Photo by USA Today Sports.
It seemed like it was only a matter of time before Santa Cruz Warriors center Chris Johnson earned himself a call-up to the NBA. Today the Minnesota Timberwolves made that happen, making Johnson the first Santa Cruz Warriors player to be called up to the NBA this season.
As someone who has been to the NBA before, Santa Cruz Warriors center Chris Johnson has been more relaxed than some of his younger teammates about getting his next chance at the NBA.
Perhaps it's that calm that approach to things that helped the long and athletic 6-foot-11 center get a coveted NBA call-up by the Minnesota Timberwolves today: whereas younger players might try to impress by making spectacular individual plays, Johnson has consistently focused on playing within the team concept on both ends of the floor as he alluded to in describing the experience of playing in front of NBA scouts in Reno recently, where he got an honorable mention for his performance.
"Really [the D-League Showcase] is not that different for me, but for guys that's new to this, it probably is," Johnson said after recording 18 points and six rebounds in the Warriors' win against the Tulsa 66ers at Kaiser Permanente Arena on Sunday. "It can be a little nerve-wracking - you could get a little nervous. You don't have a crowd there - it's just scouts there...Just play as a team. Sometimes guys want to do more individual stuff but that's not what scouts want to see. They want to see what you can do within the offense and certain decisions you make in certain situations."
Of course, Johnson is not without a highlight reel of spectacular plays of his own: from big blocks to monster dunks, Johnson has had his share of eye-catching moments. But what always seemed to stand out about Johnson as a NBA prospect was his ability to find gaps in the defense to find scoring opportunities for his high-release jumper, his ability to run the floor, and the instincts that make him a solid weakside shot blocker.
In 14 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors, a team that has had a crowded frontcourt rotation that has included Golden State Warriors post Jeremy Tyler in addition to former Golden State player Mickell Gladness, Johnson has averaged 10.9 points on 53.1% shooting, 6.1 boards and 2.07 blocks per game.
In limited minutes in his past NBA experiences with the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers, Johnson's shot blocking is certainly the thing that has stood out: last season with Portland he has a career 4.6% block percentage (in a career average of 7.6 minutes per game). Certainly one could imagine his jumper being an asset in pick-and-roll sets.
But the one thing that Johnson has consistently mentioned needing to work on is his strength: he's a slender 6-foot-11 and even against D-League competition it's something that opponents look to take advantage of.
"They were aggressive trying to get to the offensive boards," Johnson said after the win against Tulsa on Sunday. "We just know that's what teams like to do, especially with slimmer guys like myself and Mickell (Gladness) - they try to take advantage of that. So we just have to be tougher than those guys and just keep playing hard."
And the Timberwolves are probably as aware as anyone of that constant motor that Johnson has going when he's on the floor.
Johnson was in Minnesota for training camp prior to being waived on October 28. With the T'Wolves currently having seven players injured - including Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, leaving them thin up front - Johnson will have a chance to at least compete for minutes right away.
It was always mildly surprising that Johnson wasn't higher on the top prospects list as a skilled big man who has been in the league before and perhaps this is validation of that.
The Santa Cruz Warriors will return to action without Johnson at Kaiser Permanente Arena today at 7 p.m. PST against the L.A. Defenders. You can watch that game on YouTube. For more on the Santa Cruz Warriors, visit our Santa Cruz Warriors section.