On Badasses

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. All stats are per-36 minutes unless indicated otherwise.

James Johnson is a badass. This much is irrefutable. He’s a black belt, the son of two accomplished martial artists, and his siblings are badasses in their own right. He’s a 6’8″ mountain of fast twitch muscle fibers, and the most popular anecdote about his first year in Toronto tells of a time he kicked a ball stuck between the rim and backboard. Yes, that’s right. Kicked. James Johnson is most definitely a badass. It’s too bad the NBA is more than badassery.

Johnson’s season has seen ups and downs deserving of a roller coaster. He’s shown flashes of brilliance on offense and streaks of brilliance on defense, but inconsistency and a lack of focus have plagued him thoughout the year. His EFG% is a career low 44.3, and his FT% is also a career worst, at 57.5. This has resulted in a career low scoring average of 11.1. His assist numbers have also dipped, and his raw assist average and AST% are at their lowest since his rookie year, at 2.7 and 13.4, respectively.

However, things aren’t all bad, statistically. James is having the best rebounding season of his life, grabbing 5.5% of all offensive boards and 16% of all defensive boards, and his TOV% is at a career low 13.4%. His defensive numbers have been really stellar, as he’s in the top 10 in both block AND steal percentages, at 5 and 2.8 respectively. No other player in the NBA is in the top 10 in both categories.

The statistics say that James Johnson is having the best season of his career, and while this is indubitably true, somehow, he’s still disappointed. With Johnson’s physical gifts, and the tutelage of a defensive mastermind like Dwane Casey, it’s really no wonder he’s put up monstrous stats on defense. The problem with him is that he suffers from the same disease as JR Smith. It’s not uncommon to see five minute stretches where JR is the best player on the court, and it’s no different for Johnson. When his prodigal gifts are corralled, he can be one of the most disruptive defensive players in the game, along with a talented and athletic playmaker on offense. Unfortunately, just as JR invariably decides it’s time for a 30 footer with 20 seconds on the shot clock, Johnson falls in love with his jumper, or becomes so confident in his abilities as a defender that he lags behind shooters. There’s really no physical reason James Johnson shouldn’t be one of the best wings in the league. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of mental reasons.

This isn’t to rain completely on Johnson’s parade. Under Casey, it’s certainly possible he learns how to focus himself and unlocks his hidden potential. But until that happens, James Johnson is best fit for a role as a defensive disruptor off the bench. He has a future with this team, but they’d be best served looking for a star elsewhere. It’s why players like Harrison Barnes and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are so coveted by Raptors fans.

James Johnson is a badass. He may just not be a starter.

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