Why Toronto Loves Amir Johnson
Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America. NBA fans forget that because, frankly, the majority of the Raptors’ existence in Canada has been rife with lottery picks and sub-.500 seasons. Despite that fact, Raptors fans are some of the most devoted in the league, and they’ve been extremely supportive of a player many casual fans seem to have forgotten: Amir Johnson.
Since coming to the team in the summer of 2009, Johnson has been a pretty average player, but that hasn’t stopped Toronto faithful from believing in the kid. Lucky for them, 2011-2012 looks like his best year yet as a pro ball player. That, at least, is what his coach thinks.
“He’s been great for us,” Toronto head coach Dwayne Casey said. “His energy, his screening, his leadership has been huge, and he does a good job on the boards.”
Johnson is averaging a career-high 8.1 rpg so far this season, and he’s started every game. He’s got seven double-digit rebounding nights already this year, and even though his scoring has dropped a little, Casey admits that isn’t something that they necessarily look for him to, anyway.
“We don’t really depend on him a lot for big time scoring,” he said. “Some nights he’ll get some big, good numbers, but we really don’t depend on him offensively. He does what he’s supposed to, screening, moving the basketball, rebounding, and he’s one of our best interior defenders that we have.”
That, according to Johnson, sounds just about right.
“I’m supposed to come in everyday and guard their best big,” Johnson told HOOPSWORLD. “I’m going against some of the top 5’s in the NBA, so I’ve got to have my mind on set and be ready to battle every big I play.”
It’s his defense, rebounding, and athleticism that have driven so many Raptors faithful into his corner. Even through struggles, they continue to insist he’s a player with a future, and don’t think for a minute that he’s been oblivious to that support.
“The fans have been awesome,” he said. “The fans are actually what drives us, what drives this team, and they’ve been a big support. Even if we win or lose they still back us up. Even though Toronto’s like a big hockey city, they really love their (basketball) team, and the fans have been great.”
However, once again this year the Raptors look like they’re going to struggle. But part of that is a new—and very good—head coach in Casey that didn’t get a full training camp with a very young team. Losing all that training camp, even with a returning head coach, would’ve been a challenge, and the team with the #5 pick in last year’s draft didn’t even get their lottery pick, talented Euro Jonas Valanciunas, to help improve upon the team’s dearth of talent. They won’t see him until next season.
In short, it’s hard to win games with all that stacked against you.
“That all matters,” Johnson said, “but we’re going to pick it up eventually. It’s really no excuses for us, but we’ve just got to groove together. We’re going to get it, man. We’re going to dig ourselves out of this hole. It’s early in the season, so we’ve just got to keep on playing. There’s no time to look down on ourselves. We’ve just got to move on to the next one.”
Whatever happens to Johnson and the Raps, we know one thing is certain—undying support for both will be unwavering. In a down season, there’s not much more you can ask for than that.