Amir Johnson – In Focus


In contrast to the new faces I’ve been speculating about, it’s past time for me to offer some thoughts about one of the longest serving and most highly regarded Toronto Raptors, Amir Johnson. He’s a modest man who’s overcome big odds to become a highly respected veteran of our team. What can we expect from him this season?

Amir was selected #56 by the Detroit Pistons right out of high school in 2005, then sent to Milwaukee in 2009 and flipped to Toronto a few months later. Bryan Colangelo obviously liked what he saw, and in the summer of 2010 inked Amir to a bountiful contract, which was flamed by the press at the time. Happily, Amir has silenced the critics with his steadily improving play. Amir is generously listed at 6’9″, which I’m sure he is…on tiptoes….in shoes. He carries his 210 lbs. well, and is not easily manhandled even by heavier and taller bigs.

Apr 6, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) taps a rebound during the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I expect Amir to start at power forward, largely because I can’t imagine Tyler Hansbrough pushing him aside. Steve Novak? Just no, thanks. One of Amir’s many endearing characteristics is his selflessness.  He’s genuinely content to play wherever he’s asked, and claims not to care about whether his name is announced pre-game.

Last season, he started 38 times, and was first big man off the bench in 43 other games, causing him to average 28.3 Minutes PG (Per Game), a career high. That wasn’t the only one: his Rebounds PG (7.5) and Points (10.0) were also the best of his time in the NBA, and a huge relief to Amir fans distressed by his indifferent play in ’11-’12. He even managed more 3-pointers (5) that he had scored in his entire career (4), which doesn’t exactly make him a threat from distance, but useful on occasion at the end of the shot clock.

I’m one of those who’s willing to be patient with a player if I see that (A) he hustles, particularly after a mistake, and (B) he is finding new dimensions to his game. Amir always ran the floor well, and has added offensive capability, like a decent set-shot (not a jump-shot…to do one of those you have to, you know, jump) out to 17 feet, and has become highly skilled at finding seams in the defense with which to attack the basket. That augurs well for the upcoming season, where we can hope the offensive chemistry he brewed up with Jose Calderon and Ed Davis can be re-cultivated with Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas.

Amir Johnson isn’t going to become an All-Star, this season or ever. Doug Smith of The Star has expressed concern  that Amir is an “old” 26, which is a valid worry. Dwane Casey will need to monitor Amir’s minutes carefully. But a team-first big man who stays healthy and contributes at both ends of the floor certainly can play on my team for a long time. Most experts view this season as a transitional one for the Raps, in which the kids like JV and Terrence Ross will continue their development. If that is indeed the way it all shakes out, Amir may be a trade candidate, someone of great interest to a contending team. Should Amir be moved, there will be considerable anguish expressed by Raps fans. We love Amir, and fervently hope he’ll be here when the fat years finally arrive.

Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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