Doc Rivers Believes JaJuan Johnson Has ‘NBA Talent’ But Ex-Celtics’ Success Depends on ‘Mental Makeup’

BOSTON — The last nine months were interesting for JaJuan Johnson, to say the least. From first-round pick by the Celtics to bench jockey to trade chip and, most recently, top pick in the NBADL draft, the 23-year-old Purdue product has so far not panned out as it was hoped when Boston took him with the 27th pick in the 2011 NBA draft.

Before Johnson plays a single game with his new team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, his former coach offered a quick opinion on Johnson’s uncertain NBA prospects.

“I know he has the talent, I’ll put it that way,” Doc Rivers said. “I told him that this summer. He’s going to either have to pull it out of himself or he’ll be there [in the D-League], but I do believe that he has NBA talent. I hope he makes it.”

Another former Celtics rookie, meanwhile, has flourished in a new environment. E’Twaun Moore was waived by the Houston Rockets shortly after he arrived as part of the Courtney Lee trade, and was signed by the Orlando Magic in early September. In three games this season, including two starts, Moore has averaged 15.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 steals per game.

Neither Johnson nor Moore made a huge impact on the Celtics last season. Moore averaged fewer than nine minutes of playing time in 38 games, while Johnson appeared in only 36 games and averaged 3.2 points per game.

“E’Twaun, on the other hand, is playing unbelievable,” Rivers said. “He was ahead of JaJuan last year and it had nothing to do with individual talent. It had to do with mental makeup. E’Twaun’s a smart kid, gets it. JaJuan’s young and he has to figure it out.”

The first chance for the Celtics to see either player comes Nov. 25, when the C’s travel to Orlando. They will have to wait a while longer to see Johnson, who should get an opportunity to impress an NBA team with the Mad Ants.

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