Rookie Johnson flashes some skills Bulls need

  • Bulls forward James Johnson, center

    Bulls forward James Johnson, center Associated Press

Published12/8/2009 12:01 AM

When Bulls practice ended Monday at the Berto Center, four players stuck around for a lengthy session of rotating one-on-one games.

The participants were Derrick Rose, Jannero Pargo, James Johnson and Taj Gibson, with player development coach Randy Brown watching intently.


While the other side of the gym was being prepared for a holiday party, each player got one shot against one defender. If it didn't fall, someone else stepped in.

"I loved it," Rose said. "In Memphis, we used to always do it because our offense was like that where we have to blow past people like that. So it was fun."

As expected, Rose provided some one-of-a-kind drives to the basket, while Gibson did the best he could against the smaller, faster opponents.

This exercise also showed that as much as the short-handed Bulls are struggling to score these days, they have a couple of impressive offensive weapons at their disposal.

Hampered by back and hip injuries so far this season, Pargo morphed back into the fearless South Sider who is capable of making any shot he takes.

"That was good for me, because I haven't felt good in a long time," Pargo said. "I felt really good today in practice; picked Derrick up full court a couple of times. I was able to practice without any pain and go through the one-on-one thing without pain as well."

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Johnson, meanwhile, was able to demonstrate the full range of his skills. The 6-foot-8 rookie from Wake Forest can shoot from the outside, dribble like a two guard, attack the basket and flash impressive athleticism.

Bulls fans haven't seen much of those talents in a game this season. Johnson is averaging 3.7 points and even when he received more playing time last weekend in losses to Cleveland and Toronto, he produced 7 points and 10 fouls during 37 minutes of action.

But based on Monday's drills, maybe Johnson is capable of helping the Bulls escape their offensive doldrums. They've scored 100 points just once all season and managed a miserable 78 on Saturday against a Raptors team that had been giving up 114.5 on the road this year.

"I do want to step up and be the man I know I can be on defense and offense," Johnson said. "The only thing that gets me nervous when I get in games is knowing where I need to be on defense. Getting the ball on offense, I'm 100 percent comfortable. It's the other end of the floor that I'm unsure sometimes and when I'm unsure, that means it throws off the other four guys."


For several weeks, coach Vinny Del Negro has praised Johnson's improvement in practice and vowed to do a better job of finding him playing time. About halfway through Monday's one-on-one session, Del Negro came down from his office and watched the action from under the basket.

"James, he's definitely a talent," Rose said. "He has a big body, plays like a two guard. He's been playing great in practice. Now we just need him for the game."

Johnson has spent time guarding LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in recent games. The Cheyenne, Wyo., native is a black belt and undefeated kick boxer, so Johnson might gain confidence in the knowledge that few NBA opponents would stand a chance against him in the martial arts.

"Seeing what LeBron could do and guarding Kobe a little bit just made me work harder," Johnson said. "I want to come in, lift more weights, shoot more jumpers, get more conditioning, because I see how good those guys are and I want to be better.

"I think (his martial arts background) is mostly why I'm not scared of people. But their skills are great. They're all-stars for a reason. I can't wait to get there."


Get articles sent to your inbox.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.