Amir Johnson isn’t a household name, but he’s quietly been one of the best big men in the league.
Last season, the Celtics proved a lot of pundits wrong on their way to a 48 win season. The common reasoning for their success was the brilliance of Brad Stevens and their 5’9 all-star Isaiah Thomas. But beyond Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder, the most important Celtic last season was Amir Johnson.
Johnson is on the first team ballot of “Guys who are really good, but nobody outside of their own fan-base knows about them”. The Celtics play through their bigs, and last season Amir Johnson was one of the best passers in the league. Johnson ranked 2nd in assist rate amongst power forwards who played 20 or more minutes. The Celtics constantly used the Johnson as a facilitator to better create in half-court sets, and he was surprisingly one of the most competent passers on the team.
Johnson isn’t specifically a great scorer either, only averaging 7.3ppg last season, but he’s highly efficient in his limited touches. Johnson shoots a blistering 71.2% at the rim, and has a nice little hook shoot that he goes too frequently during post-up looks. As a roll-man, Johnson is one of the best in the league averaging 1.12ppp on 62.3 eFG%– good for the 77.2 percentile. Because of his ability to pass or score off the roll, Johnson became an extremely reliable option for the Celtics. The Celtics offensive rating was 4.7 points better when he’s on the court.
Amir Johnson Heat Map
Beyond the numbers, Johnson brings a heightened energy and grittness to a Celtics team that prides itself on just that. He does an excellent job at running the floor:
and he makes the type of hustle plays that won’t show up on the stat sheet.
Defensively, Johnson is as complete as it gets based on what you want from your bigs.He can switch on the perimeter, defend the rim, and rebounds the ball (21st in rebound rate amongst power forwards). Johnson was 5th in DRPM amongst power forwards who played at least 20 minutes, and guys shot -1.4% worse when defended by him.
Johnson was also one of the best in the league at defending the rim. Opponents finished a mere 47.4% when he was at the rim. To put that in perspective, that’s better than Al Horford, Andre Drummond, and Steven Adams.
The only concern when it comes to Johnson is his ankle, which at times really hampered his overall production on the court. He’ll most likely never play a full 82 game season again, but if his minutes are managed correctly he will be one of the best bigs on the roster no matter what.
What will be Johnson’s role next season?
With the acquisition of Al Horford, Amir Johnson could be one of the top beneficiaries. Because his ankle doesn’t allow him to take too heavy of a workload, Johnson could benefit from no longer being the only big who can switch on the perimeter or protect the rim. In his career, Johnson has played 281 games as a reserve, and though his counting stats decreased, he actually had a bigger impact offensively while his defensive impact remained about the same. Stevens could stagger both Horford and Johnson in order to spread the defensive wealth on the frontcourt, but also keep the workload light on Johnson so they can preserve him for heavy playoff minutes. Chances are the Celtics won’t really know who they’ll start until they see the type of progression Kelly Olynyk has made. Regardless, Johnson’s versatility on both ends of the court will allow the Celtics to be liberal with their rotations. Versatility is the name of the game, and for a big, Johnson has just about all you could ask for.
- J.R Smith is the biggest free agent left, and it remains unknown where his standing is among the teams. Chances are the Cavaliers will probably pony up the money eventually, but it’s worth monitoring nonetheless. Losing a starter without having a viable replacement could substantially shrink the margin between them and teams like the Raptors and Celtics.
- Team USA had its most entertaining moment yesterday when Draymond Green caught a hilarious karaoke scene on the team bus. Here’s some of the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MocspToUcuE
- If you haven’t already checkout my features on Myles Turner, Jabari Parker, D’Angelo Russell, and Marcus Smart. The breakout series will be continuing this week.
- My other recommended reading is Sam Vecenie’s feature on the hardships of second-round picks. It’s a must-read: https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/the-second-round-of-the-nba-draft-is-broken-but-not-beyond-repair