Back in February 2008, when Shaquille O’Neal was in Phoenix and Amir Johnson was with the Pistons, Johnson went up against O’Neal and attempted to dunk. But O’Neal laid a hard licking on Johnson, sending him to the floor, a play that was ruled a flagrant foul. O’Neal apologized to Johnson, who, at the time, said, “No problem.”
But, two years later, Johnson hasn’t really forgotten the play. A little revenge on O’Neal remains among Johnson’s goals for the season. “I want to dunk on Shaq this year,” Johnson told SN. “I want to make that happen. He got the flagrant foul in on me and I want to get him back for that. Hopefully it’ll be this year. But I have got to catch him before he retires.”
For Johnson, though, slamming Shaq would be just a small part of what is a very important season. Since being drafted out of high school by the Pistons in 2005, Johnson has been a practice-floor wonder whose teammates gawk at his potential. When game time has come, though, Johnson has either found himself deep on the bench or too unsure of his offense to produce.
That has begun to change, though. Johnson was given a regular reserve role last year, and grew more confident in his offense as the season progressed. He averaged 15.8 points over the Raptors’ final six games, closing the season with outputs of 26 and 21 points. And there’s been an important change in Toronto—Chris Bosh is gone, giving Johnson a crack at a starting job for the first time in his career. He’d like to make Raptors fans forget Bosh.
“Yeah, I would like to do the things that Chris did,” Johnson said. “Absolutely. This is a big opportunity for me. I am coming into a team with a chance to start and a chance to be, maybe not the face of the franchise like Chris was, but a leader. I want to take that challenge. I want to do what it takes to get better.”
Johnson is already a capable defensive forward—when he stays out of foul trouble—but if he is to help offset the loss of Bosh, he will have to score. Part of that will come from simply getting more confident in his game. But he also spent the summer developing his scoring and honing his offense to look a lot like Bosh’s.
“I want to be able to knock down jumpers, mid-range jumpers,” Johnson said. “I want to be able knock down turnaround jumpers. I want to be able to use some English off the backboard. I want to get my footwork down on my moves inside. I spent all summer working on those things and I am looking forward to getting out there and showing what I can do.”
The Raptors, too, are hoping to get a good look at what Johnson can do in an increased role. The team has options at power forward, having signed Linas Kleiza and drafted Ed Davis. But Johnson’s upside is intriguing, and this summer, Toronto gambled a five-year contract on his ability to finally cash in on his potential.
“He’s a young player who had an opportunity to play significant minutes for us down the stretch of the season,” Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said. “Some of the numbers proved out very nicely. … So we’re pretty happy about that and the contract we’ve got him wrapped up for.”
Johnson, too is pretty happy. Of course, he’ll be happier if he gets that Shaq dunk.
Read more: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/story/2010-09-30/raptors-have-high-hopes-for-amir-johnson#ixzz11c9tEoRV
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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!