A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Appreciating Amir Johnson’s Raptors career

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Amir Johnson’s tenure with the Raptors ended after six seasons this summer. The Raptors used their salary cap room to sign DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph and Johnson found a nice home in Boston.

Amir never came close to making an all-star team with the Raptors. He never surpassed 10.4 points per game. But he finished 4th all time in Win Shares for the team, 4th in games played and 3rd in rebounds.

When the Raptors first acquired Amir before 2009-2010 he wasn’t even supposed to break the rotation. A something for nothing acquisition in letting Milwaukee sign Carlos Delfino, Amir quickly passed the returning Rasho Nesterovic as the backup center in the rotation. His athleticism on the glass and efficiency showed itself immediately. The Raptors narrowly missed the playoffs and Chris Bosh left the team for Miami. In the following years Amir’s defensive intelligence and pick and roll game developed.

We are used to the term “best player on a bad team” referring to the shot-chucking volume scorer who wouldn’t have these shots on a contender. But why can’t it be a player like Amir Johnson? The team’s leading scorer in the post Chris Bosh season was Andrea Bargnani who gave any value away defensively and on the glass. Both Bargnani and secondary scorer DeMar Derozan were below league average efficiency. Jose Calderon capably passed the ball but struggle on defense and fell below the efficiency in his 2007 to 2009 prime. On a contending team Bargnani and Caldeorn’s defense or Derozan’s poor floor spacing would have been an undesirable fit. It’s Amir Johnson’s defense, efficiency and ability to set picks that would have translated to any situation. He led the Raptors in Win Shares in 2010-2011 and in Kyle Lowry’s first season in 2012-2013. In 2011-2012 his individual statistics suffered, but the Raptors had their most successful defensive season of the three lottery years finishing 14th, which they surely wouldn’t have come close to without Johnson. Over this time Amir also became a favorite of advanced +/- afficiandos.

In 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 the Raptors reeled off back to back franchise record seasons with 48 and 49 wins. Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan made an all-star team but Amir’s defense and efficiency continued to have value. While observers were waiting for Jonas Valanciunas to break out, +/- stats reflected Amir as the steadier force of the two, especially defensively. In 2014-2015 health and an already 10 year long career began to slow Amir down on the defensive end, although his offensive production continued. Patrick Patterson’s efficient, floor spacing season began to stand out more at power forward. Masai Ujiri decided it was time to move on.

Amir Johnson had one of the longest Raptors tenures from players who aren’t Vince Carter or Chris Bosh. His resume contains both being the probably best player on several teams and a top 3 or 4 player on two playoff seasons. For all of this a case can be made he is top 5 in the franchise’s history.

Written by jr.

September 11, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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