By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
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.
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."