We’re going to handle preseason player profiles differently this year on RaptorBlog. For each player on the 2012-13 Raptors’ active roster, Joseph Casciaro and I are going to email our thoughts back and forth and then post the resulting conversation on the blog. It’s an edgy new form of journalism! Or something…

Amir Johnson, PF/C, 6’11″ (I think), 240 lbs. (pure guesstimate)
2011-12 stats: 64 games, 24.3 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 BPG, 0.5 SPG, .576 FG%, .400 3P%, .690 FT%, 14.4 PER

Scott: Last season was a weird one for my favorite Raptor. One the one hand, he still did a lot of those “Amir-type things” that I love about him — he was highly efficient on offense, he’s still a good rebounder and he continued to be the best big man defender on the team. As an added plus, he reduced his fouls per 36 minutes for the third straight season so he can consistently stay on the court for the 25 minutes of hustle we need from him.

On the other hand, his trips to the free throw line plummeted (from 3.1 attempts per 36 minutes to 1.9) and his turnovers went up significantly (from 1.3 turnovers per 36 minutes to 2.2) compared to the 2011-12 season. And I think that part of the reason the Raptors’ offense was so putrid last season is that Amir wasn’t involved enough — his Usage Rate (percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor) was its lowest of his three seasons as a Raptor. When you have a horribly inefficient offense like the Raptors did, why wouldn’t you try running a few more pick and rolls with Amir? I mean, he’s pretty good at finishing those, in case some of you haven’t noticed.

Joseph: I’ve always admired Amir’s hustle, but I have to say, that hustle was far from admirable and far from consistent last season. There were plenty of games where he appeared content to just go through the motions and coast through before getting the hell out of there. I don’t know if it was due to the personal issues he was going through that coach Casey alluded to midway through the season or what, but last season was the first of Amir’s three in Toronto where I was totally indifferent to whether he remained a member of this team or not, and the first of his two under the new contract where I seriously believed the amnesty clause should be considered.

I did like that he continued to improve on that previously comical foul rate, as you mentioned, and that he remained a pretty efficient offensive option off of the bench. I thought his rebounding numbers were wildly inconsistent throughout the season, and while it’s obvious that he’s a well above average help defender, I actually think he’s a bit overrated as a one-on-one defender.

All in all, if the Amir that I had really grown fond of in his first two Raptors seasons shows up for 2012-13, I would have no problem with him being the third big man (first big man off the bench) of the future for Toronto, but if last year’s Amir shows up, then I’m banking on Ed Davis’ greater potential taking over on the depth chart, and the amnesty seriously coming into consideration in July.

So what do you think, Scott? Am I unjustly nitpicking at your boy, or are you also concerned about Amir’s future in The Big Smoke?

Scott: I’m going to really need to see a leap forward in Ed Davis’ game before I agree with the notion that he has greater potential than Amir. While I’ll agree that Amir has almost certainly reached his ceiling as a player, I don’t think Davis has showed us that he has the work ethic to even get to Amir’s level.

I’m not concerned about Amir’s future in Toronto. He’s not going anywhere. I bet the Raptors’ metrics show that his defense and efficiency make him a very good value for his contract. I suspect Colangelo is trying to orchestrate his own little “Moneyball” revolution in Toronto — only he’s focusing on defense and rebounding rather than on-base percentage. And I think Amir fits in very well with that blueprint.

Besides, have you seen how jacked he is going into this season? Speaking of which… why does Amir continue to get listed as 6-foot-9, 210 pounds on the Raptors’ official roster page and everywhere else? This article on nba.com from 2008 says that he grew to 6-foot-11 after being drafted at 6-foot-9 as an 18-year-old. I tweeted at him so let’s see if we can solve this mystery.

Joseph: An impressive physique, to say the least, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his play is going to improve or become more consistent. I do agree, however, that the advanced metrics are probably favourable of Amir.

With the way the game is going right now, you can get away with playing Amir at the five, which makes him an important piece of the puzzle this season. If he (and to a lesser extent Aaron Gray) can just hold down the fort at centre while Jonas Valanciunas settles into the NBA, the Raptors will be able to be more patient with Valanciunas without necessarily waving the white flag on the season. Davis, on the other hand, is more of a natural power forward, and I can’t see him being able to fill in at centre for long periods of time.

Can you see a scenario where both Ed and Amir thrive and coexist? Because I can’t, unless the front court is banged up. Both are essentially vying for the third big man role, Davis probably needs those minutes to develop adequately, and Amir needs those minutes to justify his contract and keep his job, so unless Davis is thriving at the four and Amir is thriving at the five, I think we’ll always see one being up while the other is down.

Scott: I think Amir’s versatility — and his work ethic, and his love of the city and the Raptors fanbase, and more well-rounded game — are what make him more of an asset to this team than Davis. As for giving Davis unearned playing time for his “development”, that’s not in the cards during a season where Bryan Colangelo and Dwane Casey are trying to make the playoffs. If Davis plays noticably better than Johnson, then he’ll get and deserve extra playing time.

By the way, Amir never got back to me on Twitter (*sadface*) so I’m going to go with my best guess of 6’11″, 240 lbs. I’m positive that’s closer to reality than what he’s listed at on raptors.com. Maybe we can get one of his teammates to help us get to the bottom of this in a future interview.

(Yes, I know I shouldn’t care so much about this. We should probably move on to our next profile.)

Joseph: To be honest, the reason I think Amir will be the one who sticks around is because Davis’ shorter, cheaper contract is probably more attractive to other teams in trade scenarios and is therefore easier to unload in a package deal.

As I said, if Amir gets back to being the player we all grew fond of a couple of years ago, I’ll be happy to continue calling him a Raptor. If he fails to impress, like last season, I’ll be happy to use the amnesty clause, regardless of how much I like the guy.

Comments (8)

  1. Nailed it guys, that third big spot is his to lose, but he’s got to get his heart into it. Will be cheering for him.

  2. I *love* Amir’s game, especially as a third big. Really looking forward to seeing how well he plays with Lowry (and how well a Lowry-Fields-Amir line-up defends).

    Unless Davis learns to use his right hand, Amir is going to continue to be a much better player.

  3. I just don’t see any scenario where he isn’t an integral part of the front court and defacto center.

    Casey insists that Bargnani and Davis play a significant percentage of their minutes at the four and I’m just not buying Gray and Val as anything but rotational guys who play 10-12 minutes a game. Even if Davis improves offensively enough to the point where he warrants more playing time, he can’t defend well enough to play with Bargnani. All in all, it pretty much comes down to that because they are hell bent on making it work with Andrea and until Jonas gets his feet wet, that guy alongside Bargnani playing center will be Amir.

  4. Can someone explain to me why Davis is even in this conversation? He always looks disinterested and lazy….and far too willing to take jumpers.

    I like Amirs hustle and attitude. He has a presence off the court as well. But how long will he take to “improve”? Can he get there already?

    • I’m with you on Davis. Potential is meaningless if you don’t have the drive to reach it. I’d like to see if he’s put on some muscle this off-season. If he couldn’t be bothered, I say he’s basically a write-off.

      As for Amir, I don’t expect him to improve much beyond where he is now, but I’m OK with that based on what he’s getting paid. That’s a fair rate for a good quality reserve big man.

      • Just stumped as to why everybody talks as if Amir was not given enough opportunities last year to be Amir.
        He was. But he seemed the one to not get Casey.
        Casey has no patients for mental drifting. Not one damned bit.
        But I personal opinion is its the money.
        Young guys get big money and they begin to drift.
        They simply do not have the social surroundings or the built in agressive mindset to compete with the same madness and chip on the shoulder attitude every single night. Their posse keep whispering into their ears how good they are and that THEY should be the one shooting.

        There is a chance Amir will grow out of this…many players do. But I will hate to see it happen ONLY in a conttacy year…another curse of the professional ball player.

        I am rooting for him because without him…we have a major missing player inside.

        I get the feeling he still needs mentoring. Mags should work on him as much as Jonas this season. Get him to realize each time on the floor is a wonderful opportunity and you need to think of the NBA career as long term…not just show up occasionally between contract years.

    • I’m with you on Davis … He’s shown nothing special so far

  5. I don’t think Amir and Davis are the players battling for minutes. I think Amir is 2nd on the “big man depth chart” behind Bargnani. Bargnani 35 minutes and Amir 21 minutes is 56 of 96 frontcourt minutes, leaving 40 to be split between the other 3 bigs. So scenarios like

    Gray 10 minutes, Davis 15 minutes, Valanciunas 15 minutes
    Gray 5 minutes, Valanciunas 20 minutes, Davis 15 minutes
    Gray 5 minutes, Davis 20 minutes, Valanciunas 15 minutes
    Gray 10 minutes, Davis 20 minutes, Valanciunas 10 minutes
    Gray 10 minutes, Valanciunas 20 minutes, Davis 10 minutes
    Gray DNP, Valanciunas 20 minutes, Davis 20 minutes
    Gray DNP, Valanciunas 25 minutes, Davis 15 minutes
    Gray DNP, Davis 25 minutes, Valanciunas 15 minutes

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