Johnson Continues To Make Impact Plays For Wolves

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Forgive Chris Johnson if he doesn’t hear the roar of the crowd after one of his alley-oop dunks or highlight-reel blocked shots. He admits that when he’s in the game—aside from the memorable M-V-P chants during his first game with the Wolves on Jan. 19—he is usually so focused on the game that everything else is kind of a blur.

“But I hear one lady in the back yelling C.J.!” Johnson joked. “So I know I have one fan.”

Fear not, Chris. You’ve got more than one.

Johnson has become a fan favorite in his own right, often bringing Target Center fans to their feet. There’s a reason for this. When Johnson gets his hands on the ball, it seems like good things happen.

Take last night’s 107-83 win over the Spurs, for example. Johnson scored just six points, but he was 3-for-3 from the field—including a pair of alley-oop dunks that showcased the athleticism he possesses in his 6-foot-11 frame. One in particular came on a backdoor cut coming off a screen in which he took a lob from J.J. Barea and, seemingly with his back to the basket, twisted his body around and threw down the dunk.

He added six blocks on the night—five coming in the first half, and one coming in spectacular fashion in which he swatted a Danny Green layup attempt off the back board. The ball ended up in Ricky Rubio’s hands, and he found Alexey Shved in transition for a fast break basket on the other end.

Each time he takes the floor, Johnson is focused. Two months ago, he was bussing around the D-League with the Santa Cruz Warriors. Prior to that, he spent the previous two seasons playing in a combined 41 NBA games for three different teams.

He’s already played in 18 games for the Wolves this year, averaging 12.5 minutes per night—more than he had in any of his stops in Boston, New Orleans or Portland—and he’s averaging a career high 5.2 points per game while shooting 62.9 percent from the field.

“Just bringing effort, that’s all it takes for me,” Johnson said. “I just have excitement to play this game. A lot of people can’t say they’re doing what they love for a living. So I don’t know, it’s just a great opportunity and I just want to make the best of it and leave it out there.”

Right now, he’s doing just that.

Johnson works with assistant coaches Bill Bayno and Jack Sikma at practice, trying to learn the nuances of the game that can help him develop into a more well-rounded player. Bayno gets physical with Johnson working on his post game, and with good reason. His drawback is that, at 210 pounds, he can get pushed around by some of the more bruising centers in the game if matched up against them.

Still, Johnson can bring other elements to the court that other front court defenders cannot. He runs the floor as freely as a wing player. Though he isn’t as physical as a guy like Nikola Pekovic, he can jump out of the gym and protect the rim when called upon.

And he’s learning how to play and defend the pick-and-roll game, something that every team attempts to play in different ways. With a Wolves back court headlined by Rubio, Shved and Barea, Johnson gets a chance to see pick-and-rolls played out in creative ways almost every day in practice.

Regardless of his game minutes, he’s learning every day. And he’s relishing that opportunity.

“Even if I wasn’t playing, I would be learning,” he said.

Because of his mindset, he’s won over his teammates as well as the fan base.

“I think he should be in the league full time,” Barea said. “He comes with a lot of energy. He runs the floor as quick as anyone else. He blocks shots, finishes at the rim. He’ll make an open jump shot here and there. He’s doing a great job.”

Johnson has become a nice complementary bench piece on this Wolves team, giving opponents a different look than what Pekovic or Greg Stiemsma provides on the court. It gives the Wolves a change of pace in the 5 spot athletically, and from a team standpoint he’s ready to go when called upon.

He’s got the right mindset to be a valuable teammate on the Wolves’ roster.

“It doesn’t matter to me if it’s five minutes or 15 minutes,” Johnson said. “What I want to do is bring energy, block shots and just bring effort every single game. It’s all about what you can do in that time and maybe expand it.”

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