#TwolfRank: #13 Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson will return to the Timberwolves, but is there enough room for him in the frontcourt?

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the second installment in the series.  As always, you can follow Tom (@Tom_NBA), Jonah (@howlintwolf) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBAon Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

Whenever a team has a flashy pass-first point guard (ie. Ricky Rubio in Minnesota, Rajon Rondo in Boston or Steve Nash in Los Angeles), adding an athletic big seems like a game-changer.

No matter how good or bad that particular big may have been throughout his career, the assumption is having a talented point guard will make an enormous difference since alley-oops are awesome. This assumption helped DeAndre Jordan earn nearly $11 million a year to finish lobs from Chris Paul and do…something else, presumably. Jordan’s potential is constantly talked up and rarely witnessed.

Chris Johnson — a D-League sensation for much of his career and, at this point, somewhat of an NBA journeyman — could never be accused of being overhyped. But the easy assumption to make is that he will very much benefit from playing with a healthy Ricky Rubio, and unlike DeAndre Jordan, both stats and video would suggest this could be the case. To be fair, anyone would have a fun year in lineups with Ricky Rubio, but you understand my point.

Johnson averaged 1 point per possession as a pick-and-roll roll man, per MySynergySports.com. His sample size was small, just 36 attempts, but large enough to be a sample size. While one point per possession isn’t world-beating, it places Johnson 64th in the NBA. Not bad for a a D-League journeyman.

In a recent piece on Larry Sanders, NBA guru Zach Lowe’s lede discussed a hitch in Sanders’ game as a roll man. Sanders would hesitate just long enough to ensure maximum effectiveness on his screen before diving to the basket. This messed up the timing of the play, allowing Sanders’ defender to cut off the driver and recover onto Sanders before Milwaukee’s big man could fly to the basket for an easy dunk.

Johnson seems to have a similar hitch, but in his case, it almost seems necessary. Pencil-thin and easy to maneuver around, Johnson needs to ensure his ball-handler’s defender is at least inconvenienced before he dives to the basket. The good news is Johnson usually does a nice job of identifying gaps and getting into open space. Near the basket, especially with Rubio on the floor, this particular skills often ends with a dunk.

As is the wont for many pick-and-roll screeners, Chris Johnson has a tendency to pop a little more than is probably healthy. According to HoopData.com, Johnson’s 15-20 foot shooting percentage was 41.7% last year. At the rim, he shot a ridiculous 84.6% on 1.3 attempts per game. That’s not a ton of offense, but it’s extremely efficient.

It’s easy to love a player like Johnson. He works in perpetual motion, seemingly full of boundless energy, continuously running around setting extra screens. Sometimes one has to wonder if he is setting screens that are a part of the play or if he just feels like he isn’t helping enough by clearing out of the way. This can cause spacing problems, but used sparingly, it can also cause productive chaos as players are sprung free unexpectedly.

Johnson faces heavy competition for minutes in the front court. Gorgui Dieng, profiled nicely by Derek yesterday, might be a priority from a development standpoint. Ronny Turiaf has considerably more NBA experience. Smaller lineups may slot Love at center briefly. And, of course, Nikola Pekovic will eat up the lion’s share of minutes at center assuming he stays healthy (and I’m knocking furiously on wood as I write this).

So what can we expect from Johnson this season? Some DNP-CDs, to be sure, but probably a few games in which he is a productive player. A lot of screens. A lot of rolls. A few more pops than we’d like to see, especially since Minnesota already has a certain power forward who pick and pops as well as anyone in the league. Injury insurance if someone (heaven forbid) goes down.

Perhaps most relevant, we can probably around 5-10 minutes per game in which the offense looks a little confused, but occasionally brilliant. We can expect a decent target two or three times per game for Ricky Rubio’s seeing-eye assists.

That’s not going to be a game changer, but it could be a lot of fun.

@Tom_NBA johnson is the perfect 10 minute a game center who gives maximum effort and energy. limited roll, but can excel at it #twolfrank

@Tom_NBA I was encouraged to see Johnson’s passing ability in summer league. tiny sample size, but nice to see. will help him get minutes

-Gabby Dearth, @the_real_gabby

@Tom_NBA @howlintwolf he will never rush for 2000 yards again

-Dan Wolf, @hashtagtroll

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post. 

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