When Amir Johnson decided to re-sign with the Raptors, back in 2010, and agreed to the 5 year, $30 million contract, many pundits and fans around the NBA quickly condemned the deal, feeling it was a massive overpayment. Although Amir had always been a productive and efficient player who worked hard on both ends of the court, he’d only played one season where he averaged more than 17 minutes per game, and foul trouble always seemed to prevent him from averaging more than 25 minutes a game.

Fast forward three-plus years, and Amir has become one of the most consistent players on the team and quite possibly the team’s most valuable player since Chris Bosh left for Miami. He’s been as productive as a starter as he has been a reserve, and his production has been, for the most part, the same as his minutes has increased.

Since he signed his current contract, he’s had the sixth highest True Shooting Percentage, the 13th highest Offensive Rebounding Percentage, and the 28th highest Win Share in the league over the last three-plus years.

Despite all this, a lot of fans still seem to think the Raptors would be better off with him coming off the bench and with a bigger offensive threat as the starting power forward.

That perplexes me.

Now, Amir Johnson is never going to make an All Star game. He’s never going to come close to be a 20-10 guy. But he makes the game easier for everyone around him. He doesn’t need the ball to be effective. He will set screens, move without the ball, dive for loose balls and grab missed shots. And he play above average defense, as well.

Mike Prada, over at SB Nation, wrote a fantastic article that looked into just how effective Amir’s screen setting is in making his teammates better.

And yet, his presence on the court makes a staggering difference for the Raptors. Last season, Toronto outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions with Johnson in the game … and were outscored by 9.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. That’s a 14-point swing. It’s also the fourth straight year where the difference of Johnson being in and out of the game was more than seven points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. This is not an anomaly.

It makes sense to me that you’d want a player like that playing with your starters as much as possible because he just makes it easier for them to score AND he’s going to help them defensively.

I recently had a discussion with someone about what Amir Johnson’s trade value would be. He suggested the Raptors should be happy getting a late first round pick for him. I thought that was ridiculously low value for a 26 year old big man who scores efficiently, plays defense, rebounds and works hard on both ends of the court.

It occurred to me that Amir is very similar to another former beloved Raptor who cost the Raptors the fifth pick in the 1999 draft.


Antonio Davis came to the Raptors as a 30 year old energy player who had played the vast majority of his games, up to that point, off the bench. In Zander Hollander’s 1997 Complete Book of Pro Basketball, Davis was described this way:

…has a decent face up jumper and is developing some post moves….Explosive leaper…Forced to split minutes at center where he’s often overmatched, but never outworked…

Sound like someone else you know?

Both players are/were 6’9 athletic big men who hustle, work hard on both ends of the court, but have/had limited offensive games. Both were second round picks originally from California who didn’t make an immediate impact in the league and had to develop their game.

Even their stats are pretty similar.

These are Antonio Davis’ stats the season before he was traded to Toronto (lockout shortened season):

1998-99 PF 49 1 25.9 3.3 7.1 .471 .703 2.4 4.7 7.0 0.7 0.4 0.9 9.4

And these were Amir Johnson’s last season:

2012-13 PF 81 38 28.7 4.1 7.5 .554 .727 2.8 4.7 7.5 1.5 1.0 1.4 10.0

Now, obviously these basic stats don’t tell the whole story, but it’s interesting how similar they are. If anything, Amir is slightly more productive, and definitely more efficient, offensively.

Even their advanced stats are similar:

16.7 .535 11.0 20.9 16.1 2.4 18.2 112 102 2.7 1.3 4.0 .151
17.3 .591 11.4 20.0 15.6 3.8 16.1 116 104 4.4 2.9 7.3 .151

The first table is Davis’ and the second one is Amir’s. It’s almost eerie.

Now, I’m not going to argue that Amir is worth a fifth pick in the draft. Would YOU trade a fifth pick for Amir? I certainly wouldn’t. And considering that the Raptors could have ended up with Shawn Marion1, who ironically was taken by Bryan Colangelo for Phoenix, it could definitely be argued that the trade was not a great one for the Raptors.

