft.

While his shortcomings are apparent, Johnson's versatility and experience give him a shot to do what rookies seldom do in Boston - play in games.

"He's a both-ends-of-the-floor player," Ainge said. "He can shoot. He can rebound, block shots. He's got some good energy, and good length. He fits a lot of parts that we need."

And it is that versatility which gives him a decent shot of being the exception to the big-men-at-the-end-of-the-first-round-suck theory.

When you look at the big men drafted late in the first round since 2002, the successful ones got it done because they were able to contribute in more ways than one.

San Antonio's Tiago Splitter was drafted in 2007, but did not play his first season with the Spurs until this past season. While his numbers this past season don't exactly wow you (4.6 points in 12.3 minutes per game), he was able to help San Antonio to one of the best records in the NBA. Arguably the best big man drafted near the end of the first round in the last 10 years was Florida's David Lee, a 6-9 forward who has established himself as one of league's better rebounders. As a rookie, he averaged 5.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Not only do late first-round big men need talent, but just as important is an opportunity to play.

Players selected near the end of the first round, usually wind up on teams that are used to making deep playoff runs.

That equates to limited court time.

Look at Perkins, the starting center for the Celtics when they brought home Banner 17 in 2008.

As a rookie in 2003, Perkins averaged 2.2 points in 3.5 minutes while playing a total of just 10 games.

One of the top free centers this summer is Samuel Dalembert, drafted by Philadelphia with the No. 26 overall pick in 2001.

As a rookie, Dalembert averaged 1.5 points in 5.2 minutes while appearing in just 34 games.

But having followed Johnson for months, the Celtics have seen enough of him to feel he has the talent to help them.

It's not so much a matter of if, but when, Johnson can be a meaningful contributor.

"You gotta put him on the floor," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I can't tell you if he'll help or not. I think he'll be an NBA player, and a good one. It may take him some time; it may not."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.