Passing the Test
Blazers’ rookie Armon Johnson returns from the D-League.
“Of course I want to play but I’m humbled to just be here,” Johnson told SLAMonline after the Blazers called him up from the D-League. “The D-League has helped me tremendously but once you’ve played in the NBA, you don’t want to go back.”
Johnson was an everyday player and was viewed as a steal in the second round. After competing with Patrick Mills and winning the backup point guard job during training camp, Johnson was well on his way to a productive rookie year, but since, turnovers plagued the rookie guard and DNP-CDs started to tally up.
Johnson would hold his position ’til December 1. Nate McMillan dabbled with Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez at the point but would later give the job to Mills, as he rose from obscurity to claim the role.
Rich Cho and McMillan decided it would be in Johnson’s best interest if they sent their young prospect to the D-League to play for their affiliate, the Idaho Stampede.
A stint in the D-League usually would add salt to the womb for most rookies who are having a rough year. Conversely, Johnson took this opportunity and looked at it from a different angle.
“It was the opposite of a demotion. It was like a promotion,” Johnson said. “ You get to move up in the world because of playing time. It’s like you turn from a rookie to a vet that quickly. I had the freedom to run the team. I had guys learning from me so it felt real good. I learned that I don’t have to be afraid to be aggressive on the court. Going down there and learning that, built up my confidence and helped me.”
Not only did Johnson embrace Cho and McMillan’s decision, he destroyed the D-League competition. Johnson displayed that he was an efficient scorer averaging 18.2 points per game while shooting 59 percent from the field and frequently demonstrated his penetration ability for dump-offs and kick-outs.
“I think I played pretty well,” Johnson said. “I tried to go down there and help my team get some wins and learn how to be a winner.”
The focus now for Johnson is if he can translate his new-found confidence over to the NBA game. He insists that it’s possible due to the fact that he wasn’t being aggressive enough and hesitancy often derailed his progress.
“I wasn’t being as aggressive as I should have been and I wasn’t making the same reads that I’m making now,” Johnson said. “The game has slowed down so much for me since I went to Idaho. I wanted to move a hundred miles an hour at the beginning of the year because I thought everyone else was. Now I can relax and it feels a lot better.”
The Blazers find themselves sitting at the seventh spot and one game behind the fifth seed in the Western Conference despite the rash of injuries the team has accumulated, which would make it even more difficult for Johnson to reclaim a spot in the rotation.
Besides from the fact that the Blazers wanted to test Johnson to see if he could be a productive player in the D-League, they also were able to test the character of Johnson.
The Blazers’ organization got to witness and observe true professionalism and poise from a rookie — an attribute the Sacramento Kings wish DeMarcus Cousins possessed. “I think I had a shot early in the season but I don’t think that I had the experience and the know how that I have now,” said Johnson. “That’s why I’m grateful for the D-League.”
With Marcus Camby still out with a torn meniscus, Johnson will be on the active roster waiting for another opportunity. While Mills looks to still be the backup PG and Camby surely to be inserted into the staring lineup when cleared, Johnson’s second chance looks as though it wont come in the near future.
“It’s going to be tough for Armon to crack the rotation right now,” McMillan tells SLAMonline. “We might send him back to the D-League to get some more work in.”
Nonetheless, Johnson is not worried about his own personal agenda and is focused on helping his team win as many games as possible.
“I want to win,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to be known as a loser. Whatever I got to do to help this team get better, I’m all for it.”
Spoken like a true pro.