JaJuan Johnson has come a long way in a very short period of time for the Boston Celtics. While he hasn't exactly made the kind of jump that Jeremy Lin has with the New York Knicks, Johnson has looked a lot better in the month of February.
In his first two months of play, Johnson averaged 2.0 points or less and under one rebound in nine games. But in five games this month, Johnson is averaging 5.8 points and 1.8 rebounds while averaging 10.5 minutes per game.
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Johnson is coming off a career game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, as the rookie forward had 12 points, four rebounds and two steals -- all career highs -- in a personal high of 33 minutes, helping the lead the C's to a 95-91 win.
"I played good," Johnson said. "I think, next to [Rajon] Rondo, I didn't play good at all. I played not that many minutes, but when I was out there I definitely didn't play the best I could."
Johnson has a point. During the early stages of the game, Johnson made several mistakes. He finished the game with three turnovers and missed several shots, including a long jumper that didn't hit the backboard or net to finish 6-for-13.
It wasn't a perfect game, by any means. Still, there were plenty of bright spots. Johnson brought a youthful essence to the game, as his athleticism and added energy is a breath of fresh air for the graying and oft-winded Celtics.
"It was great," Johnson said of the team's energy. "I think one of those things that caused it was just Doc [Rivers] telling everyone to run. I think we got easy buckets in transition. When you get those transition buckets, dunks, layups, I think it gets the crowd into it too. So I think that was a big key to this game."
And there were plenty of dunks, all thanks to Rajon Rondo. Johnson was the beneficiary of several Rondo alley-oops, as was reserve forward Chris Wilcox, allowing the young forward to put his athletic skill set on display.
"He played great," Johnson said about Rondo, who finished with a triple-double with 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. "I don't think anyone expects anything less from him. The way he played today, he's a great player, obviously. Best point guard in the league, and he played straight."
Johnson has had two other games on par with Sunday's. His coming out party took place in the Celtics' 100-64 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 1, when Johnson finished with 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting and two rebounds. On Feb. 5 against the Memphis Grizzlies, Johnson amassed 10 points, four rebounds, two blocks, an assist and one steal.
All season, Johnson has not been given consistent minutes. That in itself is not a surprise. Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox are all ahead of the young big on the depth chart. Injuries have played a role in Johnson's recent increase in minutes - he's averaging 10.5 minutes this month after averaging 3.5 and 3.1 in his first two months of play.
Bass is out for one to two weeks, while Wilcox had been battling injuries and Jermaine O'Neal is day-to-day. That has translated into more minutes for Johnson, and that increased playing time has resulted in invaluable experience for him.
It all comes down to consistency for Johnson, who as a rookie is bound to make mistakes. The more he plays, the better he will become, a fact that Celtics head coach Doc Rivers knows well.
"He's got to keep doing it," Rivers said. "You know, one game doesn't make a star. One season doesn't make a star. So you've just got to keep doing it, and he's got to do it consistently. He will, like I keep saying, he's a great kid and he wants to do it. He's young and he's still learning focus and all that. But he's a good player."
Good is a start, but if Johnson wants to carve out a permanent role, he'll need to be great.