Davis’ addition, however, was a key to the team’s immediate success the next season (the team made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history) and their march to the second round of the playoffs the season after.

So while I don’t think Amir is untradeable, I think if you want to upgrade the roster, the starting power forward position is probably the least of your worries. Adding a scoring big man isn’t necessarily going to help your team score more, or more efficiently. In fact, the evidence supports the argument that Amir, despite his offensive limitations, already helps the team score, just not by his own doing.

And with Jonas Valanciunas needing touches and shots in order to develop his blossoming offensive game, the last thing the Raptors need is to acquire a frontcourt partner who will take shots away from Valanciunas.

Amir is the type of player that every team needs. But he’s also the type of player that doesn’t stick out of the casual fan, because he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet.

He’s the Raptor’s no-stat All Star.


1. While Indiana took Jonathan Bender with Toronto’s 5th pick, it’s doubtful the Raptors, who wanted a player who could make more of an immediate impact, would have drafted the painfully thin high school player who everyone knew would take time to develop.

You could also argue they wouldn’t have taken either Wally Szczerbiak or Richard Hamilton, who would have been duplicates on a roster that already had Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady. The Raptors could have also taken Andre Miller, who, while not an All Star, has had a VERY good career and would have helped the Raptors for much longer than the 30 year old Davis.

Shawn Marion would have probably made the most sense, as a team with Vince, McGrady and Marion at the 2,3 and 4 would have been spectacularly athletic and a force to be reckoned with for the next decade. 

  • Tanks-a-lot

    “Vince, McGrady and Marion”

    McGrady is a douchebag as much as Carter was. Idiots, both of them

    • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

      I’ve never met any of them, and know little of their personal lives, so I can’t make judgements as to what they are like or their intelligence level.

      • Tanks-a-lot

        McGrady left because he gotta be THE lone star on an NBA team.
        Now he’s no better than Camby. An overpaid failure.

        • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

          That doesn’t make him a “douchebag”. Over a 7 year period, from when he was 21 to 27, McGrady never averaged fewer than 24 points per game, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He led the league in scoring twice, and made 7 All NBA teams.

          I would have loved it if he had stayed in Toronto, but there’s no point in being bitter about it.

          • Tanks-a-lot

            Yes there is a point.
            It’s called being a fan
            Yes he is a douchebag and everybody knows it.
            McGrady deserves his ignoble end of career

            • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

              The point of being a fan is being bitter?

              And McGrady has made $162 million over his career, scored more than 18 thousand points, passed for more than 4 thousand assists and grabbed more than 5 thousand rebounds while making 7 All Star teams.

              I’d like that kind of failure.

              • Tanks-a-lot

                “The point of being a fan is being bitter?”

                Yes. It’s a luxury of being a fan. I don’t really think of McGrady’s douchebagginess simply because he wasted his career.
                I’m happy.

                • 2damkule


          • Rap fan 2

            Yeah, I think in hindsight they probably would have chosen to stay on as raptors. The only regret may be that our team couldn’t capitalize on their departure. We didn’t get equal value back to build on. Can’t remember what we got back in return. We did a sign and trade with Mcgrady. I love the way Amir plays. Great motor. Plays thru pain. Heart of a champion. However, I still think the Raptors lack the talent and depth to win a championship now. A Raptor team having today’s current starting lineup of Jonas, Amir, Rudy, Demar and Kyle coming off the bench would make us talented and deep enough to win it all now. I know it sounds like a total fantasy. Everyone needs to step it up and have career years. I think Amir can be as good a Chris Bosh.

            • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

              You think Amir can be as good as Chris Bosh???? Is there another Chris Bosh I don’t know about?

              • Tanks-a-lot

                Amir would be a better fit with Miami than Bosh.

                Bosh is the most overpaid 3rd wheel ever.

