Two weeks ago, the Nets signed NBADL forward Damion James to a ten-day contract. In need of some extra legs in wake of an injury to Gerald Wallace, bringing James in was an easy decision for Brooklyn. Having played for the Nets in each of the last two previous seasons, the third-year veteran already had a familiarity with the team's playbook, making it easy to throw him right into the fray during practice.
Such a method proved to be comfortable for the Nets, so much so that another NBA team has followed suit.
Facing a barrage of injuries of their own, the Minnesota Timberwolves used a roster exception (granted specifically because the squad had been dealing with so many injuries) to sign Santa Cruz Warriors forward Chris Johnson of the NBADL to a ten-day contract of his own.
He may not be the D-League's most highly regarded prospect, but what Johnson did in fact have going for him was familiarity with the organization. The forward spent training camp in Minnesota this past fall.
Able to get his foot in the door due to some past history with the Timberwolves, Johnson has further proved that getting noticed to the D-League isn't always solely due from pouring in the points. Logging one of the most versatile stat-sheet stuffer efforts of the season, Johnson averaged 10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game in Santa Cruz. The forward may have struggled with inconsistencies earlier in the campaign, but with some added playing time in the month of January, Johnson really began to turn up the intensity. Perhaps it was just in time.
In quite the most unlikely of circumstances, Johnson's success in the D-League (along with his level of production) has seemed to almost directly translate to the NBA, in even lesser minutes, in fact.
In four contests thus far, Johnson has been to provide Minnesota with quite the necessary boost off the bench. He's averaging 10.5 points (on just a shade under 70% shooting from the field) 4.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks through 19 minutes per game.
Much like his opportunity in Santa Cruz came to fruition more recently, Johnson has undeniably cashed in on his time to shine, with the Timberwolves facing so many injuries. Whereas James perhaps served as more of a practice player for the Nets earlier this month, Johnson is getting that oh so coveted chance to hit the hardwood. He's certainly not making his team regret it.
The forward has impressed the Timberwolves so much so that, according to reports, the team is not only getting poised to sign him to a second ten-day contract, but will also likely attempt to lock him up for the rest of the season. As Jerry Zgoda notes, the team will either need to free up a roster spot or apply for another injury roster exception to keep Johnson in the fold.
But as far as the young gun is concerned, there's no doubt he's been doing his part to warrant more of a guaranteed stay in Minnesota. At 6'11" and 200 points (some reports even suggest he weighs less than that), Johnson's physical makeup is unique to that of others at his position. He's uses a certain amount of quickness, coupled with his long wingspan, to create a unique physical ability on defense that allows him to slow a wide variety of defenders. He can score, he can rebound, but being able to pester opponents in a bevy of different ways is what helps Johnson stand out most.
Emerging as a more than capable contributor for the Timberwolves at perhaps the most opportune of times, Johnson is playing well and appears to be doing enough to warrant sticking around for the long-haul in Minnesota.