Before this season, there was only one issue with Amir Johnson’s game that would have kept the five-year, $34 million contract he signed with the Toronto Raptors over the past offseason from being a good deal for the franchise.
Now that he has corrected that issue this season, the contract he signed now makes him one of the better bargains in the NBA.
The reason why the contract could have come back to bite the Raptors had absolutely nothing to do with Johnson’s production for the time he was able to stay on the court. There was never doubting the huge amount of basketball talent he had, even early on in his career.
After the Detroit Pistons unleashed Johnson for a full year on the NBA in the 2007-08 season, he quickly showed himself to be a highly efficient, highly valuable player. According to Basketball-Reference.com, even though he only averaged 12.3 minutes per game, Johnson made the most of every minute.
That season, he produced 115 points per 100 possessions while allowing 95 points per 100 possessions, so he was both a potent offensive and defensive weapon, although his 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game might have kept people from thinking so.
In addition to being an adept scorer while shooting a true 58.4 percent, Johnson was a rebounding monster, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. His offensive rebounding percentage was 13.5 and his defensive rebounding percentage was 23.2.
Johnson was also a prolific shot blocker with a 8.5 block percentage.
The next season, Johnson continued his efficient play in his 14.7 minutes per game. In 2008-09, Johnson produced 120 points per 100 possessions and allowed 105 points per 100 possessions, again easily producing more points on the offensive side than he was allowing on defense.
His defensive rebounding percentage did drop to 17.2 and his block percentage dropped to 5.1, but he made up for some of the drop-off in his defensive production, which was still pretty good, by increasing his true shooting percentage to 60.8 percent.
For the 2008-09 season, Johnson contributed 0.142 win shares per 48 minutes, a decrease from the 0.190 win shares he contributed in the 2007-08 season, but still the mark of an incredibly effective player.
Despite the fact Johnson provided so much value to the Pistons, the franchise still decided to trade him away, so Johnson took his spectacularly valuable game to the Raptors for the 2009-10 season.
Last season, Johnson produced 124 points per 100 possessions and allowed 110 points per 100 possessions while contributing 0.150 win shares per 48 minutes, so it was another fantastically efficient season for Johnson.
As stated earlier, any criticism of the contract could find no fault with the value Johnson provided to his teams. The major issue with the contract was that Johnson found it impossible to stay out of foul trouble.
In all three seasons previous to this one, Johnson committed more than six fouls per 36 minutes. So for all his ability, no team could keep him on the floor long enough to experience the full benefits of it.
This season, however, Johnson has begun to correct his problem with committing too many fouls. He leads the league in personal fouls, but for the first time since he became a full-season NBA player, his fouls committed per 36 minutes is below six (5.3 fouls committed per 36 minutes) so he can finally play extended minutes in a team’s rotation.
Johnson’s 25.9 minutes per game marks a career high, and the increase in minutes is having no adverse effects on his value as he is putting up one of the best seasons of his career.
He is producing 125 points per 100 possessions, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions and contributing 0.165 win shares per 48 minutes for the Raptors. In addition, Johnson is averaging 10.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game so those caught up mostly in per game averages can also be impressed by his season.
Johnson has been such a valuable player for the Raptors this season that his 5.0 win shares are 2.2 more than the next Raptor, Jose Calderon, who has contributed 2.8 win shares. The Raptors are fortunate enough to be receiving all that value for just $5 million.
As long as Johnson can continue to avoid committing fouls at the rate of his three previous seasons, the Raptors will look like fiscal geniuses because they will have a star on their roster for the price of a role player.
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In honor of the 2014/2015 NBA season NBA.com counts down Amir’s top 10 plays as a Toronto Raptor!