Ed’s Note: Once again, please welcome Tamberlyn Richardson for her second piece on RR. In case you missed the first, here it is.

On this Christmas Day and following arguably the best consecutive road victories in 12 years I find myself buoyed by the Raptors play this past week and couldn’t help but see the correlation of a classic Holiday Movie: A Miracle on 34th Street, to their current juxtaposition.

The movie is about a man hired to replace the drunken Macy’s Santa Claus. This replacement claims to be the real Kris Kringle which leads to his being institutionalized.

His sanity is disputed in court where people testify there is something special about this man who succeeds in improbable ways; focusing on spirit and faith amidst rampant negativity, commercialism and skepticism.  Ultimately Santa is released when it’s proven people still believe.

Granted my analogy is a bit far fetched but it parallels those who believe blowing up the Raptors, specifically our core unit and players who can’t be easily replaced to gain one unproven, albeit talented draft pick would result in our immediate ascent. Obviously our greatest return would come via trading Johnson, but my feelings are he’s possibly the most important piece of the puzzle to retain.

To that end, let’s fully evaluate Amir’s importance to the future of the Raptors:

Field Goal Percentage:

Stats through 25 games have Amir ranking third in the league with 60.8% behind DeAndre Jordan (64.5%) and Andre Drummond (61.9%). Of these top three, Amir is head and shoulders above his counterparts at the line, shooting 76% and is more capable at hitting shots outside the paint including the occasional three pointer. Though we don’t want to see him shooting too many three’s, a sprinkling of it keeps defenses honest and since the trade he’s shooting it with 50% accuracy.

Player Efficiency Rating:

PER rates a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance. Johnson is the highest ranked Raptor with a 18.1 PER, ranking 52 in the NBA literally just behind Roy HIbbert and ahead of quality players like Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka.

Factor in, the above includes pre trade data, 18 games vs. 2012/13 playoff teams and 12 games vs the more successful West. When you consider 37 of our remaining 56 games are against the East with 10 vs our underperforming division rivals it bodes well for Amir’s numbers climbing.

Post Trade Numbers:

The following chart outlines Amir’s performance since the trade; suffice to say his numbers and touches have increased due to better ball movement, more pick and roll designed sets and obviously the trade wipes out the ball sticking with Rudy Gay eating up clock on isolation plays.

Team

Hm/Rd

FG

M/A

3Pt

M/A

FT

M/A

+/-

Off R

Def R

Tot R

Ast

Stl

Blk

Pts

LAL

Road

WIN

14-17

82%

TH

0-1

4-4

100%

+22

TH

4

TH

6

TH

10

TH

1

2

2

TTH

32

TH

SAS

Home

LOSS

9-11

81.8%

0-1

1-2

50%

-2

3

TTH

6

TTH

9

TH

0

0

1

19

TTH

Philly

Home

WIN

8-11

72.7%

1-1

0-0

+19

1

9

10

1

1

2

TH

17

CHI

Road

WIN

6-11

55%

0-0

2-3

66.6%

+13

2

TTH

6

8

3

0

2

14

CHAR

Home

Loss OT

5-9

55.5%

0-0

0-0

-9

6

TH

7

TH

13

TH

4

2

1

TTH

10

DAL

Road

WIN OT

5-8

62.5%

1-2

50%

4-6

66.6%

TH

+11

TH

2

4

6

0

3

TH

0

15

OKC

Road

WIN

7-11

63.6%

1-1

100%

2-2

100%

+21

5

TH

8

TH

13

TH

1

1

0

17

SAS

Road

LOSS

3-7

42.8%

0-0

1-2

50%

-10

2

6

TTH

8

0

0

2

7

Totals:

5-3

57-85

67%

3-6

50%

14-19

73.6%

+8.125

avg

over

8 gms

25

3.125 OPG

52

6.5

DPG

77

9.63

RPG

10

1.25

APG

9

1.13

SPG

10

1.25

BPG

131

16.4

PPG

 

Legend:  Mins =  Minutes Played, FG =Field Goals ,M/A= Made/Attempted, +/- =Plus/Minus when on court, Off R = Offensive Rebounds, Def R = Defensive Rebounds, Tot R = Total Rebounds, Ast = Assists, Stl = Steals, Blk= Blocks, Pts = Points, TH = Team High, TTH = Tied Team High

Amir’s Role In Two Huge Road Wins:

Isolating the past two wins Lowry, Salmons and DeRozan were all key contributors but it was Amir who made the most crucial plays at key moments to seal the wins.

In Dallas, Amir drew the unenviable assignment of guarding Dirk Nowitzki and did a decent job, especially late in regulation (stopping Dirk on the last possession) and in overtime.johnson-contesting-ibaka

In the extra frame, Johnson scored two points, saved a stray pass that lead to a JV score, assisted on the go ahead score and defended Dallas’ last shot by Ellis when he pushed him wide of his driving lane, got his hands on the rebound and tipped it, before falling to the ground on top of it as time ran out.

Sunday night’s upset of OKC had an even greater Johnson imprint on the win. The Raptors led most of the game but it was inevitable the league’s best team would make a run. Not coincidentally this occurred while Amir was on the bench due to foul trouble. When Amir left the game Toronto was up 67-60;  by the time he returned at the start of the fourth OKC had gone on a 24-4 run to take a 84-71 lead.

What is most impressive is Amir along spent the better portion of this game guarding Kevin Durant, the league’s best scorer and held him to 24 points; 12 of which came at the line. While Amir sat in the third, Durant scored 5 points from the field, an additional four at the line and got 3 of his 8 rebounds. So KD literally only scored 7 points against Amir’s defense.

Amir scored 6 of his 17 points and nabbed 4 of his 13 rebounds in the fourth quarter but it was a broken play where Amir dove on a loose ball and called timeout that allowed the Raps to cement the win, becoming the first team this season to take a game on OKC’s home court and subsequently halt their nine game win streak.

Veteran leadership:

By now, those of you hoping for a tanked season are likely noting I’ve proven why Amir should be traded, however when you factor in the intangibles, I believe it becomes clearer why Amir should be one of the untouchables, even if Michael Jordan chooses to return to the game!

Incredibly since 1984 only eight different teams have won the Larry O’Brien Trophy and of those, only Dallas didn’t achieve multiple wins. Perhaps ridding themselves of key vets like Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry contributed to this. On the opposite end of the spectrum youthful teams looking to rise up the ranks saw improvements as soon as a key vet was added to their roster. OKC notably did so with the addition of Kendrick Perkins who had won a championship in Boston. Last season, Golden State and New York both benefited from the additions of Jack and Kidd and now that they are no longer on their respective teams one could point to their absence as part of the reason why these teams are underperforming.

Which brings me to Amir; consider this staggering fact; Amir Johnson was the last high school player ever drafted before the league mandated at least one season in college. John Salmons at 34 is in his twelfth season but Amir who is 8 years his junior is already in his NINTH year. Each and every year Amir has improved his game and plays like a wily veteran already so moving forward his presence on the team while still being able to contribute athletically is huge, especially in today’s game which more than ever seems to be trending toward players joining the NBA after only one year in college.

Valanciunas who is earmarked as the future has only ever had one partner in the front court (Amir) so while he grows with minutes on the floor and exposure to critical in-game situations, removing the only partner he’s truly ever worked beside could very well stall his progress or even set him back.

Toronto’s Ambassador:

Whether Wiggins arrives in Toronto this year of when he becomes free to sign with us, we have in Amir something we’ve never truly had before which is a quality player who loves the city and wants to remain here. His excitement regarding the 2016 All Star Game coming north of the border and his desire to try to make the All Star Team speak to his commitment to remain a Raptor.  After years of hearing players like Bosh state how our city “smelled weird” or seeing players like McGrady and Carter run at first opportunity, having someone of his ilk want to remain is refreshing and beneficial to the franchise’s brand image.

Adding Playoff Experience:

No greater learning can be achieved then the actual experience of playing into May and June. If we are to move forward as a franchise, getting a top seed and moving into a second round series would benefit every single player on the current squad but especially the core starting five. I recognize I may be out on my own with this perspective but I recall the last time Toronto made the playoffs, we were Atlantic Division Champions, however every analyst picked New Jersey to win simply because we had no experience. In the end, they were right; it’s a catch 22; you need to win to get there but you need to lose to experience the true passion and drive it takes to go farther. Indiana and OKC have both experienced this deep loss and look at them now. Simply throwing in the towel because the East sucks this year won’t make the Raptors any wiser or seasoned next year. No, they need to experience the thrill of winning a playoff game and the anguish of suffering a loss to grow.

amir-johnson-young

AMIRacles Can Happen:

Revisiting the theme of A Miracle of 34th Street lets just say my hopes are the disenchanted fans can see how  its highly possible The Raptors will not only make the playoffs this season but as a top four seed having won the division.

Further, I have faith Ujiri will continue to weed out unproductive players who don’t fit the new team mantra of no quit, tough mindedness and still be able to get his hands on some draft picks to package for a quality high pick along the way.

Ultimately, Amir represents everything that is right with the Raptors and maybe its just because I’m feeling sentimental, it being Christmas and all but I think the Raptors are way ahead of the game in one respect; we already know who the heart and soul of our team is: Amir Johnson.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday and for you Raptor Fanatics, sending my wishes for two gift wrapped wins vs New York to close out December.

Tipping off to an NBA event filled Christmas Day.

Tags: