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