Despite being a first round pick a year ago, JaJuan Johnson has a number of things going against him right now.
First, the lockout didn't give him many chances to practice with the team, never mind play in actual games. Second, he plays on a team with Doc Rivers, who right or wrong (and I think right) makes rookies really earn their playing time. Third, there's no way around it, the kid is skinny. If he's going to play the 4 in this league, he's going to have to be a finesse 4. That can work, but there's not a lot of margin for error. Forth, the Celtics drafted two bigs in the first round, one of which might have already passed him on the depth chart.
"Obviously minutes are going to be tough to come by this upcoming season, so I've definitely just got to work on being consistent with everything," Johnson said. "It's going to be pretty competitive, so I've just got to be ready." The addition of Sullinger through the 2012 NBA Draft will only further that competition, as it's likely that both he and Johnson will be fighting for minutes in the rotation next season.
Finally, he's playing in the summer league, which means that guards hold and shoot the ball a lot, leaving the bigs to pick up the scraps (though that hasn't limited Sullinger that much).
Some of those items could be considered "excuses" but Ainge isn't going to soft peddle around the things Johnson needs to work on.
"Now, I’m not making excuses for JaJuan," he said. "I think he’s got to find his confidence and his offensive aggressiveness. He’s got to instigate physical play. He’s not the strongest guy in the world, but he is a guy that has never shied away from the physical play. . . . And I don’t think he is right now. "I just don’t think he’s playing with that extreme confidence that he had in college. Hopefully, he can find that and get some sort of rhythm before this is over so he can get some positive momentum going into training camp. If not, we’ll continue to work with JaJuan throughout the summer and get him ready.
I'm obviously not ready to make any snap judgements on the guy after a few scattered minutes last year and a little over a weeks worth of summer league games. He's got talent and he's got length so he's at least worth keeping around to see if he can develop. Maybe falling behind Sullinger on the depth chart would be the best thing for him. I could see JJJ and Melo spending some quality time up in Maine being force fed the ball and getting some of that swagger back that he had in college.
Johnson had his best game of the summer last night and it would be nice to see some more progress from him before the end of the week. He'll also have training camp and the preseason to impress the coaching staff. He may not have had an immediate impact and he might not have the same sophomore season breakout like Avery Bradley did. But there's still time for him to develop into a good rotation player for us. He's just got to overcome a few more hurdles along the way.