Career with Bulls: 78 GP (11 starts), 11.3 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 44.6 FG%, 30.9 3PT%, 68.7 FT%, 1.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Season with Raptors: 25 GP (25 starts), 28 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 46.4 FG%, 24 3PT%, 70.7 FT%, 4.7 RPG, 3 APG, 1 SPG, 1.1 BPG
James Johnson was a bit of a wild card when the Bulls selected him 16th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, but the forward out of Wake Forest was still expected to make an impact in the NBA.
Unfortunately for James, he was limited to just 11 minutes per game in his rookie season for an average Bulls team that was quickly disposed of in the first round of the playoffs by LeBron’s Cavaliers. He played in 19 total minutes in that series. If he thought he would be given an opportunity with the Bulls in year two, he was wrong again, as Chicago used him less than 10 minutes per game in just 13 games played.
The Bulls were enjoying a great season, but Johnson was sent to play with the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League. Various things were said about Johnson – he wasn’t in good enough shape or committed enough to stick in the NBA.
Then, in February, the Raptors traded Miami’s 2011 first round pick to the Bulls for the little used Johnson. At the time, going by only what I was reading, I stated that even though this year’s draft class looked weak, I still would have preferred to take a chance on a late first round pick than take a chance on James Johnson.
Did James ever prove me wrong! And he convinced me I was wrong on his first night in a Raptors uniform.
Johnson provided a spark for the Raptors in his first game with the team, as the Raps upset Johnson’s former team, the Bulls, with James chipping in nine points, five rebounds and three blocks. He would go on to start every game he played in for the Raptors this season, providing a balance at the small forward position that the Raptors hadn’t had in a while.
Sometimes, he may have tried to do a little too much on his own, but for the most part, Johnson played within himself and stuck to his role. He put in an honest effort on the defensive end, rebounded the ball and usually just let his offence come to him. He was very stable in all facets of the game and usually finished with a balanced stat-line across the board. Heck, he was even a legitimate triple-double threat on some nights.
There’s no doubt that Johnson laid the foundation of establishing himself as an all-around basketball player, but can he improve on that going forward and build something on that foundation? He seems to be able to do everything on the basketball court reasonably well, but the question then becomes, does he do one thing great enough to become an impact player in the NBA?
That’s the question that James Johnson will have to answer when the next NBA season begins, whether he is in Toronto at that time or elsewhere.
Given the fact that he’s only 24 years old and did show us something over a decent size sample this season, I’m hoping the Raptors hang on to Johnson’s $1.8 million salary next season.
I’m not sure that James Johnson is ever going to be the starting small forward on a championship caliber team, but I am confident that he can be a valuable asset for a young team moving forward. Like so many of the Raptors’ youngsters, next season is going to dictate a career path for Johnson.
Scott Carefoot’s take on James Johnson: Most Raptors fans seem convinced that Johnson isn’t a starting-caliber forward in this league, but I’m not sure I agree. Every team needs a player to guard the LeBrons and Durants of this league, and Johnson could fill that role more than adequately for the Raptors. He’s got a seven-foot wingspan and excellent shot-blocking ability — he was the only Raptor to average at least one steal and one block per game and he did it while averaging just 28 minutes. He definitely needs to improve his jumpshot, but he made seven of his 16 three-point attempts from the corners so that might prove be his “specialty area” on offense if he continues to play 30 minutes per game next season.
Next up in our series of Raptors player evaluations will be Linas Kleiza.