              • Rap fan 2

                Yeah, no I can understand the shock here if you just look at the numbers. However, if we made him the first option on offense and ran plays for him like we did for Bosh it would not be so far fetched.

                • Nilanka15

                  Yeah it would. Bosh was/is a very prominent offensive player. He had go-to moves, counter moves, could create off the dribble, step out and hit jumpers….he demanded double teams.

                  Amir will never reach Bosh’s offensive prowess, no matter how much you force feed him touches.

                • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

                  Amir is a VERY different player. He simply doesn’t have the offensive skills that Bosh does and simply running plays for him isn’t going to turn him into a scorer. He can’t create his own shot like Bosh, can. He can’t drive to the hoop, like Bosh can. And while he’s got a decent enough jump shot to keep defenders honest, there’s a big difference between that and a jumpshot that you need to be a scorer. It needs to be A LOT quicker, more accurate, etc.

                  Amir could certainly average 22 ppg, if given enough shots, but it will hurt the team and absolutely kill his efficiency.

                • Rap fan 2

                  Yes, I agree that Bosh’s offensive game is more refined. It’s something Amir can work on and aspire for. Got to set your goals higher.

  • Tanks-a-lot

    Amir Johnson is great because he isn’t Davis

  • Thimble

    >But he’s also the type of player that doesn’t stick out of the casual fan

    Not true. He’s my favourite Raptor by far!

  • Jamshid

    Amir has been productive since last season and is basically earning his money. Before that, he was overpaid and we basically we over paid him for those early days hopping that he will improve in future. Another thing about Amir is that unless you don’t need any serious production from your PF, then you should upgrade in this position. He can get numbers in meaningless games and up tempo games but when things start to be tight, he is not able to create for himself. He is a great energy guy and that is his ceiling after being in this league for 8 years.

    • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

      Amir has produced the same the last four years. I’m not sure why you think he only started to be productive last year. His minutes have slowly increased, but his level of production has remained constant.

      As for not being able to create for himself, that’s exactly what I’m talking about when I say he’s underrated. Because he’s not a scorer, people tend to underrate him. That’s not his role, though. He needs to play with scorers, but that’s not a weakness any more than it’s a weakness that scorers need to play with players like him.

      And he’s made plenty of big plays in crunch time, it’s just most of them don’t involve him scoring. And I think writing him off as an energy guy does a huge disservice to what he actually does on the floor.

      • Amigo

        ED Davis was a double double machine around here. Do you remember ? See now ? Forgot everything ? How come no one is coming out saying: I was fucking wrong ! Yes baby !

        • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

          Maybe because no one knows what you’re talking about.

          • Amigo


            • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

              You know you responded to me, right?

              • Amigo

                I know , I was calling him out because I believe he is reading as well. Is he ?

      • consmap

        I still remember the game tying bucket in Indiana. :)

      • ppellico

        so true. and that is why I liked Amir. But suddenly he began to take these 3s!
        I just don’t care for his doing this. And I hate when I see his post game stats as 2 for 6 with a lower rebound number than usual….just play your game Amir! and keep that defense on.
        but isn’t this same for a another other big guy who never gets to play anymore this season??? The main job is to make others look good. play defense and allow others to be open and look good.

    • joe

      when the game gets tight and we need a timely bucket, or need to end the other teams run, its often amir who comes through. been noticing this a lot the last while while demar rudy n kyle chuck

  • pran

    i think we are going to regrettably have to cut ties with amir johnson and get less value for him, he doesn’t help at all if tanking is the goal. And this isn’t 1998 where players come out of college ready to contribute to winning a championship. I feel Amirs best years will be wasted while we wait for our core (hopefully wiggins, valanciunas, and maybe bennett) to develop.

  • Statement

    I used to be very active on these boards, but I’m less so these days. I just can’t bring myself to be excited about this team. Not sure what it is, perhaps its the style of offense that they play.

    • Amigo

      Which offense.

  • Amigo

    The team is terrible (as usual). Open 3s, layups in the paint, bros brick taking over and of course we need a little bit of cool aid.
    Amir Johnson ! Yeah !
    I mean, let’s talk about the D, why Casey despite playing his style of game is losing, why JV is slow on help D, why DD is not good at all on D after being labelled a “gym rat”, why Steve Novak is missing 3s (like Kapono), why T Ross is on and off, why Fields plays 20 min and next game 2 min.
    Amir Johnson ! Yeah !
    MU needed to assess the players. Why ? He was here with BC and around the League. Now Lowry has less value than last summer, Gay has less value than ever, DD maybe ha still some.
    Amir Jhonson ! Yeah !

    • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

      Really? You’re complaining that I’m not being critical enough of the team?

      I do find it funny that my most “positive” article since last season has created the fewest amount of comments of any of my articles.

      • Amigo

        It is a good article, I love Amir, but it’s a crucial moment for this franchise. They need to know we had enough of this shit ! Bring a real/proven Coach SVG/Hollins/…., tank and get as many picks you can. Clean this HOUSE ! Now !

        • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

          What’s the point of brining in a proven coach and then tank. What proven coach is going to want to go through that?

          I do agree that they need to clean house, but my opinions on this are pretty clear and well known. Me writing another article about it isn’t going to do anything. The team is pretty much doing all my work for me, don’t you think?

          • Amigo

            The new coach (SVG my fav) with a 4 years contract will choose who to keep/develop/trade and which players bring in trades/draft. He will have full hands on the roster from the bat so we wont have anymore the DCasey coming out at the end of a season crying like a baby “It wasn’t my fault, I wanted to play D and I couldn’t” ! Shats his a##

            • Amigo

              One more thought I forgot:

              I m not a nasty guy, I respect other ones jobs and understand the difficulties to coach at this level.
              But let me say this: I ve never seen a Head Coach as DCasey generating so many troubles and doubts on players minds.
              9 out of 10 players under DCasey have regressed. He choose T Ross and never gave him a set amount of playing time and a defined role.
              He gave the key of the team to K Lowry showing no trust for his vets and then when the team was shitting the bed went back to old good Calderon. He is a double faced person with no balls and a very low IQ on how handle players minds and hopefully improve them.
              He is a great Assistant D Coach for sure because he won a Ring no doubt about it.

              In a kitchen he should be the one preparing cold entrees or salads, not cooking any main meal at all. Because in his 3rd year he showed me “He cant”

            • ppellico

              look…this whole casey thing reminds me of the Obama hell down here.

              we get one failure after another. sooooo many all NEW bad news reports begin to wash out on the earlier ones. Today…all we talk about is obamacare…and it being he one failure.

              we are so past the IRS scandal. Who can remember the guns to mexican drug lords? the government spying program…or the Benghazi failure and death of Aericans???? this is just so overwhelming with new crap every morning people stop thinking about it.

              it just gets so bad…we have to move on.

              Ditto here. Does anybody here remember Casey’s idiot player rotations fromlast year? How about his plays coming out of time out? How about his ….oh, whatever…now its just his slow game or JV use.
              Casey just sucks….and without a change here…player talent is really small stuff.

              • http://www.wearingfilm.com/picketfence/ Tim W.

                Not to get into politics, here, but the mess down your way was caused as much by the Republicans as it was by Obama and the Democrats. And the other option was having Sarah Palin as the Vice-President. Or Paul Ryan. And Obama is far better than his predecessor.

                • ppellico

                  well…ok…no poliics. but nothing i mentioned had anything to do with republicans. t was all obamam crap in the past year.
                  ok…sure both parties are idiot money grabbing whores…but I was just referring to the publics ability to keep all emergencies on the front burner…or inability.
                  ditto here with casey. we keep jumping on the new news…forgetting the things we were upset about just last season and on…
                  we can only deal with so many issues..then we forget.

          • robertparrish00

            Casey isn’t playing or designing touches for JV or Ross. For that reason he needs to go. These guys need to learn to play through experience, teaching and mentoring.

            Casey isn’t fostering development so he needs to go.