Every body, every living organism requires an organ that keeps them going, and every living thing needs that one part in the body that releases this uncontrollable adrenaline that fuels you. When you’re talking about sports, it’s a player that puts forth 110%, and he’s there in the right place, at the right time, and when he’s out, or when he’s down, this team just doesn’t have enough to get over. Well, let’s look at the Raptors as one body, one living structure. A basketball team always needs that one player, that one leader, the one character that elevates their game, consistently, and does everything in their power to lead one’s team to victory.
His name: Amir Johnson.
Amir Johnson might be the most under appreciated player this Toronto fan base has had – ever. Let’s go back to when Amir originally joined the team, acquiring him in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks before that mighty hyped 2009-2010 campaign. The following off-season, Amir was signed a 5 year, $34 million dollar extension, which lead to doubts, questions, and nonetheless, hate. “Amir is overpaid! He hasn’t done anything to earn that contract!” Well, we’ve given him time, and he has improved every single season, and hasn’t had the attention and recognition he deserves. This guy is a legitimate starting power forward, he’s earned – and now, worth – his contract, and a core piece of this team now, and the future.
Amir Johnson’s greatest traits are his defensive presence and relentless motor. He is what I would call a, “defensive anchor.” A big who protects the paint and your own basket, blocks shots, and lends a helping hand in closing possessions with rebounding. Amir is posting career averages, and his numbers have made a significant jump comparing this season, to his first season with the Toronto Raptors. Career high averages in rebounding (7.3), blocks (1.3), and steals (1.0), per 36 minutes. In this current season, Amir is 20th in the league in total blocks (81). He’s improved his grasp of the game, now having the full basketball IQ and smarts to keep himself on the court, those ticky tack fouls aren’t as apparent anymore, and he’s been able to keep himself on the court to contribute to his team’s success, averaging a career high in minutes played (27.9).
His defensive abilities are measured fairly well on statistics, but no stat can measure how big he’s been for this team on that end of the court. He puts his hard cap on, and plays hard until he’s knocked on his ‘you-know-what.’ Blocked shots, to taking the charge, to being in the right spot at the right time, is your everyday Amir Johnson. The downside to Amir’s relentless energy on defense is he averages nearly 5 fouls per 36 minutes, which is something he needs to continue to improve.
Offensively, that’s where people looked, and said he wasn’t worth his contract. At the time, he was quite the liability offensively. No post game, the jump-shot was slow – still is – and inconsistent. Really no abilities or strengths that he could rely on other than his athleticism to run up the court, and offensive rebounding.
He’s put in the time, and his offensive game has improved, and improved significantly. Looking at his advanced statistics, Amir is 10th in the league in offensive rating (117.7), behind the likes of Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant. AJ is also 17th in True Shooting percentage (.600), 7th in field goal percentage (.569), and still improving his already great ability of offensive rebounding. 12th in the NBA in total offensive rebounds (184), and 16th in offensive rebounding percentage (12.1).
His career averages have also been impressive since his first season in Toronto. Jumping from (6.2) points, to (10.1). Averaging career highs in field goal makes and attempts at respectively (4.2) and (7.4). Amir has also added the consistent, capable jump shot, making nearly 58% from the 2 point area. It’s very pleasing to see the improvement in a player such as Amir, especially with his great character, and love for the city. Going from your regular NBA rotation player averages, to a near double-double a game, and speaking of double-doubles, Amir is leading the team with 12 this season, and always elevates his game in those pressure moments. Remember the Indiana game? Rudy wouldn’t have had a game winner, nonetheless we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to win that game if it wasn’t for his non-stop energy and effort. How about that tip in over Kendrick Perkins against the Oklahoma City Thunder? Maybe a couple free throws to ice the game matching up with the Boston Celtics?
Amir isn’t overpaid, he’s worth every single dime, penny, quarter, dollar he’s being paid in. He’s the heart and soul of this team, because his improvements, his support and representation of the team, has led to great performances and valiant efforts by the young man from Westchester high. He keeps this team together because he’s always there to help you on the defensive end. When you get beat, he’s right behind you to cover you up. He’s consistently around the court, picking up your missed shots, and following it up. Sliding, banging, jumping, scratching, clawing at every little moment to get the ball, and does it with his team in mind, and trying to get a win.
Everything he’s brought to this team is extremely underrated, and it’s time us Raptor fans start to recognize, and give credit for what he brings to the table day in, and day out. There’s no question he’s a legitimate starting power forward in this league, his numbers speak on behalf of him, and he brings an identity to this team. That identity, is a heart, and a soul. A character willing to put it all out there, whether he’s starting, or not, whether he’s getting plays called for him, or not. He’s a true professional. Amir, please keep doing what you do, and game will recognize game. The Toronto Raptors need your play, and there’s no doubt you will continue to elevate and improve with these given opportunities.
Photo credit to USA SPORTS Today, John E. Solowski