As the 56th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft Amir Johnson doesn’t quite have the pedigree of lottery picks like Bayless or DeRozan, but the 6-11 23-year-old’s ceiling may be the highest of the trio. We’ve thought quite highly of the kid for quite some time. It’s true that Johnson didn’t do much in his first five seasons in the league, but a long gestation period should be expected with a preps-to-pros prospect as completely unpolished as Johnson was when he came into the league. It’s also worth noting that Johnson has never been given much of an opportunity to flash his skills, topping out at 17 minutes last season. Johnson is another guy who has been efficient with his minutes though, racking up highlight-reel blocks and dunks and per-36 career averages of 12 points, 10 boards, 2.4 blocks and 1 steal on 60% shooting from the field. Not bad for his age 18-22 seasons.
The minutes have always been limited by foul trouble, defensive lapses, matchup issues, poor decision-making and various other inconsistencies, but this season in the Raptors games I’ve watched Amir has shown dramatic improvement in all areas. With the injury to Reggie Evans (and after a brief, foolish experiment with Joey Dorsey) Johnson has been handed a starting gig for the foreseeable future. In five games in the starting lineup Amir has posted 14 points, 8 boards, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals on 65% FGs (!) with just 1 turnover a game. That’s efficiency. He’s even hitting 84% of his free-throws on the season, and I think he’s poised to turn a corner over the next month or two as he settles into finally being a valued, consistent contributor. The ingredients have always been there, and while he could still stand to add quite a bit of bulk to that lanky frame, the pieces are starting to fall into place for Amir to be a productive, explosive complementary player for years to come.
There was a time when the Raptors were the team that gave opponent’s headaches with their ability to drain three’s.
That is no longer the case. For the past two games, the Raptors have died by the three as first the New York Knicks hit 12 to pull away and hide and then the Indiana Pacers nailed 13 from beyond the arc to make it back-to-back woeful nights for the Raptors.
The worrisome part about this is that both games, the very Raptors who let themselves get torched from the three-point line were drilled and schooled that this would be their downfall and they let it happen anyway.
Head coach Jay Triano says this is all part of the learning process.
Well, the learning process is now two games old. Game three is a return match with the same Knicks which bested them on Sunday.
Perhaps, as Jerryd Bayless suggested, the third time will be the charm.
It’s going to have to be, or Triano is going to have no other choice than to start considering new changes to his starting lineup.
With both Turkoglu and Jack both traded away, and Bosh plying his trade in Miami, this year’s Raptor squad has exactly the same record as last season after 21 games: 8-13. But make no mistake about it, this team is nothing like last year’s.
This year’s team is faster and more athletic. They run more (scoring 6 more fastbreak points than last year), leading the league so far, but score less. The also share the ball less than last year and shoot a much lower percentage, despite the number of fastbreak points. In other words, if they don’t score on the break, they have much more trouble scoring. Last year, while Bosh could be a bit of a ball stopper, and Turkoglu could be well, underwhelming, both of them helped the team score in the half court, especially Bosh.
This season, the Raptors simply don’t have anyone they can give the ball in the half court to and ask to create something. Bargnani is the team’s leading scorer, but is not consistent enough and still doesn’t create enough on his own to be able to dump him the ball and be asked to score. Barbosa is probably the player best equipped to fill that roll, and has on occasion, but he’s also just as likely to lower his head and drive 1 on 3, taking a bad shot in the process.
While the team is scoring less, and having a little more trouble doing it, the scoring is a little more balanced. There are 8 current players (not including Peja) who are averaging at least 9 ppg compared to just 5 last season. Yes, Bargnani is averaging 8 ppg more than then next Raptor, but Bargnani doesn’t dominate the ball as much as Bosh did, so it’s in the hands of the other players more.
Toronto’s offence is 3 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; Toronto’s defence is 12 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; and Toronto’s rebounding is 3 percent better when Bargnani’s on the bench.
So, 3rd point out of the way: The Raptors are better offensively, defensively, and on the glass when Bargnani is on the bench (maybe those are my 3rd, 4th, & 5th points).