What You Need To Know About New Timberwolves Forward James Johnson

by Katie Davidson
Digital Content Associate

Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas has continually stressed the importance of building a team around star center Karl-Anthony Towns during his nine months in Minnesota.

He’s stuck to his word and brought in guys around 24-year-old Towns’ age range. The average age of the new group is 23.6 years old. One of the outliers in that group is newly-added, 32-year-old James Johnson who’s in the 13th season of his career.

Johnson was acquired by the Wolves on Thursday, Feb. 6, in the three-team trade between Memphis, Miami and Minnesota, which sent former Wolves veteran Gorgui Dieng to the Grizzlies.

Johnson was accustomed to moving from team to team before Thursday’s trade.

The Chicago Bulls selected Johnson, a Wake Forest alumnus, with their No. 16 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Johnson spent the first 78 games of his career with the Bulls before being moved to Toronto where he stayed until the 2012-13 season, which he spent with the Sacramento Kings. He joined the Memphis Grizzlies the following season, returned to Toronto in 2014, and has spent the last three and a half seasons of his career with the Miami Heat.

Throughout his five-team career, Johnson has averaged 7.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game and has served as a reliable player off the bench. The Wolves are hoping that reputation is upheld in Minnesota.


Athletic Defender

Did you know there’s a three-minute highlight video of James Johnson defending LeBron James in 2018? Do you realize how long a three-minute highlight reel actually is, especially one that’s a compilation of doing one of the most challenging tasks an NBA player can be assigned?

The Heat held a top-10 defensive rating from 2016-2019, and Johnson was there for all of it.

The Heat’s team defense is slightly down this season, but Johnson led his former team with the lowest amount of points allowed in the paint (15.3) among players who averaged more than 14 minutes per game. He’s allowing opponents to shoot 57.8 percent less than eight feet from the basket this season, which beats out all other Heat players who’ve played at least five games this season.

Johnson is willing and has been assigned to defend 1-5, and yet, he rarely gambles and strikes out with fouls even when defending smaller guards. That’s something Rosas and Ryan Sanders can appreciate in their new system.


Comfortable Shooting 3s

Being willing to shoot from outside seems to be a requirement on this year’s Wolves squad, and Johnson qualifies.

Johnson is only averaging 4.8 field goal attempts so far this season, but over half (2.5) of those attempts are coming from beyond the arc where he’s shooting 35.6 percent in his first 18 games of the 2019-20 season.

Less than three weeks ago on Jan. 20, Johnson hit a season-high four 3-pointers in the Heat’s 118-113 win over the Kings. He also matched his career-high of seven attempts from deep that night. For January, he hit 14 of his 36 3PAs to finish the month shooting 38.9 percent from deep. Keep it coming, JJ.

Veteran Willing To Come Off The Bench

Johnson has played 620 career games but has only started in 219 of them.

In his last season with the Heat, Johnson averaged 15.6 minutes a night. Some nights he was asked to play 29 minutes, others he got less than seven.

Some vets may take issue with this inconsistency, but from the reports I’ve read, Johnson seemed to be pretty accepting of his undefined role. I’d bet my year’s salary on him coming off the bench for the Wolves, and his minutes will most likely be sporadic as the team tries to assemble its new crew. If Johnson can handle that reality, his veteran presence on this young team will be welcomed.

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