Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Ivan Johnson

Less than a month into his pro career, fearless first-year, 6-8, 230-pound power forward Ivan Johnson has managed to upstage his platinum and ice smile with several splashy performances worthy of a veritable diamond in the rough.

Not your typical NBA rookie, the undrafted big from Cal State-San Bernardin paid his dues in the D-League and abroad before impressing Hawks’ coach Larry Drew during their preseason training camp and earning a spot on Atlanta’s roster at the age of 27. Ivan Johnson caught the attention of scouts with his physicality and First-Team All-NBDL honors-earning average of 22.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals in 49 games for the Erie Bayhawks last season.

However, Johnson was a wild card due to anger management issues that surfaced throughout his college and post-college career and culminated in a permanent ban from the Korean Basketball League due to unsportsmanlike conduct. Despite the red flags, the Hawks gave Johnson a chance to prove his worth, and Johnson appears to be making good on it.

“The other Johnson” was a surprise standout in Atlanta’s triple overtime loss to Miami earlier this month. When center Al Horford got into foul trouble, Johnson filled in and got four points, a steal and a rebound off the bench in Atlanta’s 12-0 run to close out the third quarter; and he added five points in the fourth.

Now with 2X All-Star Horford likely sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn left pectoral muscle he suffered in last week’s loss to the Pacers, Johnson will have an opportunity to earn more meaningful minutes. Johnson got is first NBA double-double in Atlanta’s 93-91 comeback win over the Timberwolves on Saturday. He scored his team’s final four points, including the game-winning free throw with 4.6 seconds remaining, and finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 2 steals while playing a season-high 26 minutes in Horford’s absence.

Johnson’s hard work and hustle is earning him Coach Drew’s confidence and the respect of his teammates and fans. A tenacious defender who gets deflections and rebounds, Johnson gives Atlanta toughness on the defensive end. If Johnson continues to learn, mature and keep his emotions in check he can develop into an integral part of this Hawks team and help them contend for the postseason. Johnson and the Hawks will be tested four times this week starting with a trip to Toronto tonight.