Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Amir Johnson’s PER-company is surprising

The skepticism around whether Johnson can earn the contract is widespread, I try to examine the issue with a cool head.

Confession time. One time I got totally stoned, blasted Wu-Tang in my 1990 Chevy Corsica, and acted like this. Can’t quite figure out how to process that video, the first reaction is to wonder why would even put a video like that online, the second is to question whether these guys can ever be serious about things, and the third is trying to find precedent of a team glorifying it’s “stars” in this manner. Maybe I’m being an old man, and that in the age of Twitter it’s perfectly permissible for athletes to act this way in public. That they always had a non-serious attitude about them and that we just never saw it and only now, with the advent of social media, do we see what the athletes we sometimes hold in such high regard are when off the court. I’d like to think so, it makes it easier for me to accept that we got jokers on the team.

Yesterday’s post suggested that Amir Johnson take 10 shots a game, something I thought was quite fair. Others don’t share this view and question whether a man of his limited offensive talents be allowed to increase his FGAs by more than a 100% (he had 4.1 last year). The jump would be significant, but not as significant as the increase in his salary. This might be comparing apples to oranges, but when Johnson was handed his contract, people immediately started drawing comparisons to Drew Gooden’s deal. Johnson got his deal after averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds last year, Gooden got his based on netting 11.9/7.9 over an 8-year career. He’s currently taking 11.1 shots a game and took 12.1 shots his sixth year. I realize that perhaps the biggest advantage for Johnson is his age (5 years younger) and not necessarily his present skill, but it isn’t unfair to expect a PF entering his sixth year to hoist 10 good shots a game on a team which doesn’t have any misconceptions of contention.

Johnson got his contract, not based on his accomplishments, but based on his potential to accomplish. On the surface it seems ridiculous to hand a guy who averaged 6 points this kind of money, but if you look at PERs (I know, I know) of some of the guys withing 0.5 points of Johnson 16.69, you find names like: Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Kevin Martin, Drew Gooden, Samuel Dalembert, Al Harrington, Tyrus Thomas, Monta Ellis, Paul Milsap, Jason Richardson, Chris Kaman, Jason Terry, Jose Calderon, and Emeka Okafor. All those guys have equal or bigger deals than Johnson, and most of them are on the downward slope of their careers. Perhaps this speaks to the PERs inability to rate players, or perhaps its a validation of Johnson’s contract.

That list doesn’t excuse Johnson from not improving significantly, he has to and that’s why the Raptors paid him. I find it hard to believe that what he brought to the mix last year couldn’t have been brought by a high-energy D-Leaguer, but Colangelo saw something more (hopefully), something that can be improved upon which would make this deal look like a bargain a year from now. For that to happen, Johnson has to improve a few areas of his game, I’ve picked three:

Personal Fouls: This is the criticism most leveled at him. The 3.1 fouls per game was a team-high and meant that the most Johnson could play in a game would be 33 minutes. That is quite poor. assuming he starts and Davis goes through some growing pains, we’ll be asking Johnson to extend himself and carry the weight at power forward, whether he’ll be able to do that while maintaining his defensive effectiveness remains to be seen. A player looking to avoid fouls is usually less aggressive on defense, and aggression on defense is Johnson’s bread and butter. Playing controlled help defense, using his feet and not his arms in man-situations, and avoiding needless over-the-back fouls should keep him on the floor longer, but it’s a Catch-22 situation for him since that kind of activity is what makes him who he is.

Mid-Range Game: We saw glimpses of his drive-game last year and even though it was far from polished, it was periodically effective. There weren’t many opportunities for him to showcase that aspect of his game because the defense just backed off of him and dared him to shoot; he wisely passed. According to HoopData, he shot 27%, 33% and 40% in the last three years from 10-15 feet. The sample size is very small (around 0.13 shots a game) but the stats confirm what you see on the court – he’s got no mid-range game. This has to change if he plans on extending his offensive game beyond the odd up-and-under and put-back scores. No idea what his summer regimen is, but it should be to shoot 500 elbow-jumpers a day.

Help Defense: The team defense was poor all around last year, but the help defense was especially so. Either it was too aggressive or entirely ad-hoc, and it suited absolutely no purpose other than to get Marc Iavaroni fired. In this cluster*&^% of a defense, Amir Johnson averaged 2.18 blocks PER48, and I fully believe that in a proper defensive scheme, that number should be higher. His ranking PER48 was 23rd in the league, but the athletic 6’9″ leaper should increase that to 3.0 the coming season. Blocking/changing shots from the weak-side has as much to do with instinct (which I believe he has) as it has to do with positioning dictated by the defensive set, and the Raptors have to put Johnson in a position where he can have a defensive say other than just on the glass.

That’s really all I can type right now because my 7-month old just ripped the Shift key off of my keyboard.