The Case for Amir Johnson: Toronto Raptors Offseason Decisions

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IMay 5, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 02:  Amir Johnson #15 of the Toronto Raptors against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 2, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After resolving the Chris Bosh situation, Bryan Colangelo’s offseason work may have just begun.

Leaving aside the numerous trade scenarios that must be under consideration, the Toronto Raptors have five free agents to make decisions about, and only Sonny Weems is under the team’s control.

At the top of this “second” list of priorities appears to be the Raptors' athletic big man, Amir Johnson.

Johnson became a favorite of many Raptors followers this season because of his hustle and ability to run the floor.  A cast-off from the Detroit Pistons, Joe Dumars finally gave up on the kid after four seasons, much to the delight of fans at the ACC.

But Johnson’s run in Toronto has hardly been without its ups and downs.  Like the team, he was a model of inconsistency, and after five seasons in the NBA, shouldn’t Johnson’s obvious potential have been realized to a greater extent by now?

This past season Johnson averaged 6.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 3.1 fouls in 17.7 minutes.  Johnson played in all 82 games and saw reasonably consistent minutes all season for the first time in his NBA career.

But in all honesty, those aren’t even particularly impressive statistics for a decent rookie.

And in a contract year, one would have expected this to be the best NBA season of Johnson’s young career.  Arguably, this wasn’t the case.

Ignoring the 11 NBA games Johnson played during his first two seasons, when he spent time in the D-league, this season Johnson had more fouls and fewer blocks than he did in Detroit.  Plus, his free throw shooting plummeted to under 63 percent.

And during those first two NBA seasons, Johnson looked like a better scorer from the field.

But it wasn’t all downhill statistically for Johnson this past season.  His rebounding bounced up to 4.8 per game from 3.7 the year before, and he shot 62 percent from the field.

Plus Johnson sure is pretty to watch when he runs the floor.  Johnson did add something the Raptors haven’t had in recent years—a big man who can play like an athletic wing.

And Johnson’s numbers didn’t move much when the Raptors played the better teams in the league.

Against playoff-bound teams, Johnson averaged 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks.

His numbers were only slightly worse against the league’s top eight teams with 5.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks.

But against the big three in the East, Johnson looked over-matched, and it showed in his statistics.  In 12 games against Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando, Johnson only managed 4.4 points, 3.6 boards, and 0.4 blocks.


Johnson's Best Games

  1. Portland, two games at 11.5 points and seven boards
  2. New York, four games at 11.5 points and 6.5 boards
  3. Golden State, two games at 11.0 points and six boards
  4. Detroit, four games at 10.8 points and four boards
  5. Atlanta, four games at 10.2 points and 7.5 boards.


Johnson's Worst Games

  1. Utah, two games at one point and three boards
  2. Houston, two games at 1.5 points and 3.5 boards
  3. Sacramento, two games at two points and 1.5 boards
  4. Minnesota, two games at two points and 5.5 boards
  5. Boston, four games at three points and 3.2 boards


Some might have noticed Johnson’s tendency to disappear at times in games in which the other team has effective big men.

With Bosh’s late season injury, Johnson was afforded an opportunity to play more minutes and started four games.  From a scoring perspective, he responded.

Over the last six games of the season, Johnson averaged 15.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in 30.7 minutes.  The only slight against his late season work was the three games with just two rebounds.  But surpassing his career high in scoring twice in the last two games was impressive.

However, late season success against teams out of the playoffs is not what a GM should be basing a new contract on.

And there should be little doubt that Johnson was overpaid on his last deal.  It was the $10 million contract from Joe Dumars that got Johnson shipped out of Detroit for virtually nothing.

It has been suggested by some that Johnson is in line for a new contract for the mid-level exception.  That would look like a mistake.

There have been numerous unproven big men signed to deals like that in the past, and far too many of them resulted in salary cap hardship for the signing team.  And there is a good argument that Johnson didn’t produce to the level of the contract that he was on this past season.

Colangelo has stated that he intends to bring Johnson back to the Raptors for next season, and without much doubt, that would be a popular move with the fans.

But Colangelo can’t afford to make the same mistake Dumars made three seasons ago and overpay for potential that may never be realized.

Here’s hoping the “young gun” returns to Toronto anyway.


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