Finding Value in Amir Johnson



PHOTO COURTESY: Toronto Sun, Reuters, Getty Images

TORONTO,ON–One thing a general manager never wants to hear from a recently signed player…

“I probably would have taken less.”

Do you remember your first reaction to the re-signing of Amir Johnson?  It was probably a positive one, that is, until you saw the details and figures of the contract. The deal was for five years, making Amir Johnson $34 million dollars richer, a contract that averages out to just under $7 million a year (although the distribution of money has Amir making  $5.5 million in the first year going up by increments of $500 000 every season after.) 

The contract followed Amir’s best season in the NBA, a full 82-game season with the Raptors averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Very much like when Colangelo signed Andrea Bargnani to his 5-year $50 million dollar contract, he was clearly banking on Amir developing into a much more polished and consistent player, signing him based on potential instead of production. 

As we enter the second year of Amir’s five-year deal, his game has come a long way.  He is not an all star or a guy to build a team around, but looking at his style of play, what Amir contributes to the Raptors makes him a solid role player. It can be argued Amir Johnson has progressed the way Colangelo thought he might, getting better every year and providing enough value to justify the “horrible contract” everyone thought it was going to be.

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Let’s take a look at Amir’s first three seasons with the Raptors. Reminder: 2010/11 and 2011/12 are the first two years of the five-year contract. 

































One of the biggest factors that must be remembered, is Amir, for the first time since joining the Raptors, is playing as a center.  Physically, at 6’9, he should never be a center, but the glut of power forwards on the Raptors has forced him to the five, a position he has shown the capability of playing.

The first thing you may notice between the small sample size of the 2011/12 season, and last year is the decrease in points per game.  This can be directly attributed to his position change.  Amir is taking almost a shot less this year (not included in the stats above) than last, and he will very rarely, if ever, have a play called for him.  As a center, Amir is spending much of his time on the court under the basket, fixated on positioning for rebounds.  The points he scores are garbage points, battling for loose balls and rebounds, attempting put backs while taking a few short to mid-range jump shots when a defender leaves him alone. This was different from a year ago where he often got the ball facing the basket, taking many more mid range jump shots than he does this year, hence the fewer shot attempts.  The shots he’s taking this year, very often in the paint or on put backs, are higher percentage shots, which should lead to an increase in field goal percentage. 

amir1.jpgThe Raptors are not even a third of the way through this condensed season, but what we have seen out of Amir is an indication of the kind of game Dwayne Casey and Colangelo envision him playing.  Indeed he is an undersized center, but Amir possesses the skill and acumen to make up for that lack of size.

Watching him man the five, I find his positioning is sound for offensive boards.  He’s willing to do the dirty work under the basket to come up with tough rebounds and put backs.  Also, consider how many second chance opportunities the Raptors get because of tip outs/Amir battling for loose balls or rebounds; there are no statistics to count these.  His shot blocking is a useful skill despite his size, and he is mobile enough to come outside and guards bigs. Under the basket, he finishes well in traffic, although he still needs improvement on hook shots and his mid range jump shot.

Amir’s biggest problem is foul trouble. There’s nothing he can do about his size, so he will have to adapt as he comes into contact with much bigger and stronger centers around the league.  Amir does not have the core strength to defend these guys, compounded by the fact that he’s shown to proclivity to be an average defender at best. Amir averages around six fouls every 36 minutes, so at this point, Casey cant extend his minutes unless Amir makes notable changes.

But at 24, there is still much time to improve, especially as he is learning and adapting to his new position.  There is reason to be optimistic, and no reason to believe if he continues to develop, he cannot become a 10-10 type player within the next two years.  If he does this, would it still be a stretch to call his contract a poor one?  Let’s take a look at players with comparable playing styles to Amir Johnson and the money they make. 

Remember these are players with a similar kind of game to Amir, looking at the kind of numbers they put up versus what they are paid. 






Amir Johnson









Tyson Chandler





Serge Ibaka (Rookie Contract)





Joakim Noah





Anderson Varejao






In terms of production from this year, let take a look at what these guys bring to the table.  Of course, just like the intangibles Amir possesses, the stats don’t give a full explanation of a player’s worth.  Lets take a look anyway…

Anderson Varejao: 9.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 51.4 FG%, 1.1 BPG 20 MPG

I chose to use Noah’s 2010/11 stats as his rough start this year is not indicative of what he is capable of:

Joakim Noah: (last year): 11.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 52 FG%, 32 MPG

Tyson chandler: 10.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG 70.8 FG%, 1.5 BPG, 33.00 MPG

Serge Ibaka: 6.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 51.3 FG%, 2.2 BPG, 24.06 MPG

Note: These stats are taken as of January 15th 2012

With the exception of Ibaka, these guys have equivalent or better numbers than Amir, but they’re also paid significantly more for that production.  Depending on how much Amir progresses in the next couple of years, he might actually become a bargain considering the kind of money comparable players are getting.

So I turn this over to you…

With the player we have seen this year and with what Colangelo and Casey hope he may become soon, do you consider Amir Johnson a valuable player?  If you do, how much has your stance changed on his contract in the last two years?  Finally, will he ever justify the contract Bryan Colangelo gave to him?


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