When the Boston Celtics first signed D-League call-up Chris Johnson to a 10-day contract, few thought that it was more than a move to cover for injuries and simply give another shot to a player whose NBA dreams had until then, fallen short on multiple occasions. Johnson, who had previously been cut by the Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets, as well as a brief eight-game stint with the Memphis Grizzlies, had impressed general manager Danny Ainge enough to earn a deal with the Celtics and was immediately rewarded by Coach Brad Stevens with a considerable role and minutes off the bench. The energetic lefty competed on every single possession, working hard on the defensive end and making all the hustle plays that endear a player to his coach. Not only did his effort earn him a second 10-day deal, but Ainge decided to sign Chris Johnson through the rest of the 2013-14 season and to two non-guaranteed seasons after that.
Since earning himself his first real NBA deal, Johnson has not stopped playing with the energy and hustle that earned him the spot in the first place. His activity on both ends of the floor is contagious and he’s had a positive effect on the team both on the floor and as a no-maintenance, hardworking example for the rest of the young Celtics’ locker-room. Despite the team’s struggles this season, and his usually stone-faced demeanour, you can see in his play the excitement of a young man whose hard work has been rewarded with the faith of a storied franchise like the Boston Celtics. His numbers are not eye-popping, but his role and contribution to the team since January have remained steady and after a 59-game D-League career Chris Johnson has likely done enough to secure himself a place in the NBA for a number of years to come.
In 33 games for the Celtics this season, Johnson has averaged 6.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 three-pointers while playing 20 minutes per game. He has shown good defensive ability on some of the league’s most potent offensive swingmen and spreads the floor for a Celtics’ offense that can often struggle to produce points. Johnson flies down the court in transition and often cuts to the corner of the court where his corner three point shooting accounts for a large amount of his offense.
He does not have much of an in-between game but Johnson knows that he can finish around the rim in transition as well as spot up from the three point line and doesn’t try to stray too much from his go-to moves. Johnson’s presence on the court seems to also have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the team as a whole, the Celtics are eight points per 100 possessions better offensively when Johnson is on the court and the team shows an overall improvement in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals when Johnson plays. The “Three-and-D” role player has shown to be a valuable commodity in the NBA and it appears Chris Johnson could define a long, productive career by doing just that.
In a season where the Celtics have slumped to a 23-52 record, which is tied for fourth worst in the NBA, the positives have been few and far between for fans, but the discovery of Chris Johnson should be lauded as one of the real achievements for Danny Ainge as he works to overhaul his roster. He now has an experienced, productive NBA player locked up for two more seasons on a minimum contract which can either provide a valuable trade chip as a non-guaranteed deal or can play out his time with the Celtics at a bargain price. If the Celtics reload this offseason and find some potent offensive weapons to build the team around, Johnson could prove to be a valuable role player in Boston for much longer than the 10 days he originally signed up for.