The Curious Case Of JaJuan Johnson: A Look Back At His 2012-2013 NBA D-League Season

Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Former NBA first round draft pick JaJuan Johnson was selected first overall in this year's NBA D-League draft. Johnson played for three different NBADL teams this season, and battled his way through an up and down year. After his valuable learning experience in the D-league, is the NBA still a possibility for the former Purdue standout?

Change of scenery is nothing new for JaJuan Johnson, in fact, the former Big Ten Player of the Year and Purdue All-American played for three different teams in the NBA D-League this past season. After being selected first overall in the 2012 NBADL Draft, Johnson played in 13 games as a member of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants before being traded away to the Canton Charge. Johnson spent 17 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA D-League affiliate, then found himself traded for a final time to the Idaho Stampede.

Was there a reason for Johnson's movement around the D-League this past season? Was it based on inconsistency, lack of production, or being disengaged? Selected 27th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Nets, Johnson was traded (go figure) to Boston where he played in 36 games during the 2011-2012 season. He averaged 3.1 points, and 1.6 rebounds in 8.3 minutes. After his rookie season, Johnson was traded to Houston and cut in training camp. Why have so many teams parted ways with Johnson? Is there a serious flaw somewhere? The answer is no.

In terms of Johnson's previous season in the NBA D-League, there are multiple explanations as to why the 6-10 forward seemingly bounced around from team-to-team. Steve Warden of the Journal Gazette spoke with Fort Wayne Mad Ants Team President Jeff Potter, and head coach Duane Ticknor about their 2012-2013 season. The team selected Johnson with the first overall pick, and according to Potter, "...JaJuan Johnson just wasn't working. You could see it. His body language wasn't great, and the guy has played on three D-League teams in one year. He's obviously gifted. He's got talent. But obviously, there's some disconnect going on there. I hope he finds it. It was an easy decision." Potter said.

Ticknor believed that Johnson was one of the reasons for his team's slow (3-10) start. "And JaJuan didn't play up to expectations. We could of taken (Rio Grande Valley's Andrew) Goudelock, but we chose to take JaJuan...If JaJuan would've panned out, we wouldn't have had the 3-10 start. There wasn't one organization in the whole league that wouldn't of taken him with their first pick. Everybody we talked to, that's who everyone thought was the best player." Ticknor explained.

With Fort Wayne, Johnson averaged 13.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 1.3 steals in 13 starts. Looking at his numbers, the production was there, but after reading Potter and Ticknor's comments, it seemed that Johnson just wasn't a great fit for their team.

...

The Mad Ants traded Johnson to Canton in exchange for Luke Harangody. With Johnson and Harangody, the swap involved two completely different guys and players. In Harangody, Fort Wayne got what they were originally looking for by drafting Johnson, big time scoring and rebounds combined with a fiery attitude out on the court. Johnson's demeanor was much different in their eyes, hence trading him for a noted contributor like Harangody.

In Canton, Johnson's minutes decreased from 35.0 per game to 21.4, but his field goal percentage climbed to 44%. from 39%. Overall, his totals went down along with his opportunity to get minutes. When Canton ultimately traded Johnson away, it was due to their void of wing players after Alex Ruoff's departure. In return for Johnson, Canton received Kyle Weaver in a four team deal. Johnson averaged 8.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 17 games for the Charge. He only started in 3 games.

However, according to Canton Director of Development League Operations Mike Gansey, Johnson's time with the club seemed to be beneficial and ended on good terms. In a comment to Josh Weir of CantonRep.com, Gansey said, "JaJuan was awesome. He worked his butt off. He did everything we asked him to do. We have a lot of bigs, and with Kevin Jones being assigned on occasion, there aren't a lot of minutes to go around."

The tune from Canton's personnel on Johnson was different than in Fort Wayne, and although his stats didn't impress all that much, Johnson at least proved that his work ethic certainly wasn't in question, nor the ability to be a solid teammate.

...

"As he continues to develop his body, he can become a major factor in our league and ultimately earn himself a roster spot in the NBA." -Idaho Stampede Head Coach Mike Peck

Johnson ultimately ended up with the Idaho Stampede to close out his 2012-2013 NBA D-League season as part of the four team deal which landed Kyle Weaver in Canton. Johnson kicked off his run with the Stampede in impressive fashion and against the team which dealt him last (Canton Charge), he tied his season high for points scoring 24 points in 31 mins. 11 of his 24 points came in the first quarter of the matinee showdown in Canton. It seemed like Johnson was finally on track to showcasing his talents in the perfect setting.

Johnson's coming out party was short lived, and once again his minutes diminished. In Idaho, Johnson averaged 13.1 minutes with the Stampede, and also saw his totals dip yet again. In 12 games (1 start), Johnson averaged 6.8 points and 1.8 rebounds. Becoming apart of a team that late in the season is difficult, and Johnson's limited playing time was primarily a result of that.

But it was in Idaho that Johnson had the opportunity to be coached by an excellent developer of young talent, Mike Peck. Peck earned his coaching stripes as a head coach for the incredibly successful Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nevada), and has assisted in the development of NBA talent for a number of years. Peck spoke with RidiculousUpside.com about Johnson, and what the possible future can still be for the 24-year-old.

"First and foremost, JaJuan is a top-notch person. A high character, high quality individual. As a player, JaJuan is extremely athletic, and has the ability to finish at and above the rim at a high rate. In my short time coaching him, he displayed a solid and developing mid-range game. He has the ability to shoot it and/or drive it from 18 feet. He has great hands and excellent foot work. After his year in the league, he has a better understanding of the pro game; speed, urgency, spacing, rotations. As he continues to develop his body, he can become a major factor in our league and ultimately earn himself a roster spot in the NBA." Peck described.

The praise from Idaho Stampede head coach Mike Peck makes it clear that Johnson has the potential to be an impact player at the professional level. With a full season in the NBA D-League to his credit, and despite the challenges that were presented to Johnson during this past season, his future is still bright. What happens next will ultimately be up to Johnson himself.

Will the former Boilermaker pull up his boot straps and gear up for another run back to the NBA? Johnson certainly has all the tools to do so, and after this past season in the NBADL, it seems that the talented forward is better suited for another shot at The Association.

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