BOSTON – The first round of the 2011 NBA Draft was littered with trades, and one of them allowed the Boston Celtics to wind up snagging a dynamic duo of collegiate teammates.
It was initially announced that the Celtics had made a local selection with the No. 25 pick by choosing Providence College standout Marshon Brooks. Soon thereafter, though, it was announced that Boston had traded the rights to Brooks to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for the rights to former Purdue star JaJuan Johnson and a future second-round pick.
Thirty picks later, Boston chose another Boilermaker – E'Twaun Moore. The duo of Johnson and Moore combined to score nearly 53 percent of Purdue’s points during the 2010-11 NCAA season.
Though Moore was certainly a score at No. 55, the talk of the night surrounded the acquisition of Johnson. In moments, Boston went from adding a high-scoring guard (Brooks) to instead adding a high-scorer, who’s a winner (Johnson), to the frontcourt. Johnson, who stands at 6-foot-10 and weighs 221 pounds, averaged 20.5 PPG and 8.6 RPG during his senior season at Purdue. He finished his career tied for the most total wins of any player who has ever played at the university.
Despite playing in a strong Big Ten conference last season, Johnson was a power from start to finish. The end of his career couldn’t even put an end to his dominance.
After concluding his senior season with a loss in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, Johnson was adorned with several high-profile accolades. Those accolades speak for themselves: consensus First-Team AP All-American; Big Ten Player of the Year; Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year; First-Team All-Big Ten; and Big Ten All-Defensive Team.
Impressive, to say the least.
So how does a man with such an accomplished career slip to No. 27 in the Draft, where the Nets originally selected him? The Celtics don’t have the answer to that question, but they were elated to watch it happen.
“Yesterday we didn’t think he would be there, honestly, and he slipped to us,” said Doc Rivers. “Who knows why, but he did.”
The Celtics were clearly happy that he did, and for several reasons.
Though Boston’s yearly title aspirations have been based on defense, for the first time maybe ever, all Rivers could talk about was offense when he spoke about Johnson.
“Pick-and-pop – he’s a terrific shooter for his size,” Rivers said at the team’s Boston headquarters. “He’s extremely athletic; obviously he rebounded well in college, which you hope translates over. But we’ve proven we can get bigs shots, and so if we can get him shots, then he’ll make them.”
Rivers went on to liken Johnson to a young version of three players who have had extremely successful NBA careers: Chris Bosh, Horace Grant, and, yes, Kevin Garnett.
Though Boston’s head coach warned reporters not to compare Johnson and Garnett too closely, Rivers listed his reasons for making such a comment.
“They’re very similar,” Rivers said of Johnson and Garnett. “He’s not Kevin Garnett, alright? So don’t write it, anybody. But they are – same body type. At the same time in their lives, [Johnson’s] probably a better shooter.”
Despite all of the offensive talk, it’s difficult to ignore that Johnson was chosen as the top defensive player in the Big Ten last season. That distinction was given to him over the likes of other shutdown defenders like David Lighty (Ohio State) and Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin). Johnson led the Big Ten in blocked shots, with 73 total swats on the season.
If Johnson was Batman this season at Purdue, Moore was his Robin. The two were mentioned side-by-side all season long, and that continued into the postseason as well. Moore joined Johnson on both the First-Team All-Big Ten roster and the Big Ten All-Defensive Team.
While Johnson was making his living with a sweet touch and great athleticism, Moore was percolating on the perimeter. As a 6-foot-4 guard who can take the ball off the dribble, Moore had a phenomenal senior season at Purdue that included averages of 18.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 3.2 APG. He had a great shooting season as well, stroking the ball at a 44.7 percent clip from the field, 70.9 percent from the free-throw line and 40.0 percent from 3-point range.
Johnson and Moore became one of the most feared duos in college basketball because they were dually able to get the job done at both ends of the court. That’s a characteristic that stands out to Danny Ainge, who made the final call on both selections.
“There’s guys that play great offense, there’s guys that are great defensive players, and there’s guys that we refer to as both-ends-of-the-court players,” Ainge stated. “We think we got two of those guys.”
Leading up to the draft, Ainge and Rivers both relayed realistic expectations that they probably wouldn’t draft any players who would make an immediate impact on their team. By the end of Thursday night, that opinion may have changed thanks to a pair of accomplished collegiate teammates who will attempt to bring their bond – and impact – to Boston.