Five of your most deep-seated questions regarding newly re-acquired forward James Johnson.


Chris Faulkner is the managing editor of Grizzly Bear Blues, your one-stop-shop for all things Memphis Grizzlies. Follow him on Twitter on @FaulknerMemphis.


1. After averaging 20+ minutes a game from December to February, Johnson barely played in the month of March, averaging just 11.3, with four DNPs. What happened there?

Chris: To start I’ll say that his playing time didn’t dip due to fans calling for it — he was a monster hit in Grizz Nation and a lot of people were expecting to see more of him as the season progressed instead of less. There were several things that played into it: the return of Tony Allen from injury, Dave Joerger’s dedication to Tayshaun Prince and JJ’s penchant for chaos all immediately pop into my head.

2. How would you rate his perimeter defense? In Toronto, Johnson was often over-active, conceding defensive stances and opting to bite on pump fakes. Does that still apply?

Chris: I’d say that over-active is still a fairly active description of Johnson just because he seems to want to affect every single play on the court. But he’s probably matured in that regard compared to his first Toronto stint, doing a pretty solid job against a lot of elite wing players not named LeBron or Carmelo. I can’t confirm this 100%, but he very likely led the league in blocked 3PA last season. He also had a knack for getting into foul trouble albeit not from biting on pump fakes.

Will’s note: The fact that Johnson is jumpy isn’t always a bad thing. He is still over active, as Chris notes, but he’s also a freak athlete, possessing tremendous size and athleticism. According to Synergy Stats, opponents shot 18-of-64 (28.1 percent) from three when guarded by Johnson in spot-up situations last season, owing in great part to plays like these:

3. He posted a career high in true-shooting percentage last season, grading out to over average for the first time. Was it a systems thing? If so, how did Dave Joerger optimize his offensive performance?

Chris: Johnson did a great job of getting to the free throw line and executing the shots last season (13% higher than his career avg). Most of his offense was created by himself, angling in from the perimeter and using his freak athleticism to slice through multiple defenders. And the rest was usually generated from his activity on the offensive boards. If you want to get the most out of JJ you need other perimeter threats on the court to open up the lanes because he’s not going to give you much in terms of jump shooting.

Will’s note: Here’s a great little play-breakdown from Grizzly Bear Blues on a curl-action play Joerger ran for Johnson last season. Although their offense only graded out to average (15th in OffEff), it was only propped so high by Joeger’s strict coaching, which included running a strong mix of sets. Transitioning from Memphis, to Toronto’s more fluid system is a bit of a worry, but Casey doesn’t necessary need to play him, which should act as a deterrent against poor decision-making.

4. Something every Raptors fan wants to know: Joe Johnson single-handedly knocked Toronto out of the playoffs, as he averaged 22 PPG on 52.3 FG%, mostly because he’s Jesus Christ (and also because the Raptors simply couldn’t guard him). Could James guard Joe, and other similarly large wings?

Chris: If James were in absolute peak physical condition he might be able to hang with Joe Johnson, but you’re more likely to get better results matching him up on an athletic PF rather than a SG with better lateral speed. He could give him a good look out on the arc — it’s the paint that would concern me on that matchup.

Will’s Note: Okay, maybe he doesn’t have Paul George’s quickness on the perimeter, but Joe Johnson didn’t beat the Raptors with quickness — he did it with post-play. Remember how the Raptors had to double-team him every time down the court? And remember how every time he drew a double-team, he kicked it out until the Nets eventually found an open three-point shooter, or a slasher? They won’t need to double with James Johnson. Check out his work in the post in the post below. He’s strong, he shades well, and he doesn’t leave his feet for the block, opting to hold his position instead. For the record, that’s LeBron James, Anthony Davis (x2) and Blake Griffin in the video.

5. In your opinion, is Johnson’s attitude something of concern? His reputation isn’t the greatest, and there was the (now dismissed) domestic assault charge earlier this year.

Chris: His attitude would have to leave a least a few lingering worries, but he got along with everyone in Memphis very well and always presented himself as a team player. He’s an intense person so that’s inevitably going to provide some intense moments, both good and bad.


For more on James Johnson and his potential impact on the Raptors, check out Zarar’s piece on the matter.

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  • Roarque

    This sounds like an exit evaluation from JJ’s last year in Toronto. And yet here he is again. And ED is in LA making 1 million per.

    • afrocarter

      I hear ya — though, let’s be honest: we needed a wing more than we needed Ed Davis.

      (My brain tells me this, and yet my heart would have loved to see Davis back in Raptor red next season.)

      • SR

        I liked Ed Davis. I kinda wish the Raps could use him. He had a nice little run just before he left – averaged nearly 10 and 7 in 24 mpg on 54% FG. He meshed well with Jose.

    • Will

      Wait. Are you saying you’d rather have ED than JJ?

      • Roarque

        I heart ED but I get the logic of JJ. That said, JJ better not screw up the chemistry….

      • Amigo

        Man….. ED DAVIS is the famous Double Double Machine one of the greatest PF in the actual NBA (as per our expert writer ARSENALIST), nailed to the bench just because of Management’s. Be sure he will be chosen by MU the Great! ha ?

    • LuckyMystery

      Ed Davis chose to sign with Lakers for a million bucks, so he could possibly be a starter and play minutes. Prove his worth and cash in next off season ala Nick Young. Being a bench role player for the Raptors would not help Ed Davis in the slightest. He actually made the smart move for himself.

      • tonious35

        1st PF off bench. Boozer was claimed of amnesty termination.

        • LuckyMystery

          Or possibly starting center. The only other option is Jordan Hill

  • SR

    I feel like a door to door salesman is trying to sell me noticeably flawed vacuum cleaner. And he can see me looking at it suspiciously. And he’s jumping in on my build quality questions a bit too quickly. Now he’s a evading warranty question with an unrelated anecdote. He just told me he already drank four Red Bulls this morning, and it’s only 9 am. I’m not so sure this vacuum is going to impact my life as much as he wants me to think it is…

    • afrocarter

      Don’t worry, you already have a newer, more badass vacuum cleaner. The one he’s trying to sell you is for back-up reasons.

    • DDayLewis

      The dirt-cheap 2-year, $5 million deal wasn’t a big warning sign that JJ is flawed?

      • SR

        Why are you still trying to sell me this vacuum?

        j/k – wrote the original comment while sitting on the can.

        Honestly though, seems like there’s a bit too much hype surrounding this signing just because of that burning feeling we’ve still got from watching Joe Johnson dissect the Raps in the playoffs. Terrence Ross actually did a very good job, as a still relatively raw sophomore, guarding the opposition’s best perimeter player night in and night out throughout the season, in spite of a very rocky playoff run. We were thinking James Johnson would help guard wing players too big for Ross so we wouldn’t have to see Amir try to guard Durant again, but now this Memphis blogger is telling us JJ isn’t quick enough to guard guys with good lateral speed on the perimeter? That really caught my attention, because big, quick perimeter players are exactly who Johnson is supposed to help defend. Thoughts?

        • DDayLewis


          But I agree. People are overreacting to the Joe Johnson nightmare. Still, JJ is a solid addition if he’s the player he was for Memphis last year.

        • Rapfan2

          The big thing is that James Johnson can defend his position on his own. This will solidify their overall defense as a whole when he’s on the floor. Terrance was okay defending smaller wings but really got pushed around against bigger threes. Being unable to defend that position was the main decisive reason they lost the series against the Nets. James J. is also more agile and quicker than Patrick Patterson though Patrick P. is probably the better shooter at this point in time. This is the area James J. can grind and take his game to the next level if that is his intention.

          Masai made some quiet understated moves this offseason to address some weaknesses and improve our depth. Having most of the core players together will most likely facilitate a quicker and smoother start in the new season.

        • Abused Raptors Fan

          Note that the blogger referenced quicker SGs, rather than SFs, there and then contradicted himself a bit by saying JJ could handle such a player on the perimeter (where speed/quickness plays to your advantage) but not in the paint. Of course, this is after selling JJ as a defensive option for athletic PFs who, most likely, would live in the paint…

  • Trini

    Not sure why people aren’t completely on board with this signing. If you’re expecting him to score 10-15 every game then you’re gonna be disappointed. But his value will prove itself to people that actually understand basketball and defence.

    There were 3 teams that gave us a massive amount of problems last year cause of 3 players. The Nets (Joe), the Heat (LBJ) and the Clippers (Blake). It wasn’t our defensive scheme, it was that we didn’t have a player capable of guarding those guys with their combination of strength and quickness. If he brings that D to Toronto and plays within himself, this team could be very very good next year.

    • Mapko

      I think you might be missing the point. If Johnson scores (or even tries to score) 15 PPG we are in trouble. The objective (and the reason he was signed) is for him to stop (somewhat control) other team’s best scorer (LeBron, Griffith, Pearce, Joe Johnson..).

  • John

    James Johnson’s positive impact on the raptors will be felt in more substantial ways than just being able to guard Joe or LBJ or Melo. He is so athletic and aggressive that even on offense I see him being a major factor depending on the line up he’s out there with. The concerns that were asked about in this article are valid but I get a sense that Masai wouldn’t have brought JJ back unless he had full confidence in his ability to mesh well with this new team. Considering how effective JJ was last time around and how much more solid our system is now, his positives will likely be even more noticeable than the negatives we may be overblowing looking at the signing on paper. Not to mention he has an edge (similar to Lowry, and Hansborough) that will help on the toughness factor that was sorely needed on the wing. This all being said, with the development I am expecting from Ross, I’m looking at JJ to have a very limited but effective role tho.

  • ckh26

    JJ is a 2M player thats going to come off the bench as maybe the 10th guy or in a situation. He won’t get us over the top nor will he sink the ship. If he is a distraction MLSE has pantloads of dough and we will simply put him to the curb on a thursday and wait for the equivalent of a garbage truck to pick him up on waivers.

  • raptorstand

    You can blow smoke all you want. JJ has a ten cent head. Its totally up to Casey if JJ succeeds here or not. Short leash and constant coaching might give us something , what that something is is very hard to see, I aint holding my breath.

  • Pingback: Q&A with Chris Faulkner of Grizzlies Bear Blues on James Johnson – Raptors Republic |

  • Jamshid

    Typical William Lou articles : Everything is great and rosy in Raptor lands. Our Players are either All Stars, or border All stars or have ton of potentials 🙂

    • DDayLewis

      Yup. I sold James Johnson as Scottie fucking pippen in the piece. How typical.

  • Alex Vostrikov

    section 4: Johnson average 22 point per game because coach used the wrong player on him…. does fields rings a bell, anyone? its not like salmons and ross gave something better on defence or offence. on the other hand, james Johnson is still 2 mil player. didn’t prove anything to have article written about him.

  • Truth Teller

    Nice sales pitch

  • Okitech623

    The key with JJ, which someone stated earlier, is “when he plays within himself”. JJ was awesome for us last season when he played within himself and used his incredible athleticism within the team concept. When he chose to go off the reservation and do his own thing bad things tended to happen. The 4 fouls is one minute things. The I’m going to try to take my man off the dribble 30 feet from the basket and proceed to turn the ball over things.

    Everybody loved the highlight plays. The dunks, the blocks, the impressive (at times) defense. It was the extra stuff that drove us crazy. It seemed like the stellar start he had with us went to his head and he started feeling himself. When that happened things started going downhill. Coach lost faith in him and he got buried on the bench. If Coach Casey is willing to work on striking the balance between letting JJ be JJ and enforcing structure around JJ’s chaos I think he’ll be great in his second stint with you guys. I personally think he’s awesome and wish him nothing but the best. I hated to hear that we let him go. Good luck next season.


    Does the return of Spaghetti Hair mean the return of AltRaps and the Roll Call?

  • leonidas

    He was at Taste of the Danforth #mrgreek #thisissparta