Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Free Agent Profile: Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson - PF - 6'9, 240
FA Ranking: 20

Much like Khris Middleton, who I profiled earlier this week, Amir Johnson is another case of the Dumars regime giving up on young talent before it truly had time to blossom.  The Pistons drafted Johnson with the 56th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, fresh out of Westchester High School in Los Angeles.  Johnson only played 163 NBA minutes in his first two seasons with the organization, while he spent more of his time developing his body and his offensive game in the D-League.  Johnson earned more respect in his third and fourth seasons in Detroit, totaling 1,600+ minutes in those two years, and even starting 24 games in the 2008-09 season.  Despite showing that he could be a useful role player, with flashes of potential that he could even turn into a starter, Dumars traded Johnson to Milwaukee in the summer of 2009 for Fabricio Oberto, in what is arguably the worst trade of Joe Dumars' front office career.  Oberto was waived to create cap space, which was utilized to pursue Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and Johnson went on to turn into a quality starter for the Raptors over the next six years after being dealt to Toronto that same summer.  Now entering free agency in the middle of his prime, Johnson should be a Plan-B target for the new front office, as Detroit looks to rebuild from mistakes like they made during Johnson's time with the organization.

Amir Johnson

Johnson has never been much more than a role player throughout his career, with arguably his best season coming in 2013-14.  The thing that you can take note of with Johnson is his ability to be consistently nothing more or less than average, which is definitely more of a compliment than it sounds like.  In his eight full seasons, Johnson has only produced a PER below 15.0 twice and has never posted a TS% below 58.4.  In those same eight seasons, he's never had a PER above 17.6 or a TS% above 63.9.  Amir Johnson is a solid player, nothing more and nothing less.

In his last two seasons in Toronto, Johnson expanded his shooting range out to the three point line, attempting just under one triple attempt per game in 2013-14 and 0.6 per game this last season.  By no means is he a stretch four, but it is encouraging from a fit standpoint that Johnson has tested the limits of his shooting ability.  With Detroit set to hire a shooting coach this summer, would it be worth going after a cheaper option like Johnson and developing his ability to hit outside shots?  He's hit 39/112 (34.8%) from deep over the last two seasons, a number that compares favorably to Draymond Green and only a percentage point behind Paul Millsap.  The huge disclaimer here is that Amir Johnson managed his percentage in much, much fewer attempts.  It would be unfair to say that Amir Johnson is as good of a shooter as Paul Millsap, and he's probably no better than Draymond Green.  The point is, there may be something here for the Pistons coaching/training staff to work with.  At only 28 years old, Johnson may still have the capacity to add a new skill to his game in the form of knocking down catch-and-shoot jumpers.

 Johnson was a member of some very mediocre Raptors defenses during his time in Toronto.  Individually, Johnson wasn't any better:

Play Type
Amir Johnson Opp. PPP (Poss.)
Greg Monroe Opp. PPP (Poss.)
0.90 (108)
0.74 (131)
PnR Roll Man
0.83 (64)
0.93 (106)
0.80 (54)
1.09 (43)
1.08 (165)
0.93 (153)

Monroe's inabilities as a defender are a bit exaggerated, but it's going to be hard to find a defender who's worse than Monroe at PF this summer; it appears that Amir Johnson is one of those rare few.  Johnson has the physical build, with the length and athleticism to boot, necessary to be a good defender.  Someone who has seen him play more than me in the last few years could maybe tell you why he struggles, but those are pretty bad numbers.  There's nothing there that leads you to believe he could fix it in Detroit.

Johnson's most recent deal was a 5-year, $30M contract signed in the summer of 2010.  Now 28 years old and with the cap set to explode, Johnson could get himself a slight raise this summer after making $7M for the 2014-15 season.  It would probably be unreasonable to think he gets a major raise, even with the extra money that's set to flood the market.  He signed his last deal as a 23-year old with some unexplored upside.  This deal comes after he's established himself as a borderline starter/useful bench piece.  How many teams are going to be willing to go significantly over $7M per season for a guy who you can describe like that?  I would look for Johnson to sign a four year deal worth around $8M annually. 

Whether or not the Pistons are interested in bringing Amir Johnson back to Detroit will probably depend on a few factors.  The first of those is Greg Monroe, who most Pistons fans assume is out the door.  If Monroe isn't going to be brought back, the Pistons will be in need of a starting PF.  Anthony Tolliver provided excellent minutes for the Pistons off the bench last season, but he doesn't really offer the same value as a starter.  The Pistons could choose to fill the PF gap in the draft, but that might not take them out of the running for Johnson.  If the pick is Kristaps Porzingis, the only PF truly projected in the range of the 8th pick, he'll need a few years to fill out his body and adjust to the NBA game.  Detroit would still need a starting PF, and would have the flexibility of letting Tolliver and his non-guaranteed contract go.  Stan Van Gundy and his front office team have plenty of options to fill their needs at PF, and Johnson could be a fit in every scenario if the right deal is lined up.

If Johnson were to sign for four years and $32M, the Pistons would have roughly $17M to fill their remaining needs at SF and the two backup C spots.  They'll have two draft picks to utilize as well, but there's no guarantee that the Pistons lock up a starter with their 1st round pick.  Here's what an offseason that includes Amir Johnson might look like:
  • PF Amir Johnson: 4 years, $32M
  • SF Khris Middleton: 4 years, $56M
  • C Alexis Ajinca: 2 years, $5M
  • C Greg Stiemsma: 2 years, $2.1M
Assuming the Pistons use their draft picks on Stanley Johnson (8th) and Richaun Holmes (38th), that would put the Pistons in position to start the 2015-16 campaign with a depth chart that looks as follows:

Reggie Jackson
Brandon Jennings
Spencer Dinwiddie
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Jodie Meeks
Cartier Martin
Khris Middleton
Stanley Johnson
Quincy Miller
Amir Johnson
Anthony Tolliver
Richaun Holmes
Andre Drummond
Alexis Ajinca
Greg Stiemsma
I like that group a lot, even if signing Middleton may be a bit of a pipe dream.  The depth in the frontcourt isn't quite there, but Middleton is a huge upgrade at SF and Johnson is an improved fit at PF.  With a full season of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond terrorizing teams on the pick-and-roll with respectable shooters, the Pistons have a core that can challenge for a playoff spot immediately, and a roster that features players who are mostly under the age of 28. 

Amir Johnson wouldn't be the best long-term answer at PF, but he could provide the team with an adequate stopgap option until they figure out a more permanent solution.  The Pistons gave up on him too early in his first stint with the team, but he would make sense now as a low-maintenance option to take the torch from Greg Monroe and hand it to whoever Stan Van Gundy sees fit.  He has some defensive limitations, but he rebounds the ball adequately and could provide some floor spacing from the PF position.  This wouldn't be the ideal move, but it's one I could get behind if the other moves make sense.

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