A Look at Newest Jazzman Chris Johnson

January 28th, 2015 | by David J Smith
Newest Jazzman Chris Johnson spent much of last season with the Celtics. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Newest Jazzman Chris Johnson spent much of last season with the Celtics. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Utah Jazz fans cannot snooze when it comes to the end-of-the-bench roster spots; there seems to be a constant flux. Following Monday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, guard Elliot Williams’ contract expired and the team opted to not pick him up1.

The Jazz did not wait long, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported a likely 10-day pact with 6’6″, 201 lb swingman Chris Johnson.

The move was made official Wednesday morning. Stein was correct when he reported impending deals with Patrick Christopher and Elijah Millsap and was spot-on again here2.

If you are keeping score, Johnson would be the Jazz’s fourth D-League call-up this season3. With Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder at the helm, Utah is doing its D-League homework. Like Williams, Johnson comes with some NBA experience, keeping Utah’s rookie count at four.

Johnson was a four-year player at the University of Dayton, where he was a solid shooter and good rebounder. He was a rotational player from day one there, averaging 6.3 PPG and 5.2 RPG in 16.2 MPG as a freshman. Johnson made a dramatic jump the next season and was remarkably consistent the following years, as well. During that three year span, Johnson averaged between 11.9 and 12.4 PPG, while chipping in 6.0+ RPG each season. The main area of improvement was his 3-point shooting, which reached 39.7 percent his senior campaign. Dayton played in the NIT tournament three consecutive years, winning it all in 2010. Johnson captured MVP honors during that same run.

Johnson went on to participate at the Portsmouth Invitational and had workouts with numerous NBA teams. That said, he went undrafted. Johnson played summer league for the Philadelphia 76ers and had training camp stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Orlando Magic, getting waived by both quickly. Instead of pursuing overseas opportunities, Johnson went the NBA D-League route with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and ended up enjoying a cup of coffee with the Memphis Grizzlies.  Over two 10-days, he averaged 3.6 PPG and 1.4 RPG in 12.8 MPG over eight games. He was not shy in letting it fly, attempting 6.4 3s/36 min.

The next season, Johnson signed on with the Brooklyn Nets, only to be waived right before the regular season. He went back to the Vipers, eventually earning another look, this time with the Boston Celtics. He did so well during his 20-days–he scored in double-figures in three of his first five games– that they inked him to a multi-year contract. Johnson had his moments with Boston, showing defensive effort and a willingness to crash the boards from the wing spots. He averaged 6.3 PPG and 2.4 RPG in 19.7 MPG. Johnson only shot 39.7 percent from the floor. By many accounts, the Celtics brass liked him, but had to cut ties when they coincidentally made a trade that brought in former Jazzmen John Lucas III, Malcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy from Cleveland. Philadelphia claimed him off waivers.

Johnson lasted just nine games (two starts) with the Sixers this season, tallying 6.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 SPG and 0.6 BPG in 20.8 MPG. He shot just 31.7 percent from the floor and was an icy 25.6 percent beyond the arc.

He has played well in his three stints with Rio Grande, the affiliate for the Houston Rockets. Propelled by analytics-focused Daryl Morey, the Vipers notoriously focus all their offense on close-range shots and 3-pointers–shunning mid-range jumpers. Johnson has embraced this philosophy, shooting 6.9 3s/game–nearly half of all his field goal attempts come from downtown. Johnson’s stat line is impressive: 20.1 PPG (48.7 percent FGs, 35.4 percent 3s), 5.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 SPG and 1.0 BPG.

What could Johnson bring to the Jazz? He has a very good 6’11” wingspan and can move well defensively, thanks to his athleticism. In fact, defense is where he shows the most potential. He plays the passing lanes well and has shown the ability to defend at an NBA-level. Utah is in need of perimeter defensive help4 Johnson is solid offensively. He gets to the free throw line well (5.3 attempts/outing) and hits them (81 percent; solid throughout his collegiate career, too).

Like Christopher and Millsap, Johnson seems to fit the mold of a potential “3-and-D” guy. Snyder and Lindsey love versatile players who have a lot to offer and for a 10-day contract player, Johnson seems to fit the bill.

David J Smith

David J Smith

Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News and has written for the Utah Jazz website and Hoopsworld.com (now Basketball Insiders). He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. He and his incredibly patient wife, Elizabeth, have some amazing children--four girls and two boys. Voted "Most Likely to Replace Jerry Sloan" in high school.
David J Smith

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  1. bob says:

    saw him plat for vipers wish him the bestin nba think he can fit in

  2. Pingback: Chris Johnson is Making a Case | Salt City Hoops